Age of Empires II from Microsoft released back in 1999 around the time I had got my first computer. In fact, the demo version was one of the first games I ever played. Needless to say I’ve been rather excited with the prospect of reliving the game. Microsoft announced Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition two years back at Gamescom 2017 and the game has just released. Age of Empires II is definitely one of the best games in the series if not the best. Hence the devs from Forgotten Empires, Tantalus Media, and Wicked Witch Software have a lot of hopes riding on them. Now that I have played the game for the last week, here’s my Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition review.
Graphics, Music and Cinematics
Microsoft advertised that the updated visuals will be the biggest selling point of the game, and I want to get right into it. The new 4k visuals of the game with the free DLC Enhanced Graphics Pack are absolutely stunning. You can now zoom in on the map and have a look at the characters in all their 4K glory. A fair warning though playing this game on 4K resolution will require a beefy PC. Mine with Intel 7700k processor, Nvidia GTX 1070 AMP Extreme card, 16GB RAM had a tough time maintaining FPS at a steady 60. But I have to admit it is worth it. The visuals and the different mechanics in the game look far more advanced than the original game. And the textures have been recolored and updated as well.
The music has been updated as well and it was really interesting to listen to the new scores for the newly added civilizations to the game. Each of the 35 civilizations have their unique music, which plays when playing them in a match or just browsing through their history content. Most of the effects music though are still the same. The new music is just as good and catchy as those used in the original game if not better. As for the cinematics, there are hardly any in the game, as it uses the still and text method before playing each campaign map.
Story and Content
As we all know the Age of Empires games don’t really follow storylines, rather adapt from historical retelling. It is pretty much the same here, but it seems the amount of content has been amped up a lot. The number of civilizations in the game now number 35 which is massive to be honest. And each of these civilizations have at least a few maps of campaign in them. These range from the Celts and William Wallace, Joan of Arc to Vlad Dracula and Kotyan Khan in Europe. In Asia we have civilization campaigns from Tamerlane, Genghis Khan to Prithviraj in India. The Mayans and Aztec civilizations in America are present along with Yodit to Tariq ibn Ziyad in Africa.
The range of content in the game is just massive, and there are just too many campaigns to finish. The devs claim that there is at least 200 hours worth of campaign gameplay in Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition of which I hardly scratched the surface in the past week. Moving on to the multiplayer bit of the game, it seems to be just as exciting as the original one. Though I was not able to play the multiplayer at its best since I played the game mostly in the pre-release review period and the opponents were limited to other journalists with high ping.
But for those that have not played the original game, the game requires strategy and planning to say the least. Each civilization come with their own perks and demerits. Hence players need to think hard before they select one to fit their gameplay style. One of the things that could have been done better is the variety to the newly added civilizations. Most new additions feel like more of the same with little variety in them.
Controls and Gameplay
The controls of the game is pretty much the same as it always has been. But there are certain improvements that the devs have done this time around. There are some new features that have been added to make life easier for players. One example would be the new feature of queuing tasks for villagers by pressing shift. Rest of the controls are pretty much the same, and sadly directing units from one place to another is still a but clunky around objects.
The gameplay bit is definitely leaps and bounds ahead of the original game, and is just as engaging. But there were some issues with the game crashing while loading maps. This is nothing a good update from the devs can’t fix, hence it should not pose a big problem. For those that want a leg-up in the campaign modes, the classic old cheats are available. But using these cheats negates the chances of getting achievements in that particular map. There are some unit control issues which were there in the original game which have been dealt with making life much easier when controlling large number of units.
To sum up my review, I would say that Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition is a case study in how remaster of games should work. Microsoft has done a great job having the game cleaned up and adding a lot of new content to the game. Right now, this is one of the most expansive strategy games there is. But it is not without its demerits as well, which are not major fortunately. These include a bit of retained clunky character movement, and reusing things for making the new civilizations.
Considering all the points, I have to admit that playing this game took me happily back to my childhood. Those that played the original will definitely want to try this out, and that didn’t try the original should also have a taste of the kind of content one of the best games from 20 years ago offered.