Review – Age of Empires: Definitive Edition

Despite the fact that the real time strategy genre hasn’t received many games (as in, almost none) ever since the MOBA genre became popular, I’ve never stopped playing those titles. Especially the ones made by the late Ensemble Studios and its clones. Age of Empires, Age of Mythology, and Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds (a game that is basically Age of Empires with a Star Wars skin) were among my favorite PC games from my childhood. It’s great to hear that not only did Microsoft announce a brand new sequel to the Age of Empires franchise with the fourth title in the main series, but it also decided to release a brand new version of the original title with new visuals to modern PCs. Here’s the definitive edition of the classic Age of Empires.

I wish I had this sense of architecture…

Age of Empires: Definitive Edition features all of the content from both the original game and its Rise of Rome expansion. That accounts for 16 civilizations, campaigns from both the original game and its expansion (with brand new narrations), lots of premade maps, the always present scenario editor, and some new features such as Xbox Live multiplayer and achievements. The main addition, however, is the brand new visual overhaul the game has received. Gone is the sprite-based visual style of both the first and second games. Age of Empires: Definitive Edition boasts a new look that’s a lot more reminiscent of Age of Empires III, with detailed models that, if not comprised of polygons, are comprised of incredibly well-crafted 2D artwork, good textural quality, and excellent lighting effects.

Surely, each individual unit isn’t exactly as detailed as your average modern gaming character, being very similar to what AoE III (a game visually ahead of its time, granted) used to feature, but given the fact there are always dozens of characters onscreen at any time, you can’t even complain about this aspect. The game also supports 4K resolution if your rig can handle it. And you can also revert back to the classic sprite-based visual style if you wish to, although it won’t look very practical on a higher resolution. Everything will be too small, resulting in even more difficult micromanagement.

Is it a good time to shout “This is Sparta”?

Besides the visual revamp, the game has received an awesome remastered soundtrack. It’s not quite as good as the godlike soundtrack present in Age of Mythology (pun intended), this brand new soundtrack is still great, making battles even more epic. Older sound effects are still around, and that’s both a good and a bad thing. Classic sound effects such as the battle fanfare and the old priest’s “WOLOLO” shout are still present, but the game also features a somewhat faulty preset sound mixing, as the music is extremely loud while the sound effects are set to a much lower setting.

Thankfully, the easy to learn, hard to master gameplay is still here. The Age of Empires games (and Galactic Battlegrounds for that matter) have always featured the same exact gameplay and visual interface, and that’s no different this time around. Let me clarify that this is a great thing, in an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” kind of way. The scenario editor still features the same easy interface as well, allowing for any player to create highly detailed levels with ease. Despite this, I found the scenario’s control responsiveness to be a bit slow at times. I wouldn’t see this issue during normal gameplay, thankfully.

Despite being a revamped version of Age of Empires, this definitive edition still suffers from a few flaws, one of them being some limitations imposed by the classic title itself, most notably in the character design. One thing that bothered me in the original AoE that’s still present here is the fact that units don’t feature exclusive visuals for each civizilation. That means that a soldier unit created in a Japanese military building will still look like a Roman centurion, for instance. Given the fact Age of Mythology had already fixed this nuisance more than fifteen years ago, I wasn’t expecting for this setback to make a return. The game also features some occasional AI issues, with your units not properly obeying your commands or enemy soldiers blatantly ignoring the fact you’re attacking one of their bases, only for them to snap back to reality a few minutes later like a bunch of rabid hyenas.

Keep calm and Wololo

Age of Empires: Definitive Edition is easily the best way ever conceived to play this classic game, complete with revamped visuals and soundtrack, but the game still suffers from some limitations imposed by the fact it’s little more than a remake of a twenty year old game. Nevertheless, I can’t help but feel satisfied with this title, as well as glad about the sudden resurgence of the RTS genre. I also can’t help but look forward to the next Age of Empires installment due to come out later this year. Wololo all the way, baby!

Graphics: 7.5

The revamped graphics are nice and the lighting effects are great, but the game still has graphical limitations that are derived from the original title.

Gameplay: 9.0

The same excellent interface as always. The only issue was the slower control responsiveness on the editor mode.

Sound: 9.0

The soundtrack is top-notch and the classic sound effects are still present. Yes, even Wololo.

Fun Factor: 7.5

It’s a much improved version of the original, but it still suffers from most of the limitations Age of Empires used to have twenty years ago.

Final Verdict: 8.0

Copy of Age of Empires: Definitive Edition provided by publisher.