With the release of Age of Empires: Definitive Edition around the corner, I was fortunate enough to get an early glimpse into how this remaster is shaping up thanks to a recent multiplayer BETA. As one of my favourite games as a child, I was curious to find out how the game has held up after 20 years.
First of all, one thing to clarify is that the game tries to stay true to the original game. It doesn’t try to reinvent itself for a modern audience. To me, it still felt exactly like I remember. While those seeking a nostalgic hit may enjoy this aspect, many people picking it up for the first time may feel otherwise.
For me a few gameplay aspects struck out as feeling noticeably outdated. Not being able to queue different units or technology is a notable one for me. As someone who has spent a lot of time in Age of Empires II, I found the inability to build gates on walls restricting as it forces you to leave them partially open which makes them partially redundant. While some may disagree, I feel fixing these sorts of things could have been done while still being faithful to the original game.
If you can look past these things, the core gameplay concept is still enjoyable. For the uninitiated, Age of Empires has you playing as a historic civilisation in a RTS battle against other civilisations. The gameplay loop revolves around gathering resources, building a base, rising through technological ages, building an army and taking out the enemy.
I still find this concept fun to play, it’s the execution itself that is holding back the game. While undoubtedly great for the time, the concept was implemented much better in the also massively popular sequel, Age of Empires II. Going backwards in a series is always a difficult thing to do.
Visually, the game stays true to the original look but adds some much needed additional detail and refinement. The buildings, the units, the terrain, all look like how it originally did just with a lot more detail added. Because of this though, the buildings look a bit too basic and the terrain a bit dull.
I didn’t get a chance to play the Campaign as the BETA was restricted to multiplayer. For me, Age of Empires has always been about playing through the historic campaigns. I’ve never thought of it as a competitive type of game. After playing multiplayer, that view is unchanged.
One of the biggest issues in my mind is the poor structuring of the multiplayer. Instead of predefined match types to join, people are free to set up and play their own matches with their own rules. There is an impressive array of options to tweak the game ranging from starting resources to number of players. You can even enable cheats, which I found out as may base was being swamped by a flock of babies riding bicycles. While in theory this may sound nice, it leaves things too open and I feel will fracture the community too much.
Even in the BETA I played in, the online community seemed scarce which made it extremely difficult to find a game with a set of rules that I wanted to play. When trying to set up a game, I found the wait time to find people to join unbearable. While things may be more populated at launch, I just don’t believe the online community will last very long.
Full disclosure, I lost almost every game I played. Obviously this took away from enjoyment and maybe others were having a better time than I was. I more enjoy the base building, exploration, resource gathering and story parts of the Age of Empires rather than combat. My strategy was totally off for the competitive environment. In any case, between trying to find a game and getting destroyed, I didn’t have a huge amount of fun.
Age of Empires: Definitive Edition looks to provide a faithful remastering of one of the most notable early RTS games. Those looking for a nostalgic hit may be in for a treat. The game does show its age and may not be the best place for newcomers to the series to start. I look forward to finding out how Age of Empires: Definitive Edition really holds up when the game launches on February 20th, 2018.