by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
Some Good, Some Ugly
So, at it’s core the game is rock solid and still a great play, but the real question here is if this version improves and adds enough to be worthy of your money over just picking up a cheap copy of the original. Well, in short, yes, but as I’ll explain it’s a little more complicated than a one sentence answer can convey. Being that it’s right in the title, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the visual HD upgrade is the main reason to pick this title up. This isn’t the case. It’s true that most of the graphics are scaled up nicely, the menus look crisp, and dual-monitor support is a plus, but if I just took a quick glance at someone playing I might not have noticed it isn’t the original. In fact, some of the changes actually made the game less visually appealing. Cliff sides, for one, look muddied and just generally unappealing. I don’t quite understand why, of all things, these were replaced (and furthermore why such a bad quality texture was chosen). Additionally, and these are more personal preference than anything, the new water and crop field textures just don’t work for me. The bright blue water has been replaced with a more subdued gray, which does look sharper, but Age of Empires has always been about bright and vibrant colors, and I always liked how the bold blue contrasted with the popping green of the land. Crops went through a more noticeable change. Besides being changed from sprite to a texture, which most won’t be able to differentiate between anyways, the plants have changed from a simple green lettuce-like plant to what is supposed to be corn. I think this is a great idea in concept, but it just looks weird. Yellow ripe corn should be tall and in stalks. Having yellow shapes flat on the ground looks like a strange kind of ugly flower. But, again, both this and the new water color is more personal preference than anything.
There are two areas, however, that are much more appealing in this update than the visuals, one of which is multiplayer functionality. Being a Steam exclusive, it’s awesome to be able to quickly and easily hop into a game with Steam friends. Even when not playing with friends, the ability to play online with the benefit of a modern reliable connection adds a lot to the game. It’s fun to battle AI opponents, but it’s something entirely more special to have to out think and out maneuver real human minds. It’s here that treaties, resource offerings, deception, and misdirection using the up to 500 units the game now allows each player to control come into play, and there’s no feeling quite like it. The second awesome perk is that the game supports the Steam Workshop, which lets players install mods with the click of the button. As of now there are only a handful of mods posted, but there are already awesome additions that everyone should download. The most downloaded mod as of this writing replaces most of the textures in the game with higher quality ones, making me wonder why in the world the developers didn’t use textures like these in the first place. A few more replace the audio with higher quality versions of the same tracks, some return the aforementioned cliff and water textures to their original style, and a bunch give the player numerous awesome new (or old) maps to play on. To be honest, it's the potential that the Steam Workshop brings that is the game’s major selling point to me. While options may be limited right now, there’s no doubt that given some time mods will be able to provide everything from alternate texture packs to cool additional music to an occasional custom civilization. Of course that’s merely potential, and while potential is good, I can’t base a score on the potential of the community to make the game better than the developers did.
How to Rate History
I find it difficult to review HD remakes. Is it best to score the game as if it came out for the first time right now? Is it more relevant to score it only on the improvements over the original? Should the graphics and sound be compared to modern games, or compared to how the game looked and sounded at its initial release? Indeed the best is probably a mix of all of the above, so it’s important to keep in mind, as a potential buyer, that you should hold the above text in higher regard than the number next to it since you might have different wants or expectations of an HD remake than I do. Personally I find Age of Empires II HD to be a moderate success. There is definitely something to be said for a game from the late 90s that still holds up well in the gameplay department. The graphics are alright, but not as great as I was hoping for. Again, the true strength lies in robust multiplayer and Steam Workshop support, both of which depend on the community to thrive. All in all, Age of Empires II HD is a game that I’m more than happy to conquer.
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