After some delays and a closed multiplayer beta period, Microsoft recently released Age of Empires: Definitive Edition, a remastered version of the 1997 real-time strategy (RTS) game, released over two decades ago. The original Age of Empires that was a fundamental cornerstone of the RTS genre and essentially lead the way for other hugely popular and successful RTS games. Still, with the newest instalment of the franchise on the horizon (aptly titled Age of Empires 4), the remastered version of the inaugural game may aim at generating excitement in longtime fans, providing them an opportunity to relive the classic game… albeit with flashier lights and a fresh coat of paint.
Unfortunately, that is the fundamental problem with Age of Empires: Definitive Edition, because underneath the impressive superficial improvements lies a dated 20-year-old game that has failed to age well in any capacity.
While undeniable efforts were made to improve the games’ visuals and sound effects, there are few improvements to the actual gameplay. First and foremost, the artificial intelligence of the game’s units is frustrating on the best of days, continually getting lost and colliding with anything/everything in their proximity. While potentially excusable in 1997 (the original game’s release), it’s something that is detrimental to a player’s enjoyment and cannot be ignored in 2018.
Age of Empires: Definitive Edition also highlights the capability to have more units (due to increased population cap), theoretically increasing the grandeur of in-game battle. While a seemingly positive feature, it ultimately results in an increased number of absent-minded units that require your constant attention. This disallows precise micromanagement when combating enemies and shoehorns you into throwing your units at your opponents in an unorganized mess and praying for the best.
Another glaring issue with Age of Empires: Definitive is the homogenous feeling of repetition present in every game. While the title offers players a selection of 16 different civilizations (another seemingly positive feature), all the factions are unfortunately negligibly different permutations of each other, with no meaningful variations in unit availability or play style.
Furthermore, the game lacks civilization-specific units, providing no sense of importance when selecting a civilization and further contributing to the aforementioned feeling of homogeneity. Furthermore, the game has linear structure progression with minimal features and opportunity for customization, severely limiting your ability to implement complex strategies during games.
It is easy to pick apart a 20 years old game, but ultimately Age of Empires: Definitive Edition lacks meaningful depth and features that are commonplace in newer RTS games (StarCraft 2) or even older RTS games (Warcraft III, Age of Mythology). If you are looking to play the original Age of Empires (for nostalgia or exploration), this remastered edition is a great opportunity to do so. However, the amount of adjustments needed to the gameplay to make it even comparable to modern RTS games would make the game ultimately unrecognizable and defeat the purpose of a remaster.
With the upcoming Age of Empires 4, it is within reason to assume that the release of Age of Empires: Definitive Edition is a strategic move aimed at generating excitement for fans of the franchise. Unfortunately, the game offers little more than a nostalgic experience for longtime fans of the franchise and frustrating gameplay for newcomers.
Age of Empires: Definitive Edition is now available for Windows PC.