It has been 20 years since the first Age of Empires released, one of the first games to bring real life history with the RTS genre. Age of Empires: Definitive Edition is the latest remaster of years past, and it is not just increased resolution that Forgotten Empires has in store – completely new 4K textures, re-recorded soundtrack and plenty of “Wololo”.
These aren’t the only changes that have been made, as the total list is far too exhaustive to go over in a single review. You would be forgiven for being slightly put off this remaster if you are after some good old-fashioned nostalgia, which Age of Empires II: HD Edition provided.
For those of you who don’t know what Age of Empires is, let me clue you in – in this particular edition, there are 12 civilisations available to play as, from the Egyptians to the Sumerians. Typically, you will start with only a few villagers, and from there you will need to build up your empire, finding wooded areas to collect your lumber, or elephants and deer to hunt. As you collect more resources, you can advance from the Stone Age right up to the Iron Age, with the variances of soldier and technologies available improving as you progress. Once you build up your army, you can take on your enemies in exciting combat, or make alliances as you play to team up against other civilisations.
Even though AoE has gone through a big visual overhaul – which looks fantastic by the way – the personality from the 20-year-old game is still very much alive. For those who are looking for a nostalgia trip, look no further. By keeping the original engine in the core, Forbidden Empires have done exactly what they promised to do: bringing the original into a modern body. You can even switch to Classic Mode, sporting the original graphics and soundtrack.
Just a couple of the improvements made here are the ability to view idle villagers, and queuing up the training of soldiers and villagers in their respective areas. Being able to see which villagers are milling around waiting for their next instruction is perhaps the most useful. When you are in the heat of battle and need more food to replenish your army, the last thing you want is to go back to your settlement to see that farms have expired or bushes are no longer full of berries, leaving them standing around. You can zoom in now too, so you can watch keep a watchful eye on your gold miners. Not that any of them will wander off.
For the history buffs out there, AoE features 10 different campaigns, including the Rise of Rome expansion. These give you specific objectives to complete, with the first Egyptian campaign offering up a few training exercises to bring you up to speed, which are definitely recommended if you’re new to the series. Each one is varied and follows a different civilisation, and often includes either a mythical or a historical figure.
The maps are just as diverse as ever, from large sprawling forests, to islands where you will need to build a fleet of ships to move your army around. It keeps every game fresh, as the resources you will need to prioritise will change depending on which of these maps you choose to play on. If you are on an island, chances are it won’t be as prudent to build a wall, so maybe you could dedicate more villagers to mining gold, or send them off to build farms. No gates here though, so you will have to leave a hole in your defences for your men to move through.
As diverse as these are, after you have gone through a selection of these campaigns, you will have generally experienced most of what the game has to offer. Whilst these are based off different events, the main objectives are very similar, and will still see you building the same armies and locating forests, just in different locations.
As Forbidden Empires have kept the original Genie engine, it has presented its own challenges to the developers, some of which are yet to be resolved. Although the pathfinding has been touted as an improvement, all too often do units (especially when you are moving a group at a time) seem to get stuck on each other, or try to pass something in their way and get themselves trapped. This is especially irritating when in battle: archers firing away at your swordsmen, whilst they are seemingly standing about on the battlefield having a chat. When you need to move each unit individually, it quickly becomes a nuisance.
Another notable issue here is the AI. Very often, it feels like it gets to the latter stages of the game, just as you are beginning to build an army, and they just give up. Not in the sense that it resigns, but after spending many resources on building up a sizeable force and you make it to your enemies’ settlements to find all their villagers stood around, with barely any military presence, it makes you feel a little deflated. If you up the difficulty, it ranges from a little too easy to oh-my-god-how-do-they-have-that-already-aaand-I’m-dead.
For that reason, playing online is probably where most will spend their time – if you can get into a game, that is. There seems to be an occasional issue wherein players are disconnected when trying to get into a lobby, currently being investigated by the developers. Forget playing this game offline, too – a constant Internet connection is required.
Unfortunately, I cannot get much further into this review without expressing my disappointment at Microsoft for releasing this solely on the Windows Store, exclusively for Windows 10. After the success that Age of Empires II: HD Edition has experienced on Steam, and the plethora of mods that are now available, I was quite surprised by this. Putting it onto the Store does not help it reach a wider audience, instead it is limited to those running their latest OS; and even then, there are large amounts of people who refuse to purchase from this storefront. Not to mention those who generally have issues with downloads from the Windows Store, anyway. Perhaps Microsoft does not want community mods, something the cynical side of me hastens to add.
Regardless, I have to say I am happy with the remaster, even given its issues. Microsoft have already announced that there will be Definitive Editions of the other Age of Empires games, too, so perhaps it is my excitement of Age of Empires II receiving this very same treatment that is fuelling my positivity here. Having the ability to play on custom maps online has also been promised, so that will add some longevity.
Age of Empires: Definitive Edition (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
It’s a very solid remaster of a classic game, and those looking for a nostalgia trip to 20 years ago should look no further. Some of the quirks are still present, even the original cheats, ultimately making this the true Definitive Edition.