From 1999 to 2021, Age of Empires 2 has aged like fine wine. Set during the dark and middle ages featuring many civilisations, each with their own unique bonuses, this real time strategy game quickly became one of my favourite games of all time. With the Lords of the West expansion arriving two weeks ago, I thought there would be no better time than the present to look back at this game.
Back in 2013 when the HD version arrived on Steam the child in me screamed with joy. However, it was quickly silenced. While it was an improvement from the original, it was nothing more than a trip down memory lane. In 2019, twenty years after the original hit shelves, the Definitive Edition arrived.
Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition (AOE2:DE) captured me, just like the original did all those years ago. It feels fresh. Despite having the same mechanics as the original it feels modern. The developers love for the franchise shines.
What is Age of Empires About
If you’ve been living under a rock for the last twenty years, let me bring you up to speed with what Age of Empires 2 is about. It’s an easy to learn, hard to master economy and military management strategy game. Each game sees you start with a handful of villagers, a scout, and a town center. From here you build up your resources as you move through the ages, advancing your technologies as you amass a large army to defeat your enemies.
Food, wood, gold, and stone are the four resources in the game. Barracks, Archery Ranges, Stables, and Siege Workshops are the primary military buildings – Castles also produce military units, but due to their upfront cost, are used to control the map more so than to amass large armies quickly. Docks are also an option, but not all maps feature water.
If you’re a history buff, AOE2:DE has you covered. There are 37 civilisations and 30 campaigns (at the time of writing) offering many hours of content. While not all the single player missions are enjoyable, they offer a good balance between linear objectives and a sandbox style approach to how you accomplish them.
There are skirmish modes vs AI, quick matches against AI or other players, ranked modes, and lobbies to host custom games. There are regular events and updates. The community is not only active, but also friendly. I cannot think of any negatives about Age of Empires. If you loved the original, you’ll love DE.
Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition Improvements
The first (and largest) improvement are the graphics, which make AOE2:DE look better than ever before. Gone are the days of pixelated units moving around our screens in clunky fashion. Instead, unit models are smooth, and animations are fluid. AOE2:DE even features 4K support, allowing the game to show off all the visual improvements in spectacular fashion.
Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition comes with many quality of life (QOL) updates which help bring the game in line with modern strategy games. While not as obvious as the visual upgrades, the QOL changes make the game that much more enjoyable. Two of the biggest improvements for me were task queuing and automatic farm reseeding.
Task queuing (as the name suggest) lets you command units to perform a series of tasks without manual intervention. As an example, you can order a villager to move to a specific location and build a house, and once complete, build a farm. What would have previously been three tasks has been cut down to one. This applies to all units and actions, making it easier to focus on what’s important.
Automatic farm reseeding is just that. Farms automatically reseed when they run out of food. No longer will you have to go back to your villagers mid combat to see if they’re idle. You can just set and forget, allowing you to overcome your opponents on the battlefield. While it doesn’t sound like a large change, it really helps with the flow of the game.
New and Improved AI
Pathfinding is much better than previous titles, allowing for easier movement (less units get stuck) and micromanagement during combat. Production queues have also seen a facelift, allowing for varied unit queues (you’re no longer stuck producing one type of unit at a time). Small changes like these help the fluidity of the gameplay and put it leagues ahead of its predecessors.
When versing the CPU, you’ll get a much more realistic experience. Computer opponents no longer get stuck on terrain, moving back and forth endlessly. Thanks to the pathfinding, and new code, they play much like human opponents. There is also an ‘Extreme’ difficulty which simulates the most popular build orders and offers a considerable challenge.
The AI updates may not be for everyone as it does make the game a step up above previous editions (in terms of difficulty). Computer controlled opponents are much more likely to rush you in the early game or flood you late game. Preparing for ranked gameplay is now much easier thanks to these changes.
Lords of the West Expansion
It’s amazing to think that Age of Empires 2 had a new expansion released 21 years later. Featuring two new civilisations and three new campaigns, it’s a nice addition to what is an already large game. For all the achievement hunters out there, you’ll be pleased to know that the expansion comes with new achievements.
The Burgundians are a cavalry civilization, which benefit from considerable bonuses (in the form of economic upgrades). The Sicilians are an infantry civilization, which can absorb incoming bonus damage (making counters slightly less threatening). Both bring new bonuses into play, not seen with the older civilisations. Is this a step in a new direction for Age of Empires 2? Only time will tell.
Coming in at $14.95 AUD however, I don’t believe it’s worth it. Considering the base game is only $22.95 and comes with nearly ten times the content, it felt like a cash grab to many in the community. However, if you intend on playing competitive matches, it’s a must buy as the civilisation bonuses are quite considerable late game (for both 1 v 1 and team games).
While the core gameplay remains the same, Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition is leagues ahead of its predecessors. Should you only own the HD version, do yourself a favour and pick up the DE when on sale (it’s regularly 50% off). With its new facelift, and QOL offerings, it’s a must own for any Age of Empires and strategy fan.