Roughly 20 years ago while hanging out at a friend’s house, he excitedly brought my attention to a new poster on his wall. One half of the poster showed a bustling medieval city with a busy marketplace and thriving houses; the other half showed that same city being burned in a naval attack. My friends weren’t sure what the game was about, exactly, but was positive that it looked awesome. That was my first exposure to Age of Empires 2, and I think that I can say that, two decades later, it looks pretty awesome again.
That is, the Definitive Edition looks awesome, the original game looks like a 20-year-old game that I played on a clunky Gateway computer with a 56k modem and a 2 GB HDD at the end of a millennium. Now we have these phenomenal 4K graphics and animations run butter smooth. Watching an enemy castle crumble under the pressure of your war machine is not only a victory in the literal gameplay sense but also a visual coup as stone and wood give way to a pile of rubble. The audio has also gotten a pretty impressive overhaul as well, with crisp epic background music and freshly re-recorded voice lines for each unit type in every one of the 35 different civilizations. Again in 2019, Age of Empires 2 is a definite treat for the eyes and ears.
Luckily, Age of Empires 2: The Definitive Edition is more than a pretty face. It boasts the same elegant designs and systems that made it into the enduring titan in the real-time strategy space that it is today, with some notable improvements. First and foremost is the upgraded enemy AI, taken from strategies employed from the wealth of competitive online data. UI elements have been added and improved and players can even zoom in and out of the battlefield in order to appropriately appreciate those tiny little militiamen marching to their doom.
Multiplayer has been positioned prominently here, letting players jump in and test their build orders and sneaky castle placements against other players who have spent two decades perfecting their play. The network feels stable and a quick benchmark test prior to coming into ranked multiplayer keeps your impending defeat running smoothly. If any of that sounds intimidating, which it probably should, let Age of Empires definitively put your worries to rest with its Art of War mode. This mode is an in-depth sort of tutorial that focuses on best practices and really perfecting import strategies in a directed environment with an AI empire completing the same objectives optimally to show you how to do it. It’s a great addition to a game with such history and such a dedicated fan base.
Hopefully, that fan base will be enough to sustain Age of Empires 2, at least until the upcoming Age of Empires 4 makes its way in. While this edition has new campaigns, empires, and will continue to receive support for the foreseeable future, at its core it remains a 20-year-old game. A great 20-year-old game that refined a genre and remains dear to its players, but an old game nonetheless. For players unfamiliar with the original who may be used to the quality of life improvements such as pausing and speed manipulation, there isn’t much to bring new players away from more contemporary strategy games like the Total War series or the litany of Warhammer games. What Age of Empires 2: The Definitive Edition has going for it more than anything else, is that it is aptly named.
It is truly the most and the best way to play Age of Empires 2 in 2019. Everything about it drips with the sort of care and reverence that the game deserves. To top everything off, it is a massive amount of game, including every expansion and tweaks that has gone into the game up to this point, with the promise of even more to come, and all for a tidy, minuscule price point. Age of Empires 2: The Definitive Edition won’t make waves anywhere and it won’t be bringing a horde of new players into the fray, but it will certainly please longtime fans and give older players a happy nostalgic twitch as they revisit old maps and campaigns better than they ever were before.