Age of Empires: Definitive Edition Review – Back to School
Age of Empires: Definitive Edition20th February, 2018
There's a famous idiom about wearing glasses that are not of the correct clarity. Okay, enough of writing like I'm Commander Data. Rose-tinted glasses are something we all have one time or another. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Nostalgia is a powerful tool. It has fuelled Kickstarter titles for years now. The problem is, sometimes nostalgia is a thing best left unexplored. This is partly the case with Age of Empires: Definitive Edition.
Age of Empires has been one of my favorite franchises for a long time. It's right up there with Total War, Command & Conquer and Civilization as a long-running, great strategy series. Core titles were fantastic, with an exemplary spinoff in Age of Mythology. This isn't to say the series hasn't had its troubles. Age of Empires Online was poorly received when first released. Content was expensive, to say the least. It was later improved dramatically and became a fantastic game when updated and brought to Steam. However, that was a case of too little, too late. It was closed just four years after launch, with everything players had bought via microtransactions lost forever. Following that, the series just seemed to relish in re-releasing older titles and giving them new content.
Anyway, enough preamble. This is a review of Age of Empires: Definitive Edition. Releasing after the HD edition of Age of Empires II and Extended Edition of Age of Mythology, is this another great trip down memory lane or a case of better left alone?
Honestly, it's a very difficult thing to say. Forgotten Empires has more than just put an HD coating over what is an old game. This much is made clear as the game lets you play with the original 1997 visuals. The difference between the original and the new is night-and-day level. More than this, not having to deal with the same technical limitations can let you see even more of the game than ever before. Quite literally, as a matter of fact. Zooming out lets you see huge swathes of land and this is equally filled up by the population count, now increased to 250.
The problem then is how these units are used. While some creature comforts of modern RTS games have been brought forward. You can now queue units and find idle workers a lot easier. It's also easier to group units together and use the attack move function. These are always great features to include. The problem comes with how the game actually plays. It's easy to tell that it's a 20 year old game because the AI is downright abysmal.
Diplomacy, trade research. All fairly simple concepts that haven't been improved since the original. In theory, they were great ideas but were never implemented effectively. The AI will drop in and out of an alliance, particularly one with yourself, at the tip of a hat. Trade is also never utilized as it should be, as a means of sustaining your empire. As for attacks themselves, it's just too simple. Unfocused attacks, constantly along the same route means that once established, you'll rarely find yourself in danger.
Were that the only problem it would be fine. The game simply hasn't aged well because despite there being a whole host of different factions, they are all effectively the same. There's little to differentiate between a large number of them. Buildings look the same, as do the units. There are a few unique units around, but it's something that you come to expect. Particularly as games like Age of Empires II did it so successfully.
At least one thing has remained and works well, that's the campaign. Or, I should say, campaigns. The definitive edition also contains the Rise of Rome expansion. There are ten campaigns in total to play through. These campaigns feature missions that vary from large scale skirmishes to more focused strikes. There are a number of hero quests, where you'll control a famous figure during a historically significant event.
It really works well because the campaigns offer a sort of watered down history lesson. Participate in everything from the rise of Rome itself, building and securing the seven hills that form Rome. Jump into the future and face against the Carthaginians as they invade Italy itself. Maybe you want to follow Japan over the span of nine hundred years? Participate in the rise of Greece and the Trojan War and the eventual rise and expansion of Alexander the Great.
The major problem is that, particularly due to the simplicity of the game, you'll tire of it before completing all of them. I like to think of myself as a huge fan of the series, but even I could only finish four before eventually tiring of the whole thing. Due to the lack of variety and the simplicity, even the missions that have different types of objectives end of feeling like more of the same.
What could potentially help push the game forward is the in-game scenario editor. It allows you to build your own levels and even design your own campaigns. It could be a very potent tool within the right hands, letting somebody with the time and knowhow create a campaign much like those you'd find in the core game.
Outside of that, I can't really praise online that much. I've attempted to play online around maybe six or seven times and all but one game were laden with issues. Connection errors are the biggest problem, where units would ping backwards and forwards. Even worse is when connections drop completely. It's something that looks like it was brought back from the 56k modem era.
One great thing that Age of Empires: Definitive Edition does bring back from the past are cheat codes. In an era where cosmetic oddities and cheats are now sold to the customer, this is a game that stands out as a shining beacon. The original was released in a time where consumers were given extra little features on top of the game as a bonus, not as something to pay for.
This is something this version retains. There's just something joyous about typing in jack be nimble and watching your catapults throw villagers, rather than stones. Or, control the animal kingdom by typing in gaia. It may not seem like much, but these little things give the game some of the charm it's plainly hoping for.
Do I recommend Age of Empires: Definitive Edition? I'll chalk it up as a tentative yes. It's certainly got the nostalgia factor going for it. Despite its age and the numerous problems that come from it Age of Empires is still a good strategy game. The major issue is that everything about the game has been refined and done better, even by its own successors. As a way to promote Age of Empires IV, though, it's a sensible move. As a way to revive the series using older titles, that was already done best with Age of Empires II HD.
Copy provided by the publisher. You can purchase the game via Windows Store.
Age of Empires: Definitive Edition has certainly got the nostalgia factor going for it. Despite its age, and the numerous problems that come from it, Age of Empires is still a good strategy game. The major issue is that everything about the game has been refined and done better, even by its own successors. As a way to promote Age of Empires IV, it's a sensible move. As a way to revive the series using older titles, that was already done best with Age of Empires II HD.
- Great visual and audio upgrades
- Very strong campaigns that follow a number of historical stories and events
- A few creature comforts, like the idle villager button, have brought the game slightly forward in time
- Sticking so closely to the original has left the game with AI that is downright abysmal
- A notable lack of diversity between factions
- Diplomacy, alliances and trading is barely even an afterthought
- Multiplayer is terribly difficult to get into, having a number of connection issues