The Real-Time Strategy (RTS) as we know it is dead. Well that's what the makers of Battle for Middle-Earth and Dawn of War will have you believe as they attempt to "re-imagine" the genre by spicing it up with Hollywood-style theatrics and realistic physics. If it is truly dead, then Armies of Exigo (AOE) finds itself smack-bang in the middle of nowhere, still doing it for the old school amidst a wave of next-generation titles. Indeed, it's all too familiar: research, amass Heroes, set up defensive perimeters, construct militia and send the peasants about their existence. AOE proudly champions these genre cliches, but in doing so, buries the old-school for good.
Why? Because the RTS has become such a defined genre, that even "big changes" are really only negligible. AOE's gimmick is a dual-layered environment where you can control forces above and below ground simultaneously. A good idea for sure, and it's implemented quite well, with the interface offering two smaller maps (above and below) that you can switch between at will. It definitely brings a whole new strategic element to the gameplay, as it allows you to flank armies and attack from below. It's joined in the "it's an original" feature list by the three warring factions; the Empire (humans, wood elves), Beast Horde (trolls, ogres) and the Fallen (aliens, dark elves). The Beast Horde is especially impressive, with great variety in size and shape.
Unfortunately, these superficial changes do nothing for the gameplay. In fact, AOE is so cliched, there is no tutorial provided. The campaign is stock standard anyway, plagued by wayward level design (such as dead ends) and objective banality, although the 36 missions do provide a healthy challenge for gamers hoping to "level up" before hitting the servers. The impressive graphics are also noteworthy. Just check out the way trolls can send ground troops flying, the variations in each building, the way your men leave footprints in the snow or the impressive weather effects.
But in reality, who will remember AOE, the last hurrah of an out-dated genre? Old-school RTS buffs perhaps, keen for one last nostalgic fling - but in truth, it does nothing more than increase your appetite for something new.
SCORE CARDVisuals: Solid graphics with nice animation
Audio: Some repetitive sound effects
Gameplay: Uninspiring and outdated
Developer: Black Hole Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts