As we wrote in our Age of Empires: II Definitive Edition review, the updated 4K Ultra-HD graphics, the remastered soundtrack and lots of new content make this a highly enjoyable remake, especially if you're a fan of the original. The Lords of the West expansion adds two additional civilizations to the 35 already in the game: the Burgundians and the Sicilians. Also included are three fully-voiced new single player campaigns. I've played the expansion over the past few weeks and I'm just thrilled that there's new and, more importantly, quality content to freshen up one of the most popular strategy games ever created.
One of the things I've always liked about Age of Empires is that you're learning a bit of history with each campaign you're playing. Firstly, there's a new campaign as the Britons revolving around the English king Edward Longshanks. His campaign pits you against a variety of enemies, from the Scots close to home all the way to Mamelukes in the Holy Land. The campaigns that appealed most to me though, were the Sicilian and Burgundian ones, because they focus on parts of history that are less often touched upon.
The Sicilian 'The Hautevilles' campaign tells the story of Norman adventurers who carved out an empire in Southern Italy and Sicily, besides joining the Crusades during the 1100's. Contrasting cliché stories about the age of the Crusades, you're actually building a coalition of Norman, Greek, Muslim and Latin peoples in the campaign. Meanwhile, the Burgundian 'Grand Dukes of the West' campaign sheds a different light on the Hundred Years' War between England and France. As you'll learn by playing the storyline, France was as much busy fighting itself as it was fighting the English invaders.
There's more than just the storylines for history enthusiasts, though. The campaigns also have some interesting gameplay mechanics to keep you engaged. For example, at some point in the Sicilian campaign there are Byzantine armies whose health quickly regenerates, making them invincible early on. You'll have to demolish military buildings using hit-and-run tactics before being able to take them on directly. In a Burgundian mission, there's a possibility to enlist the help of the English, but my failure to respond to their offer in a timely manner had them side with my enemies instead. In all, there's plenty of good single player fun to be had (around 15 hours in total).
Coming to multiplayer, the new civilizations add to the already large mix of civilizations to master or counter. The Burgundians seem to be quite a powerful one in longer multiplayer matches. They have a strong mixture of early access to economic upgrades and two special units. The Coustillier cavalry unit has a unique shock attack when charging, capable of killing a weaker unit in a single hit. It then needs to recharge for some time. They also have a unique technology that turns all villagers into Flemish Militia, a powerful infantry unit.
On the whole, I've found that the new units and technologies can be quite powerful taken in isolation, but it's still situational and highly dependent on player skill whether they're put to good use. For example, when researching the Flemish Militia technology, you have one shot at pushing with your army, cause if it fails you're quickly left without resources. Moreover, you'll have to focus most of your attention on micromanaging new villagers again.
The same goes for the Sicilian civilization. They have a unique building called the Donjon, a sort of small castle that can be constructed in the Feudal Age. The Donjon lets you recruit Serjeants, the Sicilian unique unit, which can also construct new Donjons. This sort of mirrors the Norse units from Age of Mythology, who can also construct buildings. The UI still refers to Kreposts (the Bulgarian unique castle building) instead of Donjons here and there, betraying that they likely served as a template during development.
The Sicilians seem to be a strong civilization early on, with the possibility of a powerful Donjon-tower rush that can also recruit units. I'm by no means an expert player though, so I've mostly failed in my Donjon rush attempts. That doesn't mean I didn't have fun. What's clear to me, is that the additional civilizations, with slightly novel gameplay styles, spice up the meta in multiplayer matches. They lead to new tactics for both offense and for countering them.
Right before and when the expansion came out, there were some worries within the player community that the new civilizations were unbalanced. Within a month of the expansion's release though, a hotfix has been released. The Coustillier unit has had its powerful shock attack nerfed and the unique technologies have been rebalanced. The Sicilian 'First Crusade' technology now spawns fewer Norman serjeants, for example. The relatively rapid fix is a sign that any imbalances are unlikely to endure for long.
In all, I'm very happy with the Lords of the West expansion. 10 Euros is a good price to pay for around 15 hours of quality single player content, though it might seem high compared to the base game costing just 20 Euros. Another reason I like this expansion is that I'm still really enjoying the Age of Empires II multiplayer. Adding variety here adds to the challenge. Even though Age of Empires IV might be around the corner, I certainly wouldn't mind any additional expansions for Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition. If only because history teaches us a newer Age of Empires isn't necessarily a better one.
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