Age of Empires: Definitive Edition Review – Pure Nostalgia
Platforms: PC (reviewed)
Developer: Forgotten Empires
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release: 20th February 2018
Originally released in 1997 Age of Empires set the foundation for one of the biggest and well-known RTS series to date. Now, to celebrate its birthday, Microsoft refreshed the whole experience to make it playable in 4K but sadly the tooth of time wasn´t generous with this one, as well as the Microsoft Store.
The biggest change obviously is the upgrade of every sprite and texture to fully support 4K resolutions, while looking a lot better than in the original. Naturally, the game looks absolutely fantastic on higher resolutions, featuring some amazing art and effects. Especially considering the foundation is still more than 20 years old, it becomes all the more obvious how beautiful this game was, to begin with. Surely the rough mountain edges and height differents on maps look blocky as ever, it keeps the charm of the original, proving they aimed for a balance between pure nostalgia and remastering.
Additionally, some gameplay improvements were made as well, the revamped pathfinding system and AI, in particular, sounded like a welcomed decision. Unfortunately, the result is rather marginal, when I played the original version in comparison. While soldiers don´t get stuck nearly every time they have to go around a wall or through a small gap without being guided every few steps, they now normally take either the longest way possible to avoid such situations or get stuck only half the time. Given, it´s not an impossible task to manage them but an annoyance nonetheless for an edition praising itself for those improvements. Last but not least, the necessity to make it a Microsoft Store exclusive title (which I can understand) is another problem, when it randomly decides to refuse my account login details, for now, reason, only accepting them after multiple restarts. If you had problems with this “amazing” piece of DRM before, you will have them here.
As expected, the overall design remains untouched though, removing any reason to bother with the campaign. Offering nothing more than the most generic, uninteresting “defeat the enemy” design throughout its journey through Egypt from a modern point of view, spending any time with the singleplayer except skirmishes isn´t fun nor captivating. Instead, the whole focus should lay on the multiplayer, due to the revisitation of both servers and net code, making it once again playable without any 3rd party program or lengthy set-ups.
Although the technical foundation came out pretty solid, the one flaw no one could exterminate was the fact, that Age of Empires: Definitive Edition is an overaged game today. The base gameplay of progressing through the different time eras is still fun but executed so much better in every sequel, due to the expanded scope and RTS progression of the coming years. It´s from a time where different factions all had the same units, no unique strategies or anything alike, mostly fighting against the same with the same.
There´s not much depth compared to any modern RTS or even games like the original Starcraft since it sadly symbolizes both the last step before a genre revolution and the beginning of another. Yes, Age of Empires was a milestone, proven alone by the fact playing it is an enormous amount of fun because the foundation works like a charm despite its age.
Age of Empires: Definitive Edition may be the reincarnation of a genre milestone, yet, isn´t a game able to hold its ground even today. While the many improvements made it playable on modern systems without much hassle, the lacking tactical depth makes the sequels superior in any way. So, if not for pure nostalgia and its low price, the reason to spend time with it are fairly limited.
[A Review Code was provided by Microsoft]