It is early afternoon on a cold and rainy day in 1998. Your computer desk is dimly lit by the glow of the desk lamp that sits upon it, as grey light streaks through the curtains. You slide a CD into your computer, and it whirrs and plays a rhythmic and serious song. You click a few buttons on screen, and then… you are God.
Hours pass, it is now late at night. You command a platoon of archers to take aim at a building. Men with axes come after them, but your swordsman intercept them. Catapults launch heaping masses of stone through the air, obliterating everything in their path. Suddenly, a choral chant is overheard, and one by one your army begins turning on one another. “WOLOLO”, they shout. Again and again and again, until one by one your blue army is now a sea of red, and your warriors are either turned or obliterated.
Your empire has fallen. As long as it takes to raise, it falls in an instant.
Age Of Empires burst onto the PC gaming scene 20 years ago, cementing its place not only in the RTS scene but the memories of gamers everywhere. Taking inspiration from both the Warcraft and Civilization franchises, the game takes certain liberties with history (then again, what game doesn’t?) putting players in campaign scenarios echoing great battles and wars from the past. With 16 different historically-based civilizations to assume control of and conquer, and stacks of different tech trees to research and explore, the world is under your control when it comes to Age Of Empires.
One of the best (and probably my favourite) modes in Age of Empires is the single-player random map mode, where you start with three villagers and a Town Centre. From here, your empire can grow to enormous proportions or be crushed under the weight of more advanced civilizations; it becomes a literal race against time as you progress through each of the Ages (Stone Age, Tool Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age) and develop your society to rule or ruin. The Definitive Edition expands upon the original in various ways, most of which are beneficial to the game itself; taking example from successive games, the ‘build queue’ is introduced, allowing you to stack creations such as Villagers or Military units rather than having to bounce back and forward between buildings to queue a new unit. This makes for an easier time building your empire as, rather than having to build multiple structures to create multiple units, you can stack your creations for successive army building. The stock-standard win conditions are there too – total military domination, building a Wonder, capturing all Ruins or holding all Artifacts are still integral parts of the random map mode, and are still really fun to complete.Several of the game’s key mechanics get a serious boost with the HD enhancement too – fish are easier to see in the water (so that you can send fishing boats to them) and the landscape becomes more identifiable than before. Trees and bushes are more detailed, water is clearer and vibrant, even the wild animals get just that little bit more realistic, which is great. For a game that is 20 years old, the rebuild does it wonders (for the most part) and it blends a sense of nostalgia with something that feels fresh and new. A gripe with this though is the fact that while the graphics have upgraded and features of the game have been tweaked, you still may find yourself frustrated by some of the existing things – sometimes you’ll find you didn’t click where you wanted to (hit boxes don’t seem to have changed much) and you’ll get a woodcutting villager mining instead (or vice versa). This also extends to the AI, which feels like it has only been ported over – I constantly found myself yelling at villagers to GO AROUND instead of trying to walk through things. Similarly, die-hard fans of the original game will be slightly disheartened to hear that the remastered soundtrack may not live up to expectations – the villagers don’t sound the same. The remastered soundtrack evokes memories of campaigns past, but when your villager is saying “Roggan?” and it doesn’t sound the same, it takes a little bit away from that memory.
At the end of the day though, this is a HD remaster of a game that ran on computers probably as powerful as my current mobile phone, so it truly is a sight to behold seeing my childhood come back in this way. The fact that it also runs on PCs with lesser requirements (though you won’t be getting any of that 4K action) means almost everyone can relive their childhood, or even get involved for the first time. It also gives hope that the successive remasters and eventual 4th game will reignite what made the franchise great. If you played it all those years ago and still remember your cheat codes, be sure to give them a shot, because there’s nothing like saying “I’ve had enough” and unleashing a squad of ‘bigdaddy’ cars on your unsuspecting enemies.
The Windows 10 version of this game was played for the purpose of this review. Digital review code was provided by the publisher.
Age of Empires: Definitive Edition does almost everything it sets out to do; it breathes new life into an absolute classic, and allows us to put on those rose-tinted glasses for another long campaign across the map, dominating through any means possible and constructing an empire very few could dream of. It still suffers from a few issues that the original did, but what more can you ask from a game that is older than half the people you play against online these days? It’s definitely worth purchasing, if only for the nostalgia factor.