Age of Empires is a weird game to play in 2018

Julio Franco

TechSpot Editor
Staff member

Age of Empires: Definitive Edition is almost everything an Age of Empires fan could think they want. Unless they want the castles from Age of Kings.

An introduction: AoE:DE takes the original 1997 game, throws in its expansion Rise of Rome, cleans up the visuals, makes a few UI changes and sets it loose in 2018.

I haven’t played this game in years, so it’s been interesting sitting down with it well into the 21st century and finding how much of it still works, and how much of it doesn’t.

Age of Empires was a strategy game that mixed the frantic clicking of WarCraft with the technological advancement of Civilization, combining them into an RTS that was bigger, bolder and smarter than most of its late-90s competition.

At the time, it was a revelation. Two decades on, though, and you can maybe understand why we’re going so long between Age of Empires III and IV.

AoE:DE isn’t a full-on remaster, like say Shadow of the Colossus. The entire game hasn’t been rebuilt from the ground up, so if this is your first time time encountering the series, you’ll find many things about a bit old-fashioned.

The AI still skitters around the map like a coked-up spider, for example. Combat lacks any real sense of tactical control. And a modern game wouldn’t have just copied (mostly) the same unit roster across such culturally diverse factions.

Those are significant things! Deal-breakers, even. But then, this isn’t a game for the Age of Empires newcomer. This one’s for the fans, especially those who might have played the game to death in the 90s, moved on with their lives and now want to indulge in a little strategic nostalgia.

For them, the fact this collects everything in one package, cleans up the UI a bit, and runs nicely on modern PCs with modern resolutions, makes it a nice comfort play. It plays exactly as you remember it, all the tech trees are the same, the wololo is still there (albeit re-recorded, since there are new units vocals), this is Age of Empires, it just looks nicer.

Well, in theory. Visuals are a subjective thing, I know, but I’m just not feeling the graphics overhaul here. The game’s speed and isometric viewpoint were perfectly suited to pixels, and the original’s designs look great even today. Swapping those out for cleaner units and buildings makes the whole game feel more sterile, and I wish instead of going for the obvious “hi-res” option they’d instead opted for a more loving restoration of AoE’s pixel art.

I’m also surprisingly not that into Age of Empire anymore. I loved this game growing up, loved Age of Kings even more, but going back today and playing it I’ve been put off by the amount of tedious micro-management it demands of you, and how erratic and simple-minded the AI behaves, particularly its harvesting and base attacks.

With everything that’s come since AoE in the realms of both RTS and strategy, from its own sequels to Total War, I just didn’t find much here to grab my attention for more than a few hours’ blissful nostalgia. AoE’s formula may have been revolutionary in 1997, but in 2018 its fundamentals are not.

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BSim500

TS Evangelist
Quite honestly it's not even "for the fans". I grew up with with these games, have thousands of hours on AoE 1-2 over the years and know them inside out, but as reviews on MS Store are stating some changes to the AI "improvements" with the new "Definitive" Edition are actually a step back vs what original disc AoE + uPatch HD has accomplished, ie, enemy AI in single-player is even worse than the 1997 original. Likewise, in addition to adding widescreen, uPatch HD itself already fixed W7-10 compatibility issues (inc the "rainbow colors" bug that affects some other old DirectDraw games), fixed hundreds of minor bugs, removed the old disc-based DRM, introduced widescreen, cured save game corruption, etc, all for free long before work on the "Definitive" Edition even started...

So yeah, it's yet another "remaster" that tries to justify a quadrupling in price of 20 year old games and still ends up worse than what amateur modders put out 5-10 years earlier and which genuine fans still interested in playing were already using...
 
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thelatestmodel

TS Addict
I was already leaning towards not buying this because it's Windows Store only, but this review settles it. Hard pass, I'll stick to the original on my Win98 PC.
 

Nero7

TS Evangelist
I'm having an absolute blast with it both SP and MP.

Its absolutely worth it. Also no it does not just look better it also plays way better and the MP is finally balanced. Also AoE is one of the few RTS games were the campaign is actually challenging.