I was recently fortunate enough to participate in the closed, multiplayer Beta testing of Age of Empires: Definitive Edition, set to release on February 20th, 2018. As many have likely picked up from the title of this article, the game is a remastered version of the iconic real-time strategy (RTS) game released in 1997, which paved the way for subsequent, highly-acclaimed games including Age of Empires II and III, and one of my personal all-time favorite games in Age of Mythology. With the announcement of Age of Empires IV in August 2017, the remastered version of the original game is likely looking to recapture some of its fanbase by splashing a fresh coat of paint on their first car.
However, that might just be part of the problem . Under that new coat of paint it’s still that old 1997 Chrysler Cirrus, and that thing does not run as smoothly as you thought it did.
Full disclosure, I did not play the original Age of Empires back in 1997 and therefore am not capable of reliving the excitement that many players felt over two decades ago while playing this game. As a result of this lack of nostalgia, I was unable to admire some of the older gameplay elements that have remained in place during my time with the title.
Admittedly, the term “remastered” is thrown around often to generate player excitement, so my experience with that monicker has largely been one of disappointment when I soon realize “remastered” is a placeholder for “re-release” and little is truly done to update the game for a modern audience. Fortunately, this is not the case with Age of Empires: Definitive Edition, as the game’s visuals are undeniably impressive.
Considering the base game is over two decades old, the remastered version truly does a great job at updating each unit, the buildings they attempt to protect, and the animations they utilize to truly earn that “remastered” tag. The game is beautiful, albeit quasi-2D, and should be a benchmark for other games of a similar, retro nature in the future.
However, harkening back to my wonderful car analogy, the engine under the hood couldn’t be masked by a fresh new coat and I found the actual gameplay to be lacking. Unfortunately, this seems to be the doubled-edge sword that associates such revamps, as the actual gameplay doesn’t contend with the capability of today’s games. I found my units constantly getting stuck on buildings or trees, it was difficult to micro/macro manage during games (not only from my lack of skills, but also due to limited tools), and many of the units – while pretty looking – were indistinguishable from one another, leaving a sense of triviality when selected my starting civilization.
These issues were just a few that contributed to my quick disinterest in playing and indifference to the game as a whole. And this led me to ask, “Was Age of Empires really that good or are people looking at this game through rose-tined glasses?”
Now, I recognize that this is a loaded question and the same could be asked of many other fan-favourite games (just go try and play the original Pokémon titles) and an argument could be made either way. But after playing this game and being underwhelmed by the content it provided, I don’t envision the multiplayer community persisting very long, which is a big problem for any RTS games. Furthermore, the game is currently an exclusive on the Microsoft store, further limiting the player base.
Although it should be noted that Microsoft hasn’t ruled out a Steam release down the road to address the above issue.
Ultimately, my take away from my play test of Age of Empires: Definitive Edition is that the game has truly earned its “remastered” status through impressive visual overhauls. However, the outdated gameplay and limited availability (again, why no Steam at launch?) will offer a quick shot of nostalgia for older players but may provide little excitement for those who have no investment in the original game. It is because of this, that I worry about the longevity of the online-multiplayer community, and ultimately the game itself.
If you are looking to take your old whip out for a ride or you just want to experience one of the cornerstones of the RTS genre, Age of Empires: Definitive Edition will be making its way to the Microsoft Store on PC this February 20th, 2018 for a modest $21.99 CAD.