End of an Era – Age of Empires: Definitive Edition Review

Navigating the seas in Age of Empires: Definitive Edition

Strategies – a genre that is not very progressive, everyone knows that. Against the backdrop of these shooters and RPGs, whose polished locomotives are constantly rushing towards something new, it’s as if they don’t develop at all. The pixel density per square meter, sound quality, and scale of action may be increasing, but the core idea is passed down from generation to generation almost in its original form.

That’s why the anniversary reincarnation of the original Age of Empires – a game that is, dare I say, twenty years old – seemed like a great idea. I remember very well how much pleasure I had in my childhood building my settlements, saving gold for upgrades, highlighting grand armies with a green frame, and shamelessly cheating in the campaign for Greece. I was doing exactly the same thing I’m doing now in some ultra-modern StarCraft II.

Well, except for cheats, of course. Now I can do without them. Sometimes.

In general, warm memories suggested that age is not a hindrance to strategies and that the old good “Age of Empires” is still something. That, finally, for complete happiness, it is only necessary to remove the wrinkles of the 90s, which is what the fresh Definitive Edition focused on.

It took $10 and exactly one and a half matches to realize the opposite. The harsh truth of life quickly made itself known: Age of Empires is a good game, but irritatingly archaic.

Engaging in multiplayer battles

Campaign adventures in AoE

In the Definitive Edition, all existing campaigns are included, partially reworked to match historical facts.

Visually, yes, it couldn’t have been imagined a better restoration. The responsible artists did their best, meticulously redrawing the original sprites and enhancing them with an incredible amount of small details. If we set aside prejudices and accept the faded color palette as a given, the picture is truly impressive and looks no worse than, let’s say, Stronghold Crusader 2 Sometimes it even creates the impression that the remaster (remake?) has moved into natural 3D – especially when an ancient temple collapses into neat little bricks or a majestic fleet crosses a river in the frame.

The harsh truth of life quickly made itself known: Age of Empires is a good game, but irritatingly archaic.

It is only embarrassing that as you approach, all these beauties turn into shabby pixel art. I wanted to take a closer look at my peasants – please switch the zoom quality in the settings to something larger. However, then you won’t see anything beyond the loincloths of these same peasants, because you can’t move the camera to a playable distance until you return to the default value.

Of course, this is a compromise between graphics and performance, but it is a strangely rare compromise. We, sorry, want to indulge our eyes with trendy frills and have a tactically advantageous perspective at hand – preferably within one scroll of the wheel. However, going through the whole procedure of “Esc – Settings – click on the checkbox – Apply – Continue” every time for the local portrait mode tires us out in record time.

What definitely pleased us is the updated music. The Definitive Edition soundtrack, it seems, has been expanded by about three times, and it sounds much more expressive than the original. Just the main theme alone is worth mentioning, reminiscent of both Civilization V and Titan Quest Goosebumps from the first seconds, listen for yourself:

But all of this is purely decorative improvements. The old planks were covered with a solid five with a minus, but they don’t stop being less rotten from it.

The fundamental rules of Age of Empires, regarding resource gathering and settlement building, basically still work. Peaceful development of the empire is a fairly simple and concise process by today’s standards, which captivates with its transparent economic aspect, understandable interconnections, and partly, perhaps, banally beautiful architecture, slowly spreading across the continent. The conductor into the intricate world of strategies from the game, it seems, is still excellent.

Where it starts to stumble is in the combat part. First, it is disappointing that the variety of nations available for selection does not contribute to the variability of armies. Whether it’s Babylon, Japan, Persia, or even the Sumerians with the Egyptians, they all fight with absolutely identical sets of soldiers, differing only in modest faction bonuses to characteristics. Here, whether you want it or not, a comparison with Age of Empires II suggests itself, where each side had its own unique units and perks.

But this is more of an age-related problem deeply rooted in the foundation of the game, and therefore difficult to fix. The main ailment that Definitive Edition was supposed to overcome is the artificial intelligence. Oh God, that artificial intelligence.

Launching a fierce attack

Don’t rush to rejoice, having trained a whole platoon of elite cavalry and sent them to the enemy’s defenseless farms. It is quite likely that the subordinates will take the most idiotic route, gathering all the misfortunes of the world along the way, from wild lions to enemy galleys, and ultimately getting lost, if not in each other, then in a lonely bush in the middle of the vast steppe for sure. Determining the optimal route is a huge challenge for the units, so they have to be literally led by the hand from home to work every time.

In the heat of battle, however, it is not easier. Despite the introduction of the attack button while moving, the average soldier in Age of Empires has a weak understanding of what to do after completing an order, and usually stands still, even if his own dwelling is being burned half a meter away. The ability to point out the obvious here is paramount.

The conductor into the intricate world of game strategies, it seems, is still excellent.

The absence of formations does not help at all, which turns navigation on the map and mass clashes into chaos with improvised constructions like “Kindergarten Windbreaker”, and the mini-map, which reliably notifies about every important event, but does it with a desperate flickering of a tiny dot in the corner of the screen. Sooner or later, the dubious possibility of queuing up training exclusively for units of the same type reminds itself, then it turns out that some hotkeys simply do not exist here, and then more and more…

Unleashing game cheats

Well, at least PHOTON MAN is still working!

Time after time, you notice more and more annoying details and gradually realize how everything has changed in 20 years. However sad it may be, today Age of Empires brings more discomfort than pleasure. What’s even more frustrating is that the goal of the Definitive Edition was precisely to minimize inconveniences and convey the gaming experience, rather than create an exact reproduction with high-resolution frills.

Everyone knows that there was a terrible AI and an imperfect interface – no one needs a reminder. The important thing here was to see the line between relics of the past and the memory of bygone days, in order to cut out the former and actualize the latter. It seems that the reissue failed in this regard.

It turned out to be a skeleton with a bow, which is interesting to look at and, depending on your gaming experience, either nostalgically shed a tear or raise an eyebrow in confusion. Age of Empires: Definitive Edition quickly becomes tiring in any case, but it clearly shows that even strategies evolve, albeit slowly. Sad, but enlightening.

Managing productive farms in the empire

The fact that the game is sold through the not great, but terrible Microsoft Store adds to the tragedy. Usually, this is associated with a couple of minor hiccups, but here the service became the main antagonist of the evening. At first, it refused to launch “Age of Empires” more than once per installation, then it removed all the buttons related to it from the page, and in the end, it even suggested buying another copy, since I’m so eager to play.

After a few restarts, the problem was resolved, only to return by the evening of the next day. Steam, of course, is also quite a trickster, but even there, such things don’t happen.

Age of Empires: Definitive Edition
Multiplayer, Strategy
Microsoft Studios
Forgotten Empires
Release Date:
Editor's rating:
Is it worth playing? (If the score is more than 70%)



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