Robot Entertainment and Microsoft Game Studios have announced that the upcoming Age of Empires Online will adopt a slew of social features and persistent systems, as well as a free-to-play business model.
The game shares many real-time strategy elements seen in previous Age of Empires titles, and borrows elements from MMORPGs, allowing players to earn experience and gear via quests or crafting systems.
Unlike previous Age of Empires titles, the game encourages players to focus on developing their civilization over time, with cities that persist and earn resources even while the game is not actively being played.
Players interested in unlocking every aspect of their civilization will be able to use real money to purchase a Premium Civilization upgrade, which will unlock all of a civilization's abilities at once, including special abilities on its tech tree known as "star techs."
Users that purchase a Premium Civilization will also have access to exclusive "rare" and "epic" loot tiers—non-paying users will only have access to the less powerful common and uncommon items.
The game will also offer a la carte microtransaction packs, called "boosters," that offer new quests or gameplay types, as well as packs of vanity items that allow players to customize the appearance of their civilization. Prices for the game's microtransactions, as well as its premium upgrade, have yet to be announced.
"We don't want to nickel and dime you; we're trying to build a community," said Microsoft Games Studios' Ian Vogel in regards to the game's business model. "We're not just trying to sell you a product. We want to have something that's living and growing moving forward."
The game supports player-versus-player combat, as well as cooperative play on roughly 90 percent of its quests. Some of these quests include an "elite" mode, which increases both the difficulty and the quality of gear rewards.
The title will launch with two playable civilizations, the Greeks and the Egyptians, each of which possess unique units and tech trees.
Age of Empires Online is set to launch digitally for PC on Games for Windows Live later this year.