I’m sad to see that as of January Age of Empires Online has announced an end to all new content; basically, they will keep the servers running (for now) and continue game support (for now) but the game is entering a sunset phase during which the playerbase will likely drop off considerably. The game has four released factions, two more “pro” factions, and a seventh that was in work but will now never be completed. The reasoning given for the cancellation of development seems to be purely financial; the game simply was not making enough money to justify the development expense.
Age of Empires Online really was a very clever experiment into combining the free-to-play model with traditional RTS gameplay. The way they incorporated the player city mechanics, the gear mechanics, a limited crafting mechanic, and both PVE and PVP content was pretty well done I thought. The cartoony art style and lighthearted dialogue and theme was also a good fit, I felt like. The gameplay itself wasn’t earth-shattering but it was fun for scratching that traditional RTS gameplay itch and the PVE content seemed like it could be pretty challenging, though I didn’t progress particularly far in it. It is actually the first free-to-play game that I ever spent money on, to unlock the Greek Civilization.
I haven’t actually fired up the game in many months but I thought of it recently so I was sad to learn of it’s demise. I would really like to see this type of game done again, perhaps better; the persistent online features combined with more traditional RTS gameplay seems like it could work, maybe set to a different theme and with some new mechanics or developments. Traditional RTS in general seems pretty down in the dumps as a genre, really; Starcraft 2 is still going strong enough I guess but is pretty much by itself now and seems under pressure from MOBA now in terms of E-Sports. The split-off MOBA genre has turned into an absolute monster all it’s own that has it’s own future development path now, and I enjoy that for what it is but I still miss some of the more old-school gameplay of games like Age of Empires and Supreme Commander.