Remastering a classic game such as Age of Empires is like walking on a bed of broken glass. No matter what you do, the hardcore fans always believe in the old proverb – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That doesn’t exactly apply here. If you’ve tried playing Age of Empires on anything post Windows 7, you’ll come across way too many crashes and texture glitches turning your trip down nostalgia lane sour. So we were naturally elated to hear of Microsoft’s decision to spruce up the game that’s most synonymous with the RTS genre than any other title. So did Microsoft do a good job with Age of Empires: Definitive Edition? Read on to find out.
Before we move onto the game, let’s list out exactly what Microsoft has changed with the Definitive Edition. Most of the audio has been remastered. This includes the sound effects which feel completely different, however, the background score seem to be simply redone. That’s not a complaint, people who’re buying the game for the nostalgia will certainly appreciate some things being left right as it was in the original. We’ve touched upon this previously, so let’s move on.
There’s narration for all the campaigns, new character animations, customisable UI, rally points for all units including separate ones for the villagers, unit queuing, and some features from AOE2 such as farm reseeding and multi-build queues. With a variety of display dimensions available these days, they’ve also added customisable zoom levels which go all the way to 4x now.
Age of Empires was, is and will be one of the best RTS titles in gaming history. There is not much you need to change in the game. Age of Empires: Definitive Edition continues to honour classic RTS strategies such as rushing, resource grabbing, wall-ins, etc, which probably rose to prominence through AOE and StarCraft. What could have been improved is the pathfinding. Units still take forever to get past one another, especially when bottlenecked. There are several other kinks with the AI that seems dated in this day and age but that’s what you get when you try to preserve the core game.
There are 16 civilisations in the game with each civilisation exhibiting strengths and weaknesses that go well in certain situations while completely dragging you down in other situations. There still are certain bonuses which promote cheese armies since you’ll only build the most powerful units and nothing else. AOE2 fixed most of this and you had to have a healthy mix in order to win multiplayer matches. For example, rushing to the Castle Age and rushing with 2 knights was a powerful meta, however, if the enemy stocked up on Pikemen, you could be easily countered. In AOE, rushing into the Bronze Age and getting Chariots is a powerful strategy that can hardly be countered.
Unless of course, you bring out the PHOTON MAN. Yes, cheats work and they work wonderfully. Cheating wasn’t always seen as something bad in Age of Empires. In fact, some of the game modes that have risen in later strategy titles were inspired by certain cheats being abused. A fast priest with HOYOHOYO was one of the ways Regicide was played with Age of Empires before the actual mode was introduced in AOE2.
There are 10 single-player campaigns in the game that will keep you entertained for a while based on how you go about the game in Age of Empires: Definitive Edition. Yours truly likes to spend maxing out each mission before moving on to the other, so these campaigns last a long time. Those who chase just the objectives will probably finish the campaigns in under a week. Each campaign mission plays different thanks to the varying resources and units given to your at the beginning. This ensures that monotony is kept at bay. Sometimes you can just destroy the enemy Town Centre while in some other matches you have to hunt down the last villager. Overall, we give the campaigns a big thumbs-up.
The graphics of the game have been completely overhauled but not the extent of alienating all the fans. Everything looks the same, it’s just that the texture quality has been improved. As long as you don’t zoom in too much, you’re good. Age of Empires: Definitive Edition isn’t trying to mimic what the Total War series did with their RTS lineup. AoE is what inspired them all and they’re sticking with what they had.
In a way, the game appears a lot like AOE2 visually, especially if you look at the way the ground texture has been redone and the water looks pretty neat as well. From what it seems to us, the folks at Microsoft simply looked at all the elements that were visually jarring in this day and age, and reworked them. Hitting a building with a stick still sets it on fire, so all them memes are still good to go.
Almost every sound effect in the game has been redone including the title score which can still give you the goosebumps if you’ve spent an inordinate time of your childhood playing AoE. Like AOE2, the campaigns now have narration for each mission. It’s nowhere close to what AOE2 did since the narration doesn’t have the accented enunciations. Some of us still remember lines such as “An Army marches on its stomach” from the William Wallace tutorial which made us aware of foreign civilisations way before geography class in school did.
When you played AOE2, you went on an impressionable history lesson learning about cultures, civilisations and historical figures. In the Definitive Edition, the mission narrations don’t go that deep but they have spun a nice narration about why you are given certain objectives.
Instead of just asking you to “Gather food, wood and stone”, it’ll go on a little description of how your culture has evolved and why you need the new materials. We’d like to emphasise on the word “little”. Overall, Microsoft has done a good job with the remastering of the audio, albeit there could have been more done.
Multiplayer is still limited to an 8-player map, so at most, you can do ad 4-v-4. This is quite standard with today’s RTS games, even on the competitive circuit. You’ll mostly find 2v2v2v2 matches for StarCraft II when people want to go ape-shit with the game unless they’re playing custom games. It’s a different ball game altogether with custom games. We didn’t face many issues with the multiplayer aspect and it’s kind of difficult to point out exactly what went wrong. So far, we’ve only had one player getting dropped from an ongoing public match which is fine in our books.
The multiplayer element is key to the longevity of the title and the introduction of new content by means of new civilisations would be what ensures that Age of Empires: Definitive Edition lives on for the better part of the decade.
Verdict – AGE OF EMPIRES: DEFINITIVE EDITION
Age of Empires: Definitive Edition is thoroughly a remaster and not a remake. So they’ve wonderfully retained the charm that the original series had including the AI quirks that have become synonymous with the game. (Hint: Set buildings on fire by hitting it with a sword) The campaigns have received a lot of love and a reinvigorated multiplayer should keep the game popular for a while. There are a few kinks – you did experience frequent game crashes at the game launch but post some of the recent updates, that has died down. Some of the menus take forever to load and won’t even budge unless connectivity is established to Microsoft’s servers. At least let the Single Player campaigns run without online connectivity for heaven’s sake.
However, we’ve been playing the game since it was in closed beta, and take it from us when we say that they’ve taken care of almost every issue brought up on the forums. In an age where AAA titles ship with dead faces, major level glitches and missing textures, Age of Empires: Definitive Edition keeps its chin up in a rather snobbish way.
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