Angkor Wat And The Khmer Legacy
Posted on 12/23/04 @ 11:17 PM (updated 11/23/08
No doubts the ancient Khmer were great masters of stone carving, as we can see today the unarguable evidences of Angkor Wat and other massive temples lying on the vast plains surrounding the great lake of Tonle Sap. Centered in Cambodia, The Khmer Empire came into existence during the period from 802 AD to 1431, and stretched as far as the modern Thailand-Burma Border in the West and Laos in the North during its peak. Its emergence lies in the fact that the ancient Khmer rulers adopted the Indian political doctrine of the "Deva-Raja" or "God King", which enforced the unity among people. Moreover, the Khmer had developed an intelligent irrigation system to control the water of the great Mekong river for agricultures, which enhanced their prosperity. This campaign spans from 790 AD to 1281, telling the history of the Khmer Empire from the establishment of the its capital, Angkor, to the Mongolian invasions led by Qubilai Khan.
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* This campaign was designed to be played with the original Age of Empires, not Rise of Rome.
* The suggested difficulty settings are "Moderate" and "Hard". Please avoid to use "Easiest" and "Easy" or some parts of this campaign WILL NOT WORK (this has been ascertained for scenarios 1 and 4.) "Hardest" should also be avoided because CPU players are given extra resources: in some scenarios, this may alter or disrupt playability.
* Carefully read the Hints before playing a scenario, since loss conditions are usually stored there.
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“Your shadow claws dismally away from you, sharpened by the sun of a late tropical afternoon. You, Prince Jaryavarman, the former heir of Chen’la, look through the window of your jail, and think back for the thousandth time of the day when Javan troops invaded your homeland and murdered your parents”
The first scenario of Andrea’s epic new campaign begins with a puzzle to test your wit, then transfers smoothly into build and destroy after a brief period of fixed force. You begin in a prison, and besides Prince Jaryavarman, you have an old priest and you can see a lion. If you’ve played Chou Kung for Rise of Rome you might think you know this puzzle, but you don’t. It’s not what you see, but what you don’t. Once you solve the puzzle, you’ll have to get across the river and find some allies. But Java turns on you as your escape is spotted, and you must find a friend to get you through their barricades. Once you make it to your city, you must fend off the men guarding the ruin, and start claiming resources and setting up an army.
Every scenario offers a separate challenge, and adds a new chapter to the brilliant story. I enjoyed the addition of a puzzle scenario towards the end, and the creative wonder building scenario, perhaps the greatest defend scenario ever made.
There are many “easter eggs” to unlock in this campaign, so lack of replay value is not an issue. I’ll probably play it 3 or 4 times.
The campaign couldn’t be anymore perfectly balanced. It offers a great challenge to all players, from using the walkthrough on moderate to playing on hardest and attempting all the extra missions. The last scenario has a suicidal optional mission, where you will find yourself being slaughtered in no time. The third mission was still my favourite, featuring all the brilliant map design, playability and creativity of all the others, but taking level creativity to a new level. It uses your ally as your means of winning, and has the addition of a new unit: The trebuchet. The challenge is to stop the enemies from building this machine, while defending the wonder from relentless attacks. I played it many, many times on hardest, but eventually I gave up and played on hard. Still offering a great challenge, but with a little more breathing room.
Where to begin in explaining why this campaign is creative? The first thing you will notice is the map design, and it will continue to amaze you with every bit of fog you remove. The map design in all campaigns by Andrea is about as good as I’ve ever seen, but what amazes me is how he keeps making new eye candies, and expanding on old map tricks. But that is hardly all. As for bitmaps, he has taken AoE into a new dimension by adding units from AoK into the bitmaps, making the scenarios more believable. A campaign from the Middle Ages is much harder to make, but the impressive cities and bitmaps really take you there. On top of that are the puzzles and brilliant victory conditions: There are many puzzle aspects to the campaign, and the victory conditions used, such as your ally building a wonder, or destroying all Hindu temples before you may choose your second mission (yes, you get to choose which mission you wish to do). Creativity more than just earned a five, it earned a 5+.
Can you imagine yourself making maps like these? I certainly can’t. Think of the effort that goes into every tile, of over a hundred thousand of tiles that make up all the maps in this campaign. What can I say, I was amazed at how good this guy is. Andrea may well sell his campaigns to art galleries soon, they certainly wouldn’t be out of place. Every terrain is balanced, every unit and technique mastered. The trees are used everywhere, and they look so very good. The rocks are placed in nice decoration around a building, or underneath a forest so it still looks beautiful once you have chopped the forest down. Detail is everywhere, all over the map, on the cliffs, in the water, the sky, and even on the plains. The cities all have their own style, the overall effect both convincing and amazing, while they are functional as well. One city even has two large reservoirs filled with water so the Khmer could farm in the dry season as well. The bridge of bones looks three dimensional, and when I walked over it I could not even imagine I could be standing on the water below. I noticed a lot of effort went into making the edge of the bridge look good as well.
After getting used to Andreas map design skill I sometimes find myself playing scenarios by Ingo and Imhotep and saying “Well, that forest looks okay, I guess, but it could have some rocks under it”. I also find myself making an effort to lift the standard of map design in my own scenarios to be closer to that of Andrea’s. Having a shadow of a tree covered by a grass patch isn’t something you would think about before Andrea brought it up. Andrea has single handedly changed the field of map design.
The story begins in style, with almost poetic writing and impressive vocabulary. It describes the struggles on an individual and historic level at the same time, having an extra page + for the devoted history enthusiast to read in the history section. The Khmer are a civilization outside the AoE period, and are lesser known, but much research and story telling has bridged those gaps and made the campaign an epic journey. The objectives are backed up with a set of hints to guide you through the difficult areas, and often optional missions as well. The units and map design help enhance the story, as do the bitmaps. For example, the trade workshop is used to show Mongolian huts, while on the bitmap a Mangudai, the special unit of the Mongols in Age of Kings shows the position of your Mongolian overlords. They are represented perfectly by Heavy Horse Archers and Cataphracts, and they are as ruthless and as powerful as the real Mongol invaders were. A mercenary unit suits the role of a thief in the last mission, for he will not follow your orders if you take your eyes off him.
The story is enhanced further still by the inclusion of a new language.dll, and a walkthrough, and is capped off by a timeline of Khmer history from the epilogue right up to the modern days of Cambodia
The way Andrea managed to keep rising to a new level really surprised me, I expected it to be as good as Memories of the Gupta Dynasty, or Underhand Dealings of the Hatti Archive, but I didn’t foresee all these new additions. The maps were even more beautiful, the mix of styles even greater, and the skill higher than ever. I can’t fathom a campaign being made that surpasses this, but perhaps Andrea will prove me wrong.
Andrea joins the legendary Imhotep as the only other AoE designer to receive 3 five star ratings.