Age of Empires: Definitive Edition review

For some, Ensemble Studios’ Age of Empires is the real-time strategy classics on the PC; fondly remembered alongside the likes of Command & Conquer and Warcraft. It’s crazy to think that in 2018, over two decades after the original came out, that Microsoft would publish a remastered version of this classic.

While Ensemble Studios have sadly long since closed their doors, the reigns have been entrusted to Forgotten Empires – a development team that has previous experience with creating the plethora of new DLC content for Age of Empires II: HD Edition. With that pedigree behind them, have they successfully brought back Age of Empires for modern audiences, or will it languish in history as a game of a long-past era?

Pricing and availability

Age of Empires: Definitive Edition will be a Windows 10 exclusive release as it is being sold through the Microsoft Store, and will be available to buy from the Microsoft Store for £14.99/$19.99 on 20 February 2018. You can also buy a download code from Amazon or Game in the UK (£14.99) or Gamestop in the US ($19.99).

If that doesn't interest you, why not take a look at our roundup of the best PC games of 2018?

Review

With most remastered editions of older games, there’s a chance that it might not look or sound as good as it did back when the game was first released. Age of Empires: Definitive Edition’s fully remastered soundtrack hits all the right notes that MIDI files are just not capable of and missions are narrated. Visually, it looks great; featuring fully redrawn textures, a fresh new UI, and models for each of the units. Animations for the models are also relatively smooth when characters are moving, giving that sense of polish one would expect.

However zooming in too much to get a good look at each of the units, I was disappointed to see that the textures began to blur somewhat. There’s also a bit of an issue in that while the animations are smooth, the actual patterns of movement for each unit is a bit jittery at times thanks to the collision detection.

That sadly is not the only problem that the collision detection brings to the table. Pathfinding was always a bit of an issue with Age of Empires and while it was mostly patched out in the expansion, it was never fully resolved. They still bumble around, bumping into everything in their path before sharply turning to try to go around them. At the very least though, Age of Empires: Definitive Edition has some more modern UI changes and is generally less of a faff to play.

But the key question is: Is it still fun? Arguably, yes. There’s nothing like swarming into an enemy base with tons of priests shouting “Wololo” until the enemy changes sides. It’s also still a competent real-time strategy game, even if it is marred by the passage of time. Still, it’s quirky enough to appeal to those looking for a slightly less intimidating example of what games released since like Empire Earth almost perfected in comparison.

Much like the original Age of Empires and its expansion - Rise of Rome – there are plenty of options to choose from in how to play the game. You can set up a skirmish with AI players that seem to know where all the valuable resources are from the get-go, or play against others in the plethora of multiplayer options. Each civilisation has their own unique units as well, though they do share the same general makeup.

Playing multiplayer is as easy as one would expect, in that there are several lobbies and scenarios to choose from. You can, of course, opt to play a randomised map, with randomised distribution rules and things like that. Performance online does get slightly shaky as things get going, but once the connection settles, it runs very well. There’s also the rather rare option to play the game using a LAN connection should you wish to have a rather old-school night without having to worry about ping or disconnecting. It’s nice to see this supporting LAN and I’d like to see more games have this option for those who want it.

For those who like a more structured approach, the original campaign is present, complete with voiced mission introduction and result narrations. Going back to play these missions, it’s startling how much certain missions are harder than I remembered them being, though it’s mostly the expansion missions I had the most trouble with. Those missions that hang in the balance of one unit surviving definitely take some trial and error to complete, while those with base building are easier to plan ahead for.

Age of Empires: Definitive Edition even comes with the Campaign editor tool that allows players to come up with their own scenario maps for use in multiplayer and single player games. It also allows for multiple scenarios to be grouped together in a campaign to create your own fully fledged campaigns, complete with mission objectives and voice over importing. Once saved, these are put into files that are easily shared, meaning that you can indeed create content and distribute it.

It’s all well and good having the base game and the original expansion pack present and accounted for, but as I alluded to earlier, Forgotten Empires have made new content for Age of Empires II: HD Edition, so it would have been nice to have seen a few more additions to the way the game works overall. Maybe a few new civilisations and a new campaign or two to sweeten the deal would have made this feel more “definitive”.

One thing that should be noted is that Forgotten Empires’ track record with Age of Empires II: HD Edition does allow for more classical history feats to be realised in RTS form, from those referenced in other games such as the Three Kingdoms era of China, or to more uncharted waters such as the Americas or Polynesia. We know more about those times now than ever before, so the potential is nigh-on limitless.

SHOULD I BUY AGE OF EMPIRES: DEFINITIVE EDITION?

I’ll be honest; Age of Empires: Definitive Edition is a bit of a hard sell at this stage. At this point in time, it’s just Age of Empires: Gold Edition with fresh makeup; it’s almost exactly as you’d remember it though, warts and all. Yet there’s always that potential for it to get plenty of all-new expansion content. So while it doesn’t really deserve the “definitive” moniker now, it will in time.