A new Age of Empires casts the series into a persistent online world where players forge alliances and cities grow even when their owners are away.
After the dissolution of Age of Empires developer Ensemble last year, fans were understandably worried about the future of the civilization-building strategy franchise. After Microsoft's conference at the European Gamescom convention, they no longer need to fret. The publisher announced today that it has teamed up with Robot Entertainment, a new studio opened by former Ensemble executives, to expand the series into massively-multiplayer territory with Age of Empires Online.
Like in previous Age of Empires games, players will create cities, manage resources, keep your people happy, and wage war. The key difference is that these actions will take place in the context of a persistent world. Your empire will continue to thrive (or decay) while you are away from your keyboard, and those other civilizations all belong to real people.
That "real people" part is important, as the core gameplay is centered around social experiences. No city can remain isolated forever, and as you play, co-op quests and competitive matches will become available. Both will yield substantial rewards for your single-player city-building, with PvP matches granting experience and co-op dumping loot.
Microsoft and Robot are still working out the exact pricing structure, but have hinted that the game will feature "free-to-play experiences," as well as paid "add-on content."
Age of Empires Online will be released exclusively on the Games For Windows Live store next year. Players interested in beta testing can sign up on the official website.