If you’re trying to build a complete understanding of gaming, there’s certain titles that you’d be expected to be familiar with. Super Mario Bros., for instance, or Final Fantasy VII – you know, games that played a part in defining the industry. On the strategy side of things, you’d certainly want to be familiar with classics like Command & Conquer, Master of Magic, and, of course, Age of Empires.
I didn’t really get into PC gaming at large until 2007 or so, meaning I missed the original Age of Empires. That means that much of what I’m experiencing with this game is fresh and new in a way it probably won’t be for many nostalgia-seeking players. It’s interesting, then, that even with this perspective Age of Empires: Definitive Edition still makes for a pretty solid (if somewhat dated) experience.
This is an RTS from the early days of the genre. You’ll start by selecting a civilization or just dealing with whatever the objectives are if you’re playing one of the many, many campaign missions. You’ve got your villagers, a berry bush or two, maybe a few tasty animals to hunt if you’re lucky, and from that base of folks and food you’re going to build an empire and crush your enemies. Food makes people, y’see, so it acts a sort of baseline, allowing you to create more dudes to collect even more food and other resources, such as stone and gold, on top of that. You’ll turn those resources into buildings, upgrades and a military force with which to give nearby empires a stomping, presumably because they’re horning in on your food collection.
It’s all presented in fairly straightforward fashion, controlled much as you’d expect. While this likely felt pretty groundbreaking back in the day, Age of Empires runs into a similar issue as the original Half-Life: as a game that provided the building blocks for so many games that came after it, Age of Empires can’t help but feel a little dated. Concepts that were embraced later on the life cycle of the RTS genre, such as drastically differing factions in terms of gameplay and appearance, aren’t present here.
Still, you don’t get to be a foundation without some solid fundamentals, and that’s where this title continues to excel. Micromanaging your units to get the most out of them in combat while also ensuring that your economy stays on track is endearing as ever, as is making your way through the tech tree so your empire can grow through the ages.
There’s plenty of empiring to do here, since another relic from the bygone days from which this game hails is the fact that it shipped with a fairly massive amount of content. If you can deal with the fact that the missions don’t really have a lot of variety aside from flavor and dressing, you’ll appreciate that there’s no fewer than ten separate campaigns, for instance. If you get tired of those, you’ve got skirmish and multiplayer options as well. Age of Empires Definitive Edition will gladly hold your attention for as long as you’ll allow it to be held.
It’s also a nice-looking game, bordering on gorgeous; you can really appreciate that given that you’re able to switch back and forth from the original graphics to the remastered take. This is the sort of thing I’ve come to expect from a really solid remake or remaster. Just look at the general reaction to the recent remakes of Shadow of the Colossus and Secret of Mana for how old-school fans might react to differing degrees of liberty taken with a game’s source material. Here, plenty of attention was clearly paid to ensuring that this is a classic given new life rather than a new game with the name of a classic.
A friend who heard that I was reviewing Age of Empires: Definitive Edition insisted that I try out Age of Empires II HD as well, and admittedly the sequel does add substantially to the basic gameplay introduced here. For what it’s worth, though, I still consider this remaster a great homage to one of the true innovators of the RTS genre. It’s worth a look if you’re interested in one of the key games that helped shape an entire sector of the industry and whose influence continues to this day.