Age of Empires 2 HD Review: Historically Accurate

Age of Empires was, at time of original release (1997), a breath of fresh air. The RTS genre was jam-packed with all sorts of science-fiction and fantasy titles, but historical titles were few and far between. Age of Empires 2 (1999) took that historical formula and perfected it, creating a game everyone remembers as a strategy classic. Is it really that great, especially after the strides RTS games have seen in recent years?

Short answer: yes. Age of Empire 2 is still one of the metrics by which all RTS games should be judged, alongside other perennial classics such as Starcraft, Red Alert, and Total Annihilation. It has also aged a lot more gracefully than some of its brethren, and the HD remake does a lot to ease players into such a storied title. But that’s not to say the genre hasn’t advanced a lot since 1999, and AoE2 lacks a number of features people come to expect from RTS games these days.

Age of Empires 2 HD
Platforms: PC (Reviewed)
Developer: Ensemble Studios, Hidden Path Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft
Released: April 9, 2013
MSRP: $19.99

Age of Empires 2 pits you – controlling a classic civilization – against other civilizations seeking to destroy your empire and claim dominance. Throughout the course of a typical game you advance from the Dark Age all the way to the Imperial Age, with abstractions of important historical advancements improving your chances for survival and victory. Since it’s an RTS, it’s not a slow process like it is in Civilization or Total War. Instead, advancing those thousand or so years of history is only thirty minutes of intense resource management and combat.

How does the HD version of this basic premise shape up? Pretty well, in fact. Part of the difficulty of enjoying AoE2 on modern systems was that it was designed and built for old operating systems using 4:3 monitors. The HD release drastically upscales the resolution, improves the particle and water visuals, and generally spruces and tidies things up. It doesn’t actually change any of the sprites, though. Most importantly, running AoE2 HD isn’t a pain anymore. Now it’s up to the player if they actually want to play the game, rather than any silly compatability problems

Despite having sprites over a decade old at this point, AoE2 still looks good. Units are a bit muddy, but structures are still wonderfully detailed and it’s easy to distinguish what is going on. AoE2 may not have the direct, cartoony readability of Age of Empires Online, but it’s not difficult to deal with if you aren’t an elitist about older visuals. I’ve always thought that clarity and consistence in art style is more important than high fidelity, and AoE2 falls in line with that belief.

So it’s playable, but whether it is fun or not is a different story. If you are familiar with the RTS genre, you know the drill: collect resources, build units, destroy bases. Repeat every time you start a new game. It has been in every RTS since Herzog Zwei, and it’s here as well.

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5 Comments on Age of Empires 2 HD Review: Historically Accurate

SweetPea

On April 11, 2013 at 2:30 pm

While I don’t see why a HD remake was necessary, I might pick it up sometime, if only for the workshop and the higher resolutions.

But it will never be better than AoE1, a game I still play occasionally with friends. And I’m not alone with that, it still has a player base of thousands and thousands of players, which is incredible for a game that is ~15 years old.

Underlaw

On April 11, 2013 at 3:10 pm

I sense a money paid article, or some one who dont play this new version.
This new version of Age of Empires in ridiculous….there is MINOR changes, same animation, same sounds…..ITS NOT F*** HD! They are tryng to force u to pay to get the same Age of Empires game.
They dont even add new frames to animations, not even a better sound quallity, AND THEY REMOVE THE LAN GAME MODE! TO FORCE U TO BUY!
Gamefront guys, i dont know how to tell u, but this future of paid articles will ruin.

Adam

On April 11, 2013 at 4:31 pm

Sorry, but keeping all the graphics exactly the same, but making it widescreen doesn’t make the game HD. However, seeing this game, which was a huge part of my teenage years, have a rebirth makes me happy.

psycros

On April 11, 2013 at 9:30 pm

“Likewise, co-op is fun but ultimately purposeless.”

Without LAN support? Yeah, it is.

“You can create a multiplayer match to stomp on a computer player, but it’s not something I expect a lot of people to get into. The lack of a connecting purpose to such an activity will probably give some people pause. After all, if given a choice between a cheating AI and an actual human player – with no reward for fighting the AI – you may as well fight the human.”

What “connecting purpose” are you talking about? What “reward” do you get for beating another human, exactly? I don’t recall my computer spitting out trophies for defeating some unfortunate newb online. I despise online play in any case, with its sea of immature yahoos and cheating punks. I much prefer a roaring co-op bloodbath against a ravenous AI. I’m hardly alone judging by the co-op renaissance of the last two years.

Ieuan

On February 17, 2014 at 1:29 am

Wow those comments are silly.

Sure it isn’t really HD, but so what? Nobody is forcing you to pay for it, I did gladly because it means I can now play the game again without compatibility issues and will likely be able to continue to do so for years to come.

Personally I think the article is more negative than it needs to be, I mean “daunting and confusing tech tree”? Really? Average campaign? It’s longer and better thought out than 99% of modern single player campaigns and a decent challenge if you play it on harder settings.