Age of Empires II HD Review

Let's get down to business... to defeat... THE HUNS! Oh wait, I AM the Huns...

  • Developer: Hidden Path Entertainment/Ensemble Studios
  • Publisher: Microsoft Studios
  • Release Date: 9 April 2013
  • Time played: 5 hours

Ah, Age of Empires. A classic RTS series. While Westwood Studios and Blizzard managed to get a head start on the RTS genre in the early 90s, Ensemble Studios, the original developer of Age of Empires, managed to cut its own niche:. If Westwood could do sci-fi and Blizzard fantasy, why not a historical RTS they thought? The first Age of Empires (which is actually probably my favourite) had civilizations starting from the Stone Age and advancing to the Iron Age. The game was a success but not as popular or critically acclaimed as its sequel in 1999, Age of Empires II.

Admittedly, I didn't really play much of Age of Empires II as there were a lot of other games to distract me at that time, however I always remembered having heaps of fun with it, especially playing as the Turks with their Janissary special units (FEAR MY MIGHTY GUNPOWDER UNITS MERE MORTALS! *ahem*).

So imagine my joy when it was announced that Hidden Path Entertainment had developed a "HD" version of Age of Empires II, and believe me, I wasn't the only one: several of my friends bought copies of the game and I was lucky enough to receive one as a gift from Choona. Thanks again Choona!

So you're probably wondering, nostalgia aside, is it really worth paying the dough to get Age of Empires II again? Has enough changed in the HD release?

Plot (5/5)
With Age of Empires II HD you get not only the original Age of Empires II campaign, i.e. Age of Kings, but you also get The Conquerors expansion pack too. Consequently, there are quite a few campaigns spanning from William Wallace driving the English from Scotland to Genghis Khan's invasion of Eurasia. As the campaigns are more or less based on historical conflicts (I'm sure some creative license was used), the authenticity makes the battles you fight all the more interesting.

Gameplay (4/5)
Not much has changed in terms of gameplay between the HD version of the game and the original, although apparently the AI has received a few tweaks (although this is hard to gauge). This is still your typical RTS where you build a base, gather resources, raise an army and destroy your enemy. Unlike many RTSs though, Age of Empires II is one of those RTSs that is kind of appealing to turtles as you can build elaborate fortresses using a combination of walls, watchtowers and gates, not to mention pretty medieval villages - only to watch it all burn as you get slaughtered by the AI! Oh speaking of which, it seems the AI are quite competent, even on lower difficulties. Either that, or my friends and I are out of practice when it comes to RTSs!

Another great thing about the Age of Empires games is that just like Civilization V your civilizations may seem quite similar to each other on the surface but have subtle modifiers to things such as food production or how effective certain units can attack. Each civilization also has a unique unit which is usually a beefed up version of an existing unit. Working with the different civilization traits is one of the fun aspects of the game, although my only criticism is that perhaps the differences are too subtle, to the point where in a large army with multiple unit types, you don't really notice any difference. There's also been several times where I've built units that are apparently good at countering another unit but they turn out to be not much better than the base unit that they replace.

Another potential disadvantage of Age of Empires II is that like a lot of RTSs of the 90s, it involves a good degree of micromanagement. Not such a problem if you like RTSs like Starcraft II but it becomes a problem if you prefer more tactical/strategic RTSs where the AI can take over some of the menial tasks for you (e.g. how idle workers in Rise of Nations will automatically go to work if not manually assigned to a job).

Ohnoes! Anywhere but Perth!

Sound (4/5)
The sample rate for the audio probably seems a bit dated (one aspect of the game that they weren't able to bring into the 21st century) but I still get a kick at the attention to detail such as having each of the villager units in the game being voiced in the civilization's native language. For example, if you're playing as the Chinese they'll sometimes say "Shen me?" which means "What?" in Mandarin.

The only criticism I have is that the voice acting during the single player campaigns can be a bit laughable at times but hey this was the 90s - it was more forgivable back then :).

Music (5/5)
The classic Age of Empires II music is still here. You know, that ethnic electronica music that reminds you of artists like Enigma and Deep Forest? It really suits the game and it's a testament to the game's composer Stephen Rippy that it still holds up to this day.

Graphics (3/5)
The graphics are meant to be "High Definition" now which means it can run on higher resolution monitors than the original game could however there's actually no difference in terms of the graphics - which isn't such a bad thing since I kind of liked the old 2D sprites they used for the graphics, except they now look even smaller than they used to.

Replay (2/5)
I've played the game for almost 5 hours now, mainly in multiplayer and a little bit of the single player campaigns. The HD version is fully integrated with Steam so you're able to earn many Steam achievements and Steam Trading Cards. There's also a lot of mods and maps out there to try thanks to Steam Workshop.

You're also able to play with friends through the Steam interface. While I would like to play more multiplayer games of Age of Empires II HD in the future, I did encounter an issue that makes me lose confidence in this ever happening again as I'll explain below.

Polish (2/5)
I didn't encounter any major bugs when playing single player but I did encounter serious lag issues when playing the game multiplayer - functional multiplayer being one of the major reasons for getting this game in the first place. It just doesn't seem to bode well when friends within the same city can't play a three player game versus two AI without encountering almost unbearable lag. I did only encounter this later in the game though so maybe it's related to unit count. Who knows?

Score – 7/10

So is Age of Empires II HD worth getting? If you're a newcomer to RTSs and want to experience a classic or you're a returning fan that enjoys the single player aspect of the game but want a copy that works on modern operating systems, then yes I would recommend giving Age of Empires II HD a try. For those wanting to play the game mainly for multiplayer, mileage may vary since from my experience, games can become pretty laggy - almost to the point of being unplayable.

Age of Empires II HD is available from these retailers:

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[ LINK: Official Age of Empires II HD website ]