The original Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings was released back in 1999 as the second installment in the critically acclaimed franchise, receiving an expansion pack one year later under the name of The Conquerors. It was the best looking 2D real-time strategy available back then and also one of the best when it came to gameplay, easily competing with titles such as Command & Conquer and Starcraft. The game has managed to keep quite a large active community, so releasing a remake, meant to bring an old gem to today’s market, seems like a great idea. Does Age of Empires II: HD Edition manage to provide enough improvements to justify the 20$ price tag? Short answer, no.
Widescreen support and windowed mode has been added, but strangely the resolution box is gone from the options menu, so if you like playing in windowed mode, you’ll have to manually adjust the window size to your liking. The game’s rendering engine has been tuned a bit so the shadows (mostly noticeable on the fog of war) and the slopes are now smoother, and the water is better animated. Still, these changes are barely noticeable to the untrained eye.
Steam achievements and online play has been integrated as well. That might sound exciting, but it’s actually not. Most of the achievements are “Win X games with civilization Y”, with the X going as high as 1000, which is simply ridiculous and boring. There are no dedicated servers available, so the online works just as bad as the old DirectPlay or LAN (via Hamachi or other VPN service), relying on one of the players to be the host. As such, if that player has bad connection or is far from your location, you will lag. A lot. These are almost all of the changes that this version has made, which, as I said before, doesn’t make it worth the 20$.
Being an old game, Age of Empires II had its share of annoying mechanics that only became more apparent as time passed. Building units on several buildings wouldn’t evenly distribute among them, upgrades couldn’t be queued at all and there was no attack-move order (you could use the patrol order, but it felt really clunky). These were the biggest flaws the original game had, which added an unnecessary level of micromanagement, but it was easy to overlook them for its time. However, I can’t have the same attitude for a game that released in 2013. If they had fixed any two of those three problems, it would have easily made the HD Edition worth admission.
The final nail in the coffin for this re-release is the fact that most of the “new” features it introduced had already been added into the game by the modding community, for free. There has even been a free fan-made expansion pack released in December 2012, that not only brought widescreen support and fixed the distribution of units problem, but also added five new civilizations, 30 new technologies, 9 new units 2 new architecture sets and more. The community has even developed its own gaming client, used to organize proper tournaments and competitive ladders, tweaking the game’s original online system and making it more unified and readily accessible.
Age of Empires II: HD Edition feels like an attempt to cash in on the love the fans harbor towards this amazing strategy game, while failing to improve the core game enough to justify a purchase. If you are an old fan of the franchise, you’ve probably already modded your old game to your liking, so I’d say skip buying this. If you’ve never played the game before and want to give it a try I’d say wait for a price cut or a Steam sale. If you don’t want to wait I’d recommend getting Age of Empires II: Gold Edition instead, which is 9$ on Amazon, and installing the unofficial expansion Forgotten Empires which is available online for free.
Cirstoiu Alexandru, NoobFeed