History waits for no one — and over 20 years after its original release, Age of Empires has received the HD retouching this classic truly deserves.
Following on the footsteps of Age of Empires II HD, Age of Empires: Definitive Edition pulls the origins of the highly influential Age of Empires series into the modern age, with thorough graphical and UI improvements.
For players who’ve been with the series since the beginning, it’s a gorgeous re-rendering of the classic game. For newer players, curious about the origins of the series, it’s an enlightening experience that also showcases the game’s weaknesses compared to modern real-time strategy games.
The Age of Empires series tasks players with developing a civilization from a small, hunter-gatherer society to an expansive Iron Age Empire. The path to success is found by gathering resources, building structures that lead to more advanced technology, and conquering other nations.
The name of the game is micromanaging the development of your nation, and the flow of gameplay has changed little with Age of Empires: Definitive Edition – which will either delight or upset players depending on the experience they may be searching for.
Players can choose between a wide variety of different civilizations: Egyptians, Assyrians, Greeks, Persians, to name a few, and lead their civilization to the heights of a new Golden Age. Each nation state has their own unique perks, but these perks are mostly passive and are rooted in the same playstyle. This welcoming system makes it easy for players to try out different civilizations but might not bring enough customization to players looking for clearer playstyle distinctions.
The Remastered version of Age of Empires brings a plethora of changes. The graphical style of the game has been updated from the jagged pixel art of 1997 into full 3D models. An ‘attack-move’ feature has been added (units will auto-attack anything in their path while moving), and a ton of balance adjustments paired with the game’s many civilization types.
The biggest game-changing improvement of the Definitive Edition is the increased population limit. This allows more units to be created, civilian or military types, to perform more actions simultaneously.
The game received a significant rework on the sound design as well, with a remastered soundtrack and sound effects. The original Age of Empires soundtrack is regarded as one of the best of the time, and the restoration does it justice. New unit voices were also recorded (a new wololo!).
The cleaner UI makes hopping through menus a breeze. All of these improvements are welcome. But for those purists looking to forgo all these changes, you can enable Classic Mode to play the game in its original 1997 state.
Old Habits Die Hard
It’s worth noting that while these improvements clean up the Age of Empires experience significantly, the true nuts-and-bolts of the game are unchanged. Some of the archaic elements of the original are still present – including the poor pathfinding on unit commands.
Pathfinding has significantly improved across the real-time strategy genre, and players familiar with modern offerings will immediately notice the lack of polish in this realm. You will need to lead some units by the hand, for nothing is worse than watching your warriors clumsy run into each other, dooming your attack. Sometimes units idling in your base will stand around in the midst of a major attack, and will only react if enemy units get close enough.
There is little true strategy in Age of Empires’ combat – besides fine-tuning your unit grouping, a fight consists of little more than clicking your units into combat and hoping for the best. Chances of success can be improved by carefully tweaking your units as the fight unfolds, but this is a skill that’s learned more through muscle memory and practice, as opposed to learning some grand strategy.
The inclusion of online multiplayer can give Age of Empires: Definitive Edition plenty of life well after you clear the game’s many single player campaigns. However, we found hiccups in the online experience in the handful of matches we played.
Outside of some occasional lag, losing a player can sometimes result in the match completely ending due to minor connection errors. The customizable options of online play can lead to some pretty unique matches, so thankfully a few connection problems don’t deter from the enjoyment of battling other players.
Is ‘Age of Empires: Definitive Edition’ Good?
It’s a little unorthodox to see a remaster of the original game after the remaster of its sequel. Age of Empires II HD has been out for nearly five years and is widely considered to be the more well-rounded experience. For this reason alone, a remaster of the original Age of Empires is much more suitable for players of the original experience than newer players. Why should new players go back further than they need to when a widely-acclaimed sequel is already available?
But that being said, there is still something incredibly addictive about the original Age of Empires experience. Once players get settled into their micro-tasking, seeing your civilization blossom from nothing into a sprawling metropolis is magical. The progressions through the different technological ages constantly bring a level of excitement for the use of new technology and units.
Age of Empires: Definitive Edition is a must-play for series vets looking to recapture the nostalgia of their first RTS experience, and well worth a look for new players looking to understand the roots of the RTS genre.
Doug Trein is a staff contributor at Fandom and focuses primarily on video games and animated television shows. His game genre favorites include strategy and turn-based role-playing games, first-person shooters, 2D fighting games, and action/adventure titles.