When it came out in 1999, I played a lot of Age of Empires 2. Its mix of historical real-time strategy and detailed management of rock-paper-scissor military units made it one of my favorite games of all time. I love the rhythm with which my villagers gather resources as I improve the defense of the village, build and improve its soldiers, and ultimately invade my enemies.
When an updated HD version came out in 2013, I tried. I was disappointed. Although it was a decent update that provided many modding tools and a general visual enhancement, it did not inspire my imagination. It was essentially a nostalgia game.
This is an excellent update
A new version, entitled Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition, cast a spell over me. The developers of Forgotten Empires and Xbox Game Studios have taken a fantastic 20-year-old game and made it feel fresh. Although it’s really the same game, Definitive Edition has made enough changes to make it feel like new, especially while we’re waiting for Age of Empires 4.
Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition looks better than ever, with support for 4K resolution. It has a richer color palette, better lighting, and a variety of redesigned units and buildings. I am particularly fond of the way buildings fall to the ground when they finally succumb to a siege. The ability to increase the action is well implemented.
Music and voice were also updated to give the game a more terrific feel, especially during campaigns that are heavily commented.
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N6kd1SYHW5k (/ embed)
All old campaigns have been added, with updates, as well as a new campaign based on the dwindling days of the Khanate. These include four new civilizations and three story campaigns that are a rewarding challenge.
In a new campaign, there is a timed challenge in which Tamerlane (also known as Timur) competes against the heavily fortified city of Delhi. It’s reasonably easy to get past the perimeter walls with catapults, but the city’s narrow streets are heavily defended by war elephants. Unit management becomes more difficult as the enemy gets rid of my vulnerable bombing units and I am unable to destroy the city’s last citadel. As I said, it is a beautifully designed challenge.
New campaigns offer a solid challenge
New game modes have also been added, including the so-called Empire Wars, which takes players into a city with a ready-made population of villagers eagerly collecting a well-balanced portfolio of food, wood, gold and stone. For those who are tired of such things, this means a relief for the early game.
The much needed game control improvements were also added. Unit queues are now more efficient.
Each building in Age of Empires games builds several types of units. For example, stables can build light cavalry, heavy cavalry, scouts, camel riders, and more. In the past, I was only able to queue one type at a time-for example, 10 knights-and then put the next desired units in the queue. Now I can do whatever I like. It’s nice to create archers and spearmen instead, so I have a more balanced ranged army from the start.
Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition Forgotten Empires / Xbox Game Studios
Civilians may also be instructed to build certain buildings in a particular order. So I can instruct them to set up a network of, for example, towers, a gate, and defenses, and let them do the job.
The most useful change is the ability to automatically rebuild farms. In the old games, exhausted farms had to be manually replaced, which was a nuisance in the middle of a raging campaign. Inattentive gamblers may no longer have food, one of the four essential resources of the game. Now I can stack a lot of wood and order several auto-reseseds, so I can ignore this annoying task, especially late in the game. The same applies to fish traps.
These useful changes show that Forgotten Empires and Microsoft have paid attention to improving the quality of life that rival games have done, and that the strategy players now expect it.
The transition to the online game is much easier now
Playing online is a completely different experience than computer-controlled opponents, almost to another game. There are a lot of difficult lessons to learn about common strategies. The transition from AI to human enemies is now facilitated by a special tutorial called Art of War that can save many bleak online defeats.
The transition to real people is now much smoother. The online game has also undergone many improvements to the user interface as well as a switch to server-based competitions.
In single-player mode, the AI of the game has been improved. Maybe this is the change I like the most or, in other words, the limitations of the AI that I least liked in reissuing Age of Empires 2 in 2013. Units generally go to where I want them. AI enemies feel less cheated or even self-destructive.
AI has come a long way in the last two decades, and the Definitive Edition enhancements in this area show it clearly. Overall, this is an excellent update that I believe will satisfy both expired players who want to return to an old favorite and new players who are curious about a true classic.
Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition is now available on Windows PCs. It is also available in the subscription service Xbox Game Pass for PC.