The original Age of Empires is an RTS classic, first released to the wild in 1997. A number of years have passed… and scarily, I almost graduated high school that same year, so now I’m feeling quite old… and Microsoft has seen fit to reintroduce the title for new audiences in the form of Age of Empires: Definitive Edition.
The problem is, all the bells and whistles that come with this facelift mightn’t be enough.
Definitive Edition offers revised gameplay, support for 4K textures and improvements like new zoom levels, but it also comes with some dependencies that modern gamers won’t be happy with. For starters, and like Halo Wars 2, Age of Empires: Definitive Edition is a Windows 10 exclusive, so those looking to play via Steam are out of luck. Multiplayer is handled by the Xbox Live platform, and while a Gold subscription isn’t necessary, I can already imagine the PC faithful complaining. Nor do I blame them.
LAN play is supported, I should add, so all’s not lost.
Sure, Definitive Edition is a little bare bones when compared to Age of Empires II HD — and that one’s available on Steam — but it’s basically night and day when comparing the original releases. Only two years separate the original titles, but they look like chalk and cheese. Definitive Edition has done extremely well in keeping the original look and feel of the classic title, at the same time bringing it forward to appeal to modern audiences. While things like campaign narration help to cement this modernisation, gameplay advancements made in AoE II that simply aren’t in the original take it a couple steps back.
As examples, you can build fortification walls, but you can’t build gates (whoops). A simple, expected effort like research queuing isn’t possible here either. That said, unit queuing, introduced in the “Rise of Rome” expansion, is. Nevertheless, when compared to AoE II HD, or even modern-day titles like Civilization VI — now with a new “Rise and Fall” expansion to boot — and this release tends to falter.
A newly recorded soundtrack is majestic, though I’d be amiss if I didn’t point out I really don’t remember what the original offering sounded like. It’s here, and compared to an offering like Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, that you really wish an option to toggle between old and new versions of the title was available. And while controls are definitely suited for a keyboard and mouse, I’m a bit disappointed an Xbox One version isn’t available.
That all said, Age of Empires: Definitive Edition is budget-priced, coming in at $22.45 AUD — it’s hard to pile on a game at that price. While not perfect, it contains what amounts to quality of life enhancements that’ll appeal to the RTS fan, or thrill geriatrics like me who remember playing on their ol’ 32-bit Pentium III.
It’s not perfect, but it’s still pretty fun. With single- and multiplayer offerings and a wealth of nostalgia, it’s hard to do wrong with Age of Empires: Definitive Edition. Be warned, though — this humble gamer decided to play on his first-gen Surface Book and had to force a 30FPS lock and turn off a lot of extra graphical options to get things to run smoothly. Though it’s an old game, that 4K support means you’ll still need a decent rig.
Age of Empires: Definitive Edition was reviewed using a promotional code on Windows 10 PC, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.