by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
A Special Place
Age of Empires II: Age of Kings will always hold a special place in my heart. It wasnít my first video game, that honor goes to Super Mario Bros. 3, but it was both my first PC game and the first game that I ever really got hooked on. Being only nine years old and a complete stranger to the real time strategy genre it took me awhile to figure out that winning required more than building as many knights as I could and charging the enemy head on, but once I did, I lost many an evening waging digital warfare with historyís greatest empires. Over time of course the game aged, the online aspect died, I lost the disc, and I moved on to other games. Flashforward 14 years and I metaphorically (if not a bit literally) jumped for joy at the news that one of my favorite games of all time was getting the HD update treatment by Hidden Path Entertainment, letting me relive my childhood memories in glorious 1080p. However, while I have been enjoying the game quite a bit, and will probably continue to do so for the foreseeable future, after spending more than a modest amount of time with the game I canít help but feel that this update is a small bit half-hearted.
For those unfamiliar with the Original Age of Empires II, as well as itís expansion The Conquerors, which added new civilizations and is included in this update, the game is a 1999 RTS game originally made by Ensemble Studios. Similar to most games in the genre, players either start from scratch or from very humble beginnings and must gather resources (in this case gold, stone, food, and wood) in order to build an army and other cornerstones of civilization like a church, university, blacksmith, etc. One of the main draws of the Age of Empires franchise is that it allows players to play as one of a number of real-world civilizations spanning the globe from the Mayans and Aztecs of the Americas, to the Japanese or Koreans of Asia, to the Vikings and Britons of Europe and beyond, all while moving from the dark ages through post-imperialism. While the most common way to win is through the systematic elimination of oneís enemies through military might, itís also possible to attain victory by either building and protecting a world wonder or by controlling all of the religious relics scattered throughout the map.
Rock Paper Scissors
Combat is a bit rock-paper-scissors like, with every unit type having various strengths and weaknesses. Cavalry are fast, but will be taken out quickly by pikeman. Archers make quick work of infantry, but are weak to cavalry. Siege weapons are great at either taking out buildings or groups of soldiers depending on the unit, but are worthless if anyone can get up close to them. Depending on the map, naval warfare can also come into play in a big way, which has its own set of strength/weakness dynamics. Last, but certainly not least, each civilization is made unique not only by the aesthetics of itís buildings and itís economic perks, but also by one or two unique combat units tied to the real-life specialties of that respective society. For example, the Vikings have their signature longboats that give them a big advantage on the sea, Japanese samurai dominate infantry on infantry combat, and Spanish conquistadors are an intimidating horse-mounted combination of speed and range. These units give each civilization an advantage in certain situations while still being balanced and allowing for complete flexibility in play style. All in all, the combat and gameplay is unchanged, and Iím OK with that. Even in a world of beautiful advanced RTS titles like Starcraft II the game holds up remarkably well.
Gameplay has aged well, multiplayer setup is solid, Steam Workshop opens the door for further improvement
Visuals leave something to be desired, some textures seem worse than the original