Age of Empires 2 HD Review: Historically Accurate
The kicker is that AoE2 focuses a lot more on economy and diversity. In a sense, it is a maximalist-style game. There are four major resource types: food, wood, gold, and stone. Resources are gathered from all sorts of resource nodes, from farms to trees to fishing spots. You can also buy resources from the market. Each type of resource is used for a specific kind of unit or technology, which makes specialization easy. For example, food is always used in producing living units, while wood is always used in building structures and producing non-living (boats, siege engines) units.
Units are divided into melee, ranged, cavalry, siege, and naval. Each unit class has quite a few units per age (tech level; upgradeable at town center), and the list only increases in size as you get further along. Units follow formations while marching into battle, and they are organized in a rough rock-paper-scissors scheme of weaknesses and strengths. This doesn’t even take into account racial differences in armor or damage or technology.
Said technology itself is also very interesting, as not every race has access to the same tech tree. While the overall tech tree – with the exception of unique units and tech – is shared across races, each race has bits and pieces missing from it. The end result is that no two races are the same, and some – like the Aztecs or Mongols – are very different. Some races have really great ranged units (British) while some dominate the seas with strong boats (Koreans). It’s a game of picking the right race for the right map and right playstyle. If you don’t like the race you picked for one game, you can always pick another race in the next, as AoE2 lacks the “Home City” persistence between matches that characterizes Age of Empires 3 and Age of Empires Online.
This makes AoE2 perfect for competitive multiplayer. The tech tree differences allow for races of differing strengths, and the common unit pool makes matches easy to watch and understand. Since there’s no persistence, you can try new races each time you play a match. There are a few victory conditions allowed to the player, with the prominent ones being relic (gather items scattered on the map), wonder (build a wonder and hold it for a while), and conquest (burn everything to the ground). There’s nothing quite like setting up your wall to hold off raiding cavalry while building up your wonder and preventing another player from gathering all the relics.
When you aren’t actively competing against another player, though, it loses a bit of its luster. The single-player campaigns aren’t terrible, but they aren’t fantastic either. They are good for teaching basic concepts and the occasional cool set piece, but they generally aren’t very interesting. They are all typical historical scenarios, such as Joan of Arc’s campaign against the English. The notable exception to this is the El Cid campaign – a semi-historical recounting of the exploits of Spain’s national hero – which is one of the best collections of RTS missions I’ve ever played. It mixes nonstandard objectives with a tale of rebellion and betrayal.
Likewise, co-op is fun but ultimately purposeless. 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 I’m personally most pumped about is the addition of Steam Workshop functionality, as it means more player-made content. AoE2 has a very good map editor, and giving players access to a repository of missions and multiplayer maps can’t be bad. More diversity equals more fun, as the AoE2 motto goes, and the Workshop is bound to bring a lot of diversity to the once-empty title. I would suggest getting some of the more prominent map packs, but you can also change aspects like textures, sound effects, or the soundtrack.
Achievements are the other Steam-related addition, and they are pretty funny. They are the standard list of actions – kill X units, win X matches as a race, and so on – but have really wordy descriptions that go into a lot of depth with gameplay tips. Several of the achievement descriptions actually break the word wrap on Steam’s community page. This sort of obsessive detail is a bit comical, even if it doesn’t really impact the game.
If you’re interested in playing a classic RTS – remastered for modern computers – Age of Empires 2 HD should be a high-priority purchase. It makes AoE2 far more palatable for computers to run without actively changing the game. But AoE2 is an RTS with classic sensibilities, and it can be daunting for those used to simpler, more focused, and more modern RTS games. It will chew you up and spit you out if you aren’t careful.
- Exposes Age of Empires 2 to a new audience
- HD features enhance compatability without changing the game
- Classic-style RTS action
- Maximalist design
- Heavy focus on economic stability over micromanaging soldiers
- Lack of modern conveniences such as multiplayer progression
- Daunting and confusing tech tree
- Strictly average campaign
- Cheating AI
Final Score: 80/100
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