A few years ago, Age of Empires II: HD Edition was released, which was basically the original game (and its expansion) with a nice HD polish. Eventually, it did receive some brand new expansions of its own, which was nice, but other than that, it was just a prettied-up re-release of the original. Not necessarily a bad thing, as it turns out, because the popularity and sales were obviously enough to justify a full remaster of the original. So after that first step, a cautious toe dipped in an ocean filled with gaming remakes and remasters, we’ve come to this; a remaster of the original Age of Empires.

Age of Empires has been around for over 20 years now, with the original releasing way back in 1997. Now it’s 2018, and it’s received a series of refinements and upgrades in the form of Age of Empires: Definitive Edition. On a base level, it’s the exact same game: you start off in the Stone Age with a small encampment, slowly building your way up through the different ages whilst fending off attacks from rival empires. Compared to the more modern Rise of Nations and later Civilization games, it’s very simple, but back in the day, it was the best of the best and incredibly fun. But after 20 years, are a visual upgrade and a few gameplay tweaks enough to make it worth playing again?

When initially loading the game up, you might find yourself wondering whether or not the game has actually been upgraded visually. However, once you load up the classic mode, the differences become more noticeable. It’s not one of the best remasters out there, but the graphics have clearly been worked on, although they still don’t look special, at least not by today’s standards. Everything looks more crisp and clean, and it may have all been upgraded to 4K, but you wouldn’t mistake it for a new game. By no means is that a bad thing, however, as it suits the gameplay just fine, and ultra-realistic visuals would not be a worthwhile improvement anyway. In fact, you could say it works in the games favour, as it keeps things nice and nostalgic.

In terms of gameplay, very little has changed. It’s still the same game, with some tweaks here and there, but nothing major. Those of us who played the game back in 1997 will remember it as a game of deep strategy and empire-building, but coming back to it now, after several Civilization and Dawn of War games, the gameplay doesn’t quite hold up. Whereas those other games constantly keep you busy with various systems that distract you from just constantly building units to destroy your enemies, AoE: Definitive Edition just doesn’t have that. Once you’ve built every building and upgraded the few technologies available, you can either wipe out your rivals, or bunker down and build a Wonder, which means just sitting there waiting to be attacked. As difficult as it is to admit, it’s very dated and players new to the series may be put off by the sparse gameplay that may even disappoint returning players.

Back in the late 90s I was too young to even want to play the original’s campaigns, let alone appreciate them, so going into this 20 years later with no prior knowledge was a strange feeling. However, after playing the tutorial, there’s not really much more to experience. Yes, there are a lot of different campaigns, but they are all essentially the same, and you’ll grow tired of it well before you finish it. There’s only so many times you can field the same units to clear out the entire map before you get bored, and that’s essentially what all the campaigns ask you to do.

As you may have guessed, the years have not been kind, and that goes doubly so for the game’s AI. Units will sometimes take nonsensically meandering paths to where you’ve asked them to go, which isn’t good when you take into consideration that units will basically be useless and just stand there unless you actively micromanage them and tell them what to do. During a large battle, nothing is worse than having to furiously click units to attack and your units deciding to take the long way around a forest instead of walking straight at the enemy. It’s bad AI path-finding, and it’s just additional frustration that nobody wants or needs when playing a game.

In 2018, Age of Empires: Definitive Edition is a game lost in time. Obviously it’s been released with the intention to evoke a feeling of nostalgia among fans ahead of Age of Empires IV, but all it really does is remind us that it’s been over 20 years since the original released, and how far games have come since then. At its core, this is a good game, deserving of the budget price it’s available for, and it’ll serve as a nice reminder of days gone by for fans of the series, but for newcomers, it might not be worth it, especially considering Age of Empires II was arguably the better game and is getting its own remaster in the near future. In its day, Age off Empires was the best RTS game out there, but the formula has been reformed and perfected through various other games in the decades since. You might be better off playing one of those.


Rhys Evans

I've been a gamer for as long as I can remember. My first console was a Sega Megadrive, and my first game was Streets of Rage. I've recently graduated with a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing at Cardiff Met University. I'm a fan of role-playing games and first-person shooters, but these days you can usually find me building cities in Minecraft. My favourite games are The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and Bioshock.