Age of Empires II is considered to be one of the finest Real-Time Strategy (RTS) games ever made. It is right up there with Warcraft III, Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2, and the like, which made the late 90s and early 2000s a golden period for the genre. The popularity of RTS games has since dwindled under the onslaught of FPS and MOBA games over the past decade. But there are some who still clamour for a good RTS.
The AoE series fascinated me as a child, especially Age of Empires II: The Conquerors. It was one of the first games I ever played in multiplayer, and the HD Edition is one of the few games I still play online on Steam ever since I made the switch to consoles. (PC Master racists can deal with it). So when Microsoft announced a Definitive Edition of the game, I was quite happy. Not as happy as when Age of Empires IV will finally arrive, but quite happy nonetheless.
AoE II: Definitive Edition adds a fresh coat of paint as well as a number of new features and additions such as Quality of Life updates, UI changes as well as four new civilizations and new campaigns. As such, there are a bunch of new things that aim to entice both new and old players.
Let’s start with the big change. AoE II: Definitive Edition now offers 4K graphics along with better animations for all units. Everything looks and feels just like AoE of old, but... better. It also brings the ability to zoom in, so you can take a better look at the details on the buildings. The team at Forgotten Empires (who also worked on the HD remaster) have done a very good job of bringing the 20+ year old game to the modern era while still keeping the purists happy.
Architecture styles vary based on civilization. Indian(above) Chinese (below)
The most notable new addition to AoE: Definitive Edition are the destruction animations. Now, when a building or structure is destroyed, it doesn’t suddenly turn into a pile of rubble. You now get a proper animation of all the bricks and support structures collapsing into a pile of rubble. This is especially captivating when you destroy some of the larger buildings such as castles or wonders.
It's like watching dominos fall
Gameplay in AoE II: Definitive Edition is still pretty much the same as before and veterans should feel right at home. This is a very good thing. AoE II is considered to be one of the greatest RTS games in history for a reason and you do not fix what ain't broken. You just make it better and that's what we have here. However, it’s not all good. Age of Empires II is a very old title and some gameplay elements that have been improved upon in subsequent RTS games are not present. Read on to know more.
It’s the same gather-build-destroy formula that one will see in most RTS games. What’s new is the fact that the Definitive Edition gets four new civilizations as well as three new campaigns. It also comes with all the new civilizations as well as campaigns from previous expansion packs.
There is a huge list of campaigns to play through
The computer opponents are now smarter and can employ tactics such as walling themselves in, raiding stray groups of villagers or setting up guard towers in key areas. However, I found the difficulty spike in AoE II: Definitive Edition to be quite strange. I hardly encountered any resistance in the ‘Easy’ or ‘Standard’ modes. But ‘Moderate’, which is just a step above standard, had me sweating just to scrape out a victory.
Of course, when push comes to shove, no army is match for a group of AC Cobra cars fitted with machine guns. Yes, the cheats still work. So get used to typing stuff like ‘how do you turn this on’ once again.
A whole new meaning to drive-by shootings
What’s new are the quality of life changes that you get with the game. Players of the older games will remember how frustrating it was to come back to your Town Center to see your villagers idly twiddling their thumbs because the reseeding queue at the mill had finished. Now though, you can choose the auto-reseed button and the famers will do that for you. The same is true for fishing boats and fish traps they build.
There have also been some UI changes. The all important ‘idle villager’ button is now located on the top, right next to the resource counter. Speaking of the resource counter, there is a now a little number below each resource, that lets you know how many villagers are out gathering it. The many buttons that used to be around the map have also been reduced. Further, giving commands to an AI teammate is now easier since they now respond to more of them. Further, the ‘Chat’ option now has a specific section dedicated to AI commands.
While all this is well and good, I cannot help but feel we could make do with some more quality of life changes that other RTS games have since introduced. This could include things like an ‘auto-explore’ option for scouting units. There is also no ‘attack-move’ option. So your armies are vulnerable to attack when moving. I also wish there was an option to create groups of units such as a group of anti-cavalry units, or siege units as finding them in the heat of battle can be tough.
Of course, buildings still catch fire when attacked by units with swords, but that’s a part of the charm of AoE II.
AoE II: Definitive Edition is a game that stays true to its roots and that is both good and bad. If you are expecting a completely new game, then you will be disappointed. If you already have the HD Edition, and are apathetic towards the series in general, then you might want to give it a skip as well. However, if you are a huge fan of the series or haven’t got the chance to play this gem of a game yet, then the Definitive Edition is the version to buy. No doubt about that.
The game is currently available for pre-order on Steam of Rs 529 and will be available from November 14.
Developer: Forgotten Empires
Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Price: Rs 529
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