I was not much of a major fan of the original Age of Empires (AOE), I just dismissed it as another strategy game which looked kinda nice.

However thankfully for Ensemble Studios & Microsoft, most other gamers didn't react like me and the game built up a massive following and when AOE2 was announced they all could not wait.

Now to say that I am impressed with the game on first impressions is something of a shock, I expected the same old thing, but you'll soon see why I changed my mind.

Well Having played the first few missions of the first I actually did know how to control this game, but didn't know all the commands. Unlike the first, this games array of options has almost grown its own family, there are more things to do than ever before but thanks to the lovely control system its all works.

The new characters and different Nations adds to the original, you get to build larger buildings and using the tactics that suit the nation you chose, your aim is to set off and conquer the world, well the part of the world that's laid out for you anyway.

The games Tutorial puts you, playing as the Scottish, up against the English, in a series of carefully constructed missions you are shown how to move, attack, build and basically everything you need to know to get out there and take another load of nations on, head to head! These missions are recommended to anyone who has not played the first, as each one focuses primarily on one certain part of the whole game to help you understand what's what!

Some nations you pick are well adapted to fighting, others are adapted to defensive measures and all this shows in the way your meant to play the game and the range of units you get to play with. Some nations will get archers and bowmen, some will have siege machines and some will be adept at building strong walls and towers.

The game takes you through the ages, starting off at the stone age you build specific buildings to advance through the ages, eventually you will leave you poor sad wooden homes and more to larger stone built ones. Each advancement allows you to train better units for your cause and these units as they get better will fight better and hopefully defeat you enemies, allowing you to take the map.

The units you train are all geared towards one thing, conflict, and AOE2 allows you to choose you style of conflict, in the battles you units can form into formations to protect each other or specific units, you can also set your units to spread out so that they wont all die if hit with a siege unit.

The controls in the game are the AOE standard as with the first game and while the controls are easy the menus and options all look nice and are even easier to get used to. While playing you always know whats happening and the easy to navigate in-game menus and the game menu bar are so easy to understand its laughable.

Now fights are great, you get to put your men in formations and lead them into battle to kick the ass off the nation your fighting. When you can amass a large army, battles seem really realistic with every kind of man you have charging in to the fray to hack and slash at the enemy. While your War machine or archers stay back and can fire on the upcoming enemy regiments or any regiments that maybe kept in reserve.

Where the game has changed a lot since the first and so have the graphics. Building Rise up over your tiny Men, you get a real sense of scale that was kinda lacking in the first. Maps may be slightly dull at first but as soon as you've cleared the land and built your thriving community it all looks nice again and when the battles reign its great, formations for your men, great sound effects of all your war machines and men charging into battle, just make it all seem like a dream, ahhhhh!

Great game, Better that the first by a load, keeps ya playing and wanting more! Coupled with the massively improved Graphics, the better sound effects and the even more challenging gameplay, not to mention the multiplayer element this game could last for a long time!