Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition
The iconic real-time strategy game got an upgrade this month bringing a coat of polish, and more than enough upgrades to make it worth picking up once more. Check out my full review!
As a diehard RTS fan, I was more than eager to get my hands on the Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition. The game is one of the most critically acclaimed games of the genre, and its influence can still be felt in modern titles to this day. For many years after its release, the Age of Kings (its original subtitle) was the format by which other RTS games followed, including the beloved Star Wars strategy game, Galactic Battlegrounds.
20 years later, however, and even the best games begin to show their age a little bit, and that’s where the Definitive Edition comes in. I know what you’re thinking, they already came out with an HD edition back in 2012, that gave the game more of a modern look...Why do I need another version?
The developers have gone above and beyond simply making the game look pretty, and has added a ton of great features to the older title. Beyond HD resolution, the Definitive Edition brings all new 4K graphics to the game. It looks stunning while still retaining the overall feel and aesthetic of the original.
This upgrade has been applied to all of the game’s previously released expansions, but that’s not all. The game features a number of quality-of-life enhancements. These range from major to minor tweaks, but all of them work to make Age of Empires II feel like you’re playing a modern RTS instead of one that’s a couple decades old. Simple stuff like being able to see all of your production/research advancements via a queue at the top of the screen changes up the game pretty drastically. Before, you’d have to click on every single building in your base in order to not only check on progress of production, but to recruit more units and begin research. Now, it’s all at the top and able to access quickly.
Farms aren’t a hassle anymore either as they can be automatically replanted. Generally speaking, many of these improvements are relatively minor but combined together makes for a game that feels perfectly at ease among just about any other modern RTS.
Other changes to the AI and pathfinding (though your units still manage to get themselves stuck in the weirdest damn places) are nice additions as well. I’m sure there are a bunch of other little changes I haven’t noticed since it’s been quite some time since I’ve played the original, but all in all it feels pretty great to play.
What’s even more impressive, however, is that pretty much all of these changes are optional. Players can go into the settings and disable just about every new feature. So if you’ve got a hankering to relive your late 90s gaming days, you can absolutely do that. I played around with this a bit, but all I got out of it was an appreciation for how the genre has evolved. I think I’ll keep the quality-of-life enhancements turned on.
For me, streamlining those elements adds to the strategy rather than detract from them. While some feel those micromanaging aspects brings more depth to the gameplay, they’re all too often just tedious. Without having to worry about those, I was able to truly focus on the type of research I wanted to dive into and better placing my troops to take down enemies.
These modern improvements aren’t the only new additions to the game. On top of bringing together all of Age of Empires II expansions, developers Forgotten Empires even included three entirely new campaigns to play through! The Last Khans add four new civilizations to play around with (bringing the game’s total up to 35): Bulgarians, the Cumans, the Lithuanians and the Tatars.
These campaigns help tell the story of Genghis Khan's and those displaced by his invasions. It’s a fun new expansion, adding even more value to the package as it result is several more hours of playtime. The downside, however, is that much of it feels very “samey.” The new civilizations don’t feel all that distinct from one another in terms of gameplay. As such, there didn’t feel like a lot of variety going on between all the missions.
Even so, this doesn’t detract from the fact that the expansion is still fun to play through. Combined with all the other expansions (especially if you haven’t played them before), and there’s hundreds of hours of playtime awaiting gamers.
Learning the Ropes
Probably my favorite addition to Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition is the Art of War. Think of this like tutorials, but instead of helping you understand the basics, they introduce you to the more high-level tactics and skills.
I loved it, because all too often these type of gameplay aspects aren’t the easiest to discover on your own. It’s a great way to eliminate some of the barriers to the RTS genre that keep a lot of people away.
Fast Castle is a great example, as it helps walk you through the necessary steps (like prioritizing research) to get to a certain stage quicker. Even the first Art of War missions, Early Economy, offers insight into how to best manage your resources throughout missions. It may seem like basic stuff, but provides a fun challenge even for those more skilled with RTS games.
And somehow, we’re getting ALL of that for only $20. Even if you own the previously released HD version, there’s a lot of reason to make another purchase with the Definitive Edition. It’s going to easily occupy my time until Age of Empires IV finally arrives.