Review – Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition

Some people might try to convince you that Blizzard is the creator of the greatest real-time strategy games of all time, but when it comes to my personal opinion, nobody, and I mean NOBODY, will ever be able to beat Ensemble Studios. Games like Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds, Age of Mythology, and most importantly, the Age of Empires trilogy are easily my favorite strategy games of all time, perfectly balancing real-time combat tactics and warfare, with subtle hints of microeconomics and city building. Age of Empires II is arguably the most famous game of the franchise and is now available on a definitive edition with all previously released DLC, as well as some much appreciated technical improvements.

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The mighty might of the mighty Portuguese.

Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition is 50% a twenty year celebration of the game’s original release date (holy crap, time does sure fly) and 50% a beautiful remaster that improves the original game’s overall visuals and gameplay. The developers did manage to fix a handful of flaws that have been plaguing the series for the past twenty years, even though I still have a few design-related gripes with it.

First of all, let’s talk about content: there’s loads of it in here. I don’t think I have ever seen a strategy game with so many civilizations to choose from. Starcraft has three factions to choose from. Warcraft III has four. Age of Mythology has five. Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition has thirty-five. Yep, you read this right: THIRTY-FIVE different civilizations to choose from, each one with its unique unit and advantages that actually make all of them quite fun to play, as well as that classic abysmal voice acting that clearly shows that they didn’t hire natives to portray the residents of each civilization.

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My cute little British town even looks like your typical Western RPG setting.

Four new factions are included in this version: Bulgarians, Cumans, Lithuanians, and Tatars. With that being said, I’m still sticking with the Portuguese. The fact they have a special building that automatically generates resources without the need of creating three dozen workers to go out in the wild and search for mines is too good to be ignored. Every single campaign featured in previous games is included in here, as well as three brand new ones. They are all part of the brand new The Last Khans expansion included in this package.

Content-wise, Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition is fantastic, but one thing I really appreciate is the fact that the developers have completely revamped the game’s AI. If you have ever played a strategy game by Ensemble Studios, even the Star Wars one, you might know that the AI has always resorted to cheating in order to be competitive against human players, even on the easiest difficulties. That’s not the case in here, as there is a brand new AI setting that doesn’t need to cheat in order to become the bane of your existence. You can still toggle between old and new AI before creating a new game, if you ever start feeling nostalgic about how dumb the computer was back in 1999.

The biggest improvement in this version, without a doubt, was in its graphical department. Bear in mind that Microsoft had already released an HD version of Age of Empires II back in 2013, but that looked more like a mere upscaling of the original 1999 game than a proper remaster. That’s not the case in here. Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition is freaking gorgeous. Everything was built with sprites, yet everything looks incredibly realistic. Make sure to download the Enhanced Graphics pack as well, as it will make the game look even more impressive, especially if you have a computer that can support 4K resolution. The framerate never stutters, even when there’s too much action happening onscreen. This is a visually impressive game that has been polished with an extra dose of care and love.

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Raise some hell.

The sound department has also received a major revamp. The songs themselves haven’t changed, but they have been remastered and sound as great as ever. The Age of Empires franchise has always been known for its fantastic soundtracks and it’s no different in here. With that been said, even as good as the soundtrack is, I mostly stuck to playing the game while listening to the Mongolian folk rock band The HU. Their tribal music is perfect for a game about medieval warfare!

Taking all of that into account, with all those much appreciated fixes, Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition, still features some annoying issues. While not exactly deal breakers, they are still a bit detrimental to my overall enjoyment of the game.

I have two main gripes with it. The first one lies in the editor mode, which still doesn’t feature a lot of assets to play with, unlike Ensemble’s later titles. This makes what is usually my favorite mode in the entire game a bit of a chore to endure, just like its predecessor. The other main gripe lies in one visual aspect the developers did not fix when remastering this game: all civilizations look too similar. Unlike in, say, Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds, in which every single unit looked unique, Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition only features a handful of different architectural presets, making a bunch of different civilizations utilize the same buildings and unit models. Mongols, Koreans, and Japanese all use the same pagoda-style buildings, while Slavs, Vikings, Teutons, and Celts all feature the same generic Medieval European architectural style. All the same despite the fact their cultures couldn’t have been more different from one another. I know it’s too much to ask for, especially with freaking thirty-five different civilizations to choose from, but I feel the developers could have done some extra tinkering in order to make each faction look (and feel) more unique.

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Nothing like an army of more than 50 samurai to get the job done.

Small issues aside, I can’t deny I loveĀ Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition. This is one of the most impressive remasters I’ve seen in years. Not only has the original game aged like a fine Cabernet Sauvignon, but its sheer amount of content and overall improvements to its visuals and gameplay are more than enough to make want to play this for dozens of hours in a row. RTS fans and history buffs, unite! The game you’ve been waiting for has finally arrived!

 

Graphics: 9.0

The newly revamped graphics are absolutely gorgeous, especially if you download the Enhanced Graphics pack. I still don’t like the fact that civilizations don’t feature exclusive architectural styles for their buildings, though.

Gameplay: 9.0

Age of Empires II basically dictated how a real-time strategy game UI and gameplay should behave, and it aged like a fine wine. Just like its enhanced predecessor, the only issues I found with it lie on the underwhelming amount of assets in the editor mode.

Sound: 9.0

Just like in other Age of Empires/Mythology games, the soundtrack is masterfully composed, including some exclusive instruments depending on which civilization you decide to play as. The sound effects are still pretty good as well.

Fun Factor: 9.0

Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition features a mind-boggling amount of content that left me speechless. Its gameplay has most certainly endured the test of time as well.

Final Verdict: 9.0

Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition is available now on PC.

Reviewed on PC.

A copy of Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition was provided by the publisher.

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