Age of Empires is considered one of the pioneers in the real-time strategy genre. For our part, it was also one of the first games we had the pleasure of playing on Windows 98. The game where kingdoms are controlled with an iron fist, celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. Therefore, a refurbished edition of the game was going to be released. However, Age of Empires: Definitive Edition was pushed back into 2018, but the delayed celebration has finally arrived.
Age of Empires: Definitive Edition, as mentioned, is a refurbished edition of the original Age of Empires. Or a remaster, if you like, that also includes The Rise of Rome expansion. The game's single-player campaign takes you through various historical scenarios. You can play as 12 different civilisations, each of them struggling for survival from the Stone Age all the way to the Iron Age. Meanwhile, the goal is collecting resources like wood, food, stone, and gold, expanding your village, recruiting soldiers, and conquering enemy territories. In Definitive Edition there is also some story elements added to each mission, presented through scripted dialogue, read by an elderly gentleman.
Although it may have been a while since you played the original game, it doesn't take long to notice the finishing touches that have been made. Buildings, landscapes, units and the UI, all look more beautiful than ever, both in terms of resolution and textures. Definitive Edition even supports 4K resolution, if you should feel the need. The animations, on the other hand, are still quite unimpressive. The people of Age of Empires have always looked a bit strange, as they waddle around like penguins, slamming axes in trees with movements that remind us of marionettes. The units in Definitive Edition have also inherited some of their predecessor's strange navigation skills. If you ask them to move to a point further away on the map, they are usually able to get there on their own. However, sometimes they choose some "shortcuts" where they end up getting stuck.
When a villager has collected all the resources from an area, he will then get completely confused as to what to do next. You will have to manually move them to a new workplace, or else they will just stand still. Some of these strange tendencies also exist within other units in the game. If an enemy unit is close enough, your soldiers will attack them automatically. But as soon as the enemy moves a little bit away, your soldiers will do nothing until you take control of them. This will never be a severe problem, as the game makes it very clear when you are under attack and can send your soldiers out in battle. At the same time, we can't help thinking about the logical flaw that no-one reacts even when your buildings are on fire, just a few steps away.
The soundtrack has also received a great overhaul in the Definitive Edition, with both sound effects and music being replayed. Instead of the original MIDI, there is now an orchestra behind the music. We have always loved the music of Age of Empires, and therefore it will probably take some time before the new soundtrack grows on us. A lot of the songs bear much of the same characteristics as the ones from the original game, while there are other tracks we honestly struggled to recognise, even after hearing the music from the original a ridiculous amount of times. The music still sounds amazing, though.
Furthermore, the overall gameplay seems very similar to its old self. The game presents the same buildings, units, and upgrades from the original Age of Empires. You can buy upgrades that either increase the villagers work pace, or strengthen your soldiers' armour and weapons. Each civilization has a few exclusive benefits, and the design of their structures is unique. Apart from that, all the 12 civilizations are pretty much the same. Especially since they can recruit pretty much the same type of soldiers, structural defences and siege weapons. Since this is a remaster, it might be too much to ask for a complete renovation. For our part, we always think it's a bit dull that all units look identical, no matter if they are Romans or Persians.
The original Age of Empires also offered an "editor" that made it possible to create your own scenarios and campaigns. Some new features have been added to this mode in the Definitive Edition, including multiplayer. Elsewhere some of you may be disappointed that the game (as for now) it will be released exclusively on the Windows Store. This entails a requirement for Windows 10, as well as logging in via an Xbox Live account. Thus, Steam players will not get the pleasure of adding Definitive Edition along with the other Age of Empires games in their libraries. However, Microsoft has stated that the game will "maybe" find its way to other platforms at a later date.
Overall, Age of Empires: Definitive Edition is definitely a remaster of an ageing game. The original is now over 20 years old and this is especially evident in some weird and occasionally annoying gameplay mechanics. Therefore, the original Age of Empires will fall short compared to newer games in the same and similar genres, such as Starcraft 2, Red Alert 3, and even the Civilization games. Having said that, Definitive Edition nonetheless breathes some new life into the classic game. The game looks more beautiful than ever before, and the newly composed music gives it its own identity, while still retaining its distinctive character. Throw in the fact that players are able to compete against each other online, and you've got a number of reasons to check it out. If you loved the original Age of Empires, the Definitive Edition is well worth a visit. Ultimately, though, it's still the same old Age of Empires, for better and for worse.