Review – Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition (Xbox Series S/X)

Not long ago, Xbox Game Studios decided to announce that Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition, one of their most acclaimed PC-exclusive titles of all time, was going to be ported and released for the Xbox family of consoles in early 2023. It was a shocking announcement, to say the least. A real-time strategy game on console? And with all mechanics preserved? How the hell would Microsoft pull this off? I was certainly skeptical of them actually fulfilling this promise. Now that the port is finally out (on Game Pass, thank goodness), I could give Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition a go and see if it was indeed better than trying to play StarCraft on a Nintendo 64 controller.

Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition Xbox UI

The game looks gorgeous on a big screen, but this UI is so hideous.

Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition was a surefire hit back when it first dropped on PC. It was chock-full of content, it looked amazing, and it played like a dream… BECAUSE of it having a mouse-based interface. The Xbox Series S/X version does try to fix the situation with a brand new controller-based system which also required for the entire UI to be remapped and redesigned. This might be my biggest issue with the port in particular. While Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition looks gorgeous, the UI looks cheap, simplistic, with modern fonts that clash horrendously with the game’s overall medieval premise.

As for the control scheme itself… it does take some time before getting used to it. Moving units and attacking enemies is simple and intuitive, especially with the option to move towards a specific point of the map aggressively, killing everyone in your path. The issue comes with micromanaging. Building, researching and producing units forces you to go through bizarre wheel-shaped menus, and even some wheels-inside-wheels in order to find the specific research or unit you want. Age of Empires has always been known for being a game where twitch-like reflexes and micromanagement are the key elements for a player to achieve victory, so this console port of Age of Empires II ends up being a lot slower and less, uh, strategic.

Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition Wheels

Get used to these wheel-shaped menus.

It’s not entirely terrible. For the most part, it’s different. It makes the campaigns feel more entertaining than the traditional skirmishes. In fact, for the first time in forever, I was more invested in the many campaigns at my disposal than anything else. I couldn’t be bothered to play the game with my typical “make a huge city, thoroughly wall it up, then develop a monstrous army to wreak havoc” style, because the control scheme just wasn’t made for such an approach. Sure, the lack of a scenario editor was one of the main reasons, but something about this particular port, and its controller scheme, made me gravitate towards these charming (and poorly voiced) campaigns.

Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition Xbox Campaign

The lack of a scenario editor made me gravitate towards the (many) campaigns available in this version.

This was a bold attempt by Microsoft. I applaud them trying to adapt the most mouse-friendly game in existence to a console, with a controller. It’s still fun, and it’s certainly very playable, but it’s off-putting. It’s far from being the ideal way to experience this classic, and to be fair, the PC version isn’t even THAT demanding, even on laptops. I really don’t know who this particular port of Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition is for. You may have fun with it for a while, and there is a ton of content (despite some additional DLC, bummer), but at the end of the day, you’ll revert back to playing the original version on a PC, with a mouse and keyboard, just like the God of Wololo intended.


Graphics: 8.0

The console UI looks cheap and hideous, but the spritework still looks outstanding.

Gameplay: 7.0

It takes a while to get used to this brand new control scheme. It’s weird, it’s off-putting, but it works for a console version of a real-time strategy game.

Sound: 8.0

The soundtrack is still excellent, the sound effects are iconic, and the voice acting is still deliciously atrocious. The sound mixing, on the other hand, isn’t very good in this particular version.

Fun Factor: 7.0

It was an honorable attempt at bringing Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition to a console. It’s still fun, and it’s certainly playable, but it’s far from being the ideal way to experience this classic.

Final Verdict: 7.5

Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition is available now on Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X and PC.

Reviewed on Xbox Series S.