Age of Em­pires: De­fin­i­tive Edi­tion

Age of Em­pires: De­fin­i­tive Edi­tion tries to hide its age, but can’t.

PC GAMER (US) - - CONTENTS - By Fraser Brown

The first Age of Em­pires in­tro­duced the world to Ensem­ble’s War­craft- meets- Civ­i­liza­tion con­cept, and got a good two years in the spot­light be­fore be­ing over­shad­owed by its fol­low-up. Two decades since its launch, and it’s been res­ur­rected, with elec­tric­ity puls­ing through its veins and a cou­ple of new con­ve­niences stitched on for good mea­sure. Age of Em­pires: De­fin­i­tive Edi­tion is pret­tier and slicker, but it’s still not as good as its

We’ve had enough re­mas­ters now that it’s pretty clear what peo­ple want from them: The game we re­mem­ber, rose-tinted glasses in­cluded. We want our mem­o­ries of the game, not the messy re­al­ity. When it comes to the sights and bat­tle­fields of the an­cient world, at least, de­vel­oper For­got­ten Em­pires has given us ex­actly that.

The De­fin­i­tive Edi­tion’s vis­ual up­grade is a sig­nif­i­cant one, though you might not no­tice how sig­nif­i­cant it is un­til you fire up the clas­sic mode to see what it looked back in 1997. It’s an over­haul rather than just a bit of HD pol­ish, full of new art and an­i­ma­tion, but it’s all in keep­ing with the orig­i­nal style. And it goes be­yond aes­thet­ics; the game’s sim­ply cleaner and eas­ier to parse. The re­sult is that it cer­tainly doesn’t look 20 years old, but nei­ther does it look com­pletely new.

It’s not just the vis­ual iden­tity that’s been main­tained de­spite the 2018 facelift. Grow­ing your towns and con­quer­ing other em­pires feels broadly the same as well. The rhythm of gath­er­ing, ex­pand­ing, and con­quer­ing is still hyp­notic de­spite how fa­mil­iar it is, but it runs out of steam quickly. The sys­tems that set it apart, things in­spired by Civ­i­liza­tion, were a bit half-baked even in 1997, with trade, diplomacy, and re­search ex­ist­ing in name only. The fo­cus then and now is on mi­cro­manag­ing lots of fid­dly units—up to 50 in the cam­paigns and over 200 in cus­tom games—and con­stant ex­pan­sion. Later ad­di­tions, such as the idle worker but­ton and the abil­ity to queue up units, have made their way into this ver­sion, which means there are fewer headaches.

The 19 em­pires share the small ros­ter of units and list of build­ings, with their most no­table dif­fer­ences be­ing some unique up­grades. Age of Em­pires man­ages to do a lot with very lit­tle, how­ever. The De­fin­i­tive Edi­tion con­tains the Rise of Rome ex­pan­sion, so that’s ten cam­paigns in to­tal. Mis­sions run the gamut from any­thing-goes sand­boxes to asym­met­ri­cal chal­lenges with lim­ited re­sources and for­ti­fied en­e­mies. In a nod to War­craft, there are also hero unit stand-ins in the form of mytho­log­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal gen­er­als.

Fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory

I pre­dict you’ll tire out be­fore you fin­ish ev­ery mis­sion. A moun­tain of maps and ob­jec­tives can’t dis­guise that you’re play­ing with the same small deck in ev­ery cam­paign. By the time you fin­ish the Egyp­tian tu­to­rial cam­paign, you’ll have seen all of it.

The ter­ri­ble pathfind­ing—units have a predilec­tion for tak­ing weird routes and getting stuck—and dull AI have made the jump to 2018. They do seem less pro­nounced, but ev­ery unit is still use­less with­out mi­cro­man­age­ment. Since war­fare doesn’t get much more com­pli­cated than grow­ing a horde and click­ing on tar­gets, fights are like herd­ing con­fused cats.

These aren’t prob­lems that are only ap­par­ent now, 20 years later, but time has cer­tainly made them stand out. And while this is un­doubt­edly, as promised, the de­fin­i­tive ver­sion of Age of Em­pires, it’s not re­ally the Age of Em­pires that makes peo­ple swoon when they re­mem­ber it. The se­ries started here, but its suc­ces­sor is the one every­body re­mem­bers. That’s when it started to lean into the city-plan­ning el­e­ments a lit­tle bit more, and when we were fi­nally able to build gates and thus ac­tual, prac­ti­cal for­ti­fi­ca­tions. We could make fortresses! In Age of Em­pires, we can make bits of wall.

With de­fin­i­tive edi­tions of the later in­stal­ments on the hori­zon, Age of Em­pires is once again poised to be over­shad­owed. If you have a sense of nos­tal­gia about the birth of the se­ries, this does a great job of pre­serv­ing it while mak­ing it con­sid­er­ably more palat­able, but for a trip down mem­ory lane, it sure is ex­pen­sive.

It’s an over­haul rather than just a bit of HD pol­ish

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