Ready your pitchforks, gamers. You’re about to get needlessly indignant about something.
Age of Empires, Microsoft’s beloved desktop strategy series, now has a Clash of Clans-style game on the App Store. Dubbed “Age of Empires: Castle Siege,” the game soft-launched for iOS users in Canada last week — though it’s worth noting that it has been available to Windows Phone users worldwide since last fall.
With how small that market is, you’ll forgive us for not noticing until now.
We dabbled in the game over the weekend, and like a lot of recent CoC-inspired games (Empires & Allies, DomiNations), Age of Empires: Castle Siege tries to do some different things to help it stand out from the pack.
Most notably, Castle Siege gives you full control over your troops in every battle. Rather than a fighting unit being represented by a single troop, each unit in Age of Empires: Castle Siege is a small band of same-type fighters in tight formation. Players need only drag their finger to guide that formation to their goal, and the battle will play out exactly as the player has orchestrated.
It’s a small twist that has a big impact on the game experience.
You’ll also be able to select a nation that will eventually bestow special units on players (like DomiNations), but beyond that, our experience so far is a fairly by-the-numbers affair.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Microsoft bring a formerly Windows Phone-exclusive game to the App Store — last month they brought Halo Spartan Strike and Halo Spartan Assault to iOS gamers. It’s an interesting trend, and one I’ll quietly hope results in Hexic on my iPhone 5S.
What makes Age of Empires: Castle Siege really unique, however, is that you can play the game on your desktop too (provided you’re running Windows 8). And because it’s all tied together using Xbox Live, Castle Siege becomes a cross-platform experience that you can tab back-and-forth from throughout your work day, raiding neighboring castles without ever having to pull out your phone. Considering all of the web-ads I see that offer half-assed solutions for making Clash of Clans playable on your desktop, I have to imagine there’s a demand for this sort of thing.
In fact. the only real stumbling block I see for Age of Empires: Castle Siege is gamers themselves.
EA created a genuinely unique spin on the CoC formula last year with Dungeon Keeper, and core gamers collectively lost their minds. Had they called it anything other than “Dungeon Keeper,” it would have likely been embraced as one of last year’s more interesting free-to-play mobile games. But in using the branding of a well-loved PC classic, EA backed themselves into a corner that they couldn’t fight out of.
Is Microsoft making the same mistake with the Age of Empires brand?
This isn’t the first free-to-play game in the Age of Empires franchise. Age of Empires Online was a more traditional entry in the series that ran on desktops from 2010 thru 2014 (and, in my opinion, would have been a treat to play on tablets). And as far as mobile games go, there’s another one in the works, Age of Empires: World Domination, that looks like it might cater to the series core audience a little more than Castle Siege will.
Between direct control of troops and cross-play on Windows 8 PCs, Age of Empires: Castle Siege has more than enough going for it to try and carve out its own niche in a growingly crowded genre — assuming gamers don’t eat it alive for using the Age of Empires brand first.