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
Released: April 9, 2013
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.