Age Of Empire Definitive Edition

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In 1997, Age of Empires changed RTS games forever. Today, twenty years later, Age of Empires: Definitive Edition begins that transformation anew with all-new graphics, remastered sound and music, and a smooth UI experience rebuilt from the ground up! Play the legendary RTS that started it all.

Oh ya this is the developer company words, just to remind you about it.

Remembering history

That said, Age of Empires: Definitive Edition is more interesting to me as an archival document than a game proper. Fact is, Age of Empires II HD does exist, and I’ve been playing it for almost five years now—and it’s a better game.

I find myself missing a lot from Age of Empires II. Gates are a big one. Age of Empires lets you build walls, but has no equivalent gate structure—meaning you can either wall yourself in and never leave, or simply use walls as a chokepoint instead of an actually meaningful barricade.

Age of Empires: Definitive Edition

IDG / Hayden Dingman

Age of Empires II also does slightly more with its factions. Each civilization in Age of Empires II had unique units, which could really change the balance of matches. That aspect has gotten even more prevalent with the release of multiple Age of Empires II HD expansions—The Forgotten, Rise of the Rajas, and The African Kingdoms, each of which added unique architecture, even more unique units, and so on.

Age of Empires: Definitive Edition feels a bit barebones by comparison. Fighting against Egyptians fielding Roman Phalanxes never ceases to be a bit weird, and is directly at odds with the history-first tone the game tries to establish. Every faction plays pretty much the same, with minor differences to movement speed or villager yield, and while that undoubtedly is easier from a balancing standpoint it also can make the game feel a bit stale. Once you’ve played one match, you’ve seen almost everything Age of Empires has to offer.

All of this makes perfect sense in the context of “This is a real-time strategy game from 1997,” but as a hook for 2018, and with a fully-fleshed remaster of the sequel plus new expansions already available? A bit harder to swallow, maybe.

Age of Empires: Definitive Edition
Which is not to take anything away from the quality of the actual Age of Empires: Definitive Edition remaster.

You might already know this, but Age of Empires has been around for a long time. Just about 20 years to be precise. In those 20 years a lot has happened; several games, more AoE dedicated forums than we can count, millions of fans, and tons of hours played!
Now as we come up to the 20th anniversary of the original game, and the launch of the Definitive Edition we wanted to take a trip down memory lane and look back at the history of Age of Empires. Want to join us in this nostalgia-filled endeavor? Take a look at the video below.

There are certain series where the question “Which one’s the best?” is difficult to answer. Ask someone what their favorite Civilization is for instance and you’re bound to start an argument. (It’s Civilization IV, by the way.) The same goes for Mario, Zelda, Final Fantasy, Fallout, Smash Bros., Mortal Kombat, Tony Hawk, Assassin’s Creed, Street Fighter, Elder Scrolls, and so on and so forth.

Thus the original Age of Empires focused on ancient history—the Hellenic Greeks, Egyptian Old and New Kingdom, the Phoenicians, Persians, and as of the Rise of Rome expansion, the Roman Empire. By contrast, Age of Empires II focused on the Medieval Era and early Renaissance, while Age of Empires III focused on the Colonial Era.
That separation might not matter if you’re concerned only with mechanics. You could certainly argue names like “Phalanx” and “Legion” are just fancy set-dressing, the units indistinguishable from their Age of Empires.
History has always been so intrinsic to Age of Empires though. That’s part of what I loved about the series. Every faction, every campaign, is informed by historical context.
Take the “Ascent of Egypt” campaign, for instance. It’s basically the Age of Empires tutorial campaign, teaching prospective players how to use their villagers to build structures, chop wood, farm crops, construct military camps, use those camps to train troops, attack neighboring factions, and so on. Basic real-time strategy ideas, and the tutorial seems incredibly long and drawn out by today’s standards.

There are certain series where the question “Which one’s the best?” is difficult to answer. Ask someone what their favorite Civilization is for instance and you’re bound to start an argument. (It’s Civilization IV, by the way.) The same goes for Mario, Zelda, Final Fantasy, Fallout, Smash Bros., Mortal Kombat, Tony Hawk, Assassin’s Creed, Street Fighter, Elder Scrolls, and so on and so forth.

Thus the original Age of Empires focused on ancient history—the Hellenic Greeks, Egyptian Old and New Kingdom, the Phoenicians, Persians, and as of the Rise of Rome expansion, the Roman Empire. By contrast, Age of Empires II focused on the Medieval Era and early Renaissance, while Age of Empires III focused on the Colonial Era.

That separation might not matter if you’re concerned only with mechanics. You could certainly argue names like “Phalanx” and “Legion” are just fancy set-dressing, the units indistinguishable from their Age of Empires.

History has always been so intrinsic to Age of Empires though. That’s part of what I loved about the series. Every faction, every campaign, is informed by historical context.

Take the “Ascent of Egypt” campaign, for instance. It’s basically the Age of Empires tutorial campaign, teaching prospective players how to use their villagers to build structures, chop wood, farm crops, construct military camps, use those camps to train troops, attack neighboring factions, and so on. Basic real-time strategy ideas, and the tutorial seems incredibly long and drawn out by today’s standards.

There are also some neat quality-of-life changes. Population limits have been increased, which makes for larger and more impressive battles. The game also seems to default to “Fast” speed—everything moves maybe 1.5x as fast as it did originally. You can speed the game up further, or drop it down to normal speed, but for 2018 the “Fast” speed does seem like a good compromise, maintaining the spirit of the original but making the pace more palatable for modern players.

Oh, and all the old cheat codes work—even the silly ones, like “Pow!” to spawn a tricycle-riding baby with a shotgun. That’s fun.

Age of Empires: Definitive Edition

Are there things I’d like to see changed? Sure. Even with the Definitive Edition’s “Enhanced Pathfinding,” unit movement is still aggravating at times, with units often taking stupid detours or getting stuck on trees unless you hold their hand to the destination. I also hate that you can’t queue up research or different types of units—that’s an Age of Empires quirk I could do without in 2018.

More? Well, you can use Right Click to drag the map around—but only if you don’t have units selected. If you have units selected, you’ll order them to move to a location. It’s not the best camera. Oh, and the system for getting a multiplayer match together can feel a bit convoluted. I haven’t played the release, but in the beta we spent at least a couple minutes in the menu trying to explain to someone how to simply change teams.

But none of these are specifically the fault of the Definitive Edition. They’re issues carried over from the original game, part-and-parcel with creating a faithful remaster instead of simply remaking Age of Empires from scratch.

Bottom line

The title doesn’t lie, in other words. If you’re dead set on playing the original Age of Empires, this is the best way to do so. It is the Definitive Edition. The question is whether that’s appealing to you or not.

For me? I’ve enjoyed it well enough. As a fan of history, it’s been great playing the Greeks, the Romans, and some of the early-Japanese history. That’s enough of a hook for me—especially the Ancient Greeks, which are criminally underrepresented in video games.


Also published on Medium.

Jalal Nasser

Web Developer and IT Support