Age of Empires II: Age of Kings: Definitive Edition
Should you spend the money to pick up a 20 year old game?
TL ; DR:
If you couldn’t get enough of Age of Empires, Microsoft has got your back.
Imagine if you will a nice fall day in 1999. Y2K hysteria had taken over, the world was going to end in a fiery mess thanks to the 2 digits on every computer clock missing. The bringer of our upcoming destruction Microsoft and Ensemble Studious released the sequel to the real time strategy Age of Empires aptly named Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings. In the past the strategy genre was limited to turn based gaming, while Age of Empires was not the first RTS it was the first one I played, and this is my page so it’s the first. Enough history!
I’ll bet if you’re here you’ve already played Age II so I won’t bore you with the details that haven’t changed. With the single player mode many new races have been added, which also comes with a host of new campaigns. Each campaign series is based on a historical character of the era such as William Wallace and Vlad the Impaler. Each campaign series also has more unique mission parameters instead of just conquest. Sometimes you have to capture a relic, destroy a wonder, protect your named character, make it to an adjoining city with a certain percentage of forces, or survive wave after wave of enemies. The new civilizations take some getting used to and for the most part are unremarkable. Their unique units and team bonuses are lacking in comparison to their old counterparts. I do admit that the possibility exists that I am an old dog who can’t learn new tricks, and the new civs have better attributes. The single player campaigns are what this game gets right. The new AI is significantly better than it used to be, it doesn’t fall for any of the old tricks. You can’t draw their units into a trail of tears scenario through a row of castles. I was genuinely having fun in this mode, even though sometimes even having to reduce the difficulty on certain mission types just because the AI is too efficient. Single player gets a solid A
The last time I played Age II the internet was in its infancy and you had to bring your whole computer to someone’s house and hook them up. That’s one of the biggest changes online multiplay. One of the many things while an awesome new addition to the game, is severely lacking in comparison to most other online games. Public open lobbies at any given time are averaging around 30 at any moment so finding a game to hop in to is easy. The interface is not all that intuitive to look at it, giving you no information about the game you’re joining so you’re left to hope someone put in the name how many players and what mods if any are installed. The lions share of what I’ve been playing with the friends who used to set up their computers in my garage on card tables in the 90’s is private matches. Inviting others to the game is usually simple when it works, you just click on invite button and it gives you a list of available friends. Here’s the hitch though, these people must already be existing friends on you Xbox Live account to even show up on your list. Yep, online multiplayer is handled via Live accounts so everyone has to be an Xbox friend, Steam friend, or create an account with their PC game pass. This wasn’t an issue for us but it could be if you’re trying to convince your friends to buy it. Once you’re in the game with everyone else, setting up the game is as easy to do as before except for the 20 options to select. You can keep most of them at default but there are a lot of options to mess with if you want a unique or unusual experience.
Now the really bad news… This game is not stable at all, and it somehow gets worse with each patch that gets sent out. About 30% of the matches vary from crashing immediately, slowing to a crawl until someone crashes to the desktop, or this unusual Out of Sync error that saves the game and asks you to restart. I don’t recommend restarting that save as it rarely works and everyone in the game has to download the full save to their computer before it can start. The other 70% the game seems to work fine, and the updated graphics really shine. At least I think they do because I haven’t played in over 15 years. A few new match types have been added such as Regicide where you have to kill the special king unit, and Last Man Standing where exactly like it sounds there can be only 1. As I mentioned earlier, just like in the single player campaign the new AI is vastly improved. You also have the ability to play against the classic AI (AI CE) the new AI (AI HD) or a hybrid of the two (AI). The only thing I’ve noticed with the hybrid is instead of either the timid first attack in classic or the unrelenting destruction of the new AI is that they generally decimate you quickly but refuse to take the kill, backing off after you’ve managed to rebuild for a massive offensive on your own. Unusually enough none of the AI has learned to build walls or towers yet. Due to the myriad of issues in connectivity the multiplayer it gets a paltry C
Overall just by averaging the scores this game would get a B but I’ll add half a point up to a B+ for nostalgic purposes. Now with the addition of Microsoft’s new cloud subscription model I got the PC Game Pass for 5 bucks a month and all of Microsoft’s first party games are free. If you intend on playing other Microsoft first party games that’s the best route, if not I’d pay the 20 bucks for the STEAM VERSION. Why that distinction? You have to manually patch the Game Pass or Microsoft Store versions.
If you like real time strategies this is a BUY IT