Age of Empires II: HD Edition (PC) Review

By Andrew 15.01.2016

Review for Age of Empires II: HD Edition on PC

For those not aware of it, Age of Empires was a PC series that was popular in the late 90s and early 00s; in short, a classic amongst real-time strategies. It offered a simple concept: start with a few villagers that could collect resources (wood, food, gold, and stone), and use these to create new buildings and units. Before long, a whole army has been created that can fight opponents. Until recently, the franchise has been almost abandoned, but, fortunately, it's most popular title (as opposed to subsequent sequels), has been given a HD re-release on Steam.

Age of Empires II was a critical and commercial success upon its initial release. Many of its features have become standard parts of the real-time strategy genre. Unfortunately, this means that many of the ground-breaking features are now commonplace. As with everything, the game has aged, but playing the original sequel, as opposed to this HD rerelease, is still a pleasurable experience that many modern RTS can't live up to. Fundamentally the HD edition adds to this, although perhaps not as much as anticipated.

The title itself signifies that the game is now in HD. It seems to imply a significant graphical overhaul, but this is not really the case. It is undoubtedly crisper and clearer, but it still feels dated. Perhaps more generous minds may claim that it is "retro", but in many ways it feels more like an up-scaled port than a re-release. There has been no attempts to wow audiences and instead the visuals, as well as the game as a whole, have sought to take as much from the 1999 version as possible. Of course, all the good points have been ported across too. Graphics-wise, this means that the isometric view still works fine, and the increased resolution has allowed more of the map to be shown, at once whilst keeping the same clarity. It is better and clearer than it has ever been before, even if it almost looks a little bit too familiar.

Screenshot for Age of Empires II: HD Edition on PC

Similarly, the gameplay tweaks that have been made are all very subtle. Civilisation bonuses have been added, plus, there are now a couple new ways for the advanced tactician to micromanage. The AI has also been buffed, particularly on the Random Maps mode, so it is perhaps a bit unfair to suggest a lack of effort on the developers. The Random Maps mode is where most players will spend most of their time, and the new challenge offered to those with more experience is a nice touch.

One of the biggest improvements comes simply from the way the game is delivered. Bringing the title to Steam gives it a fresh lease of life. It is now both simple and easy to arrange online games, both with friends, as well as strangers, which will play a key part in giving this a long-term replayability. The single-player campaigns are still disappointing, and typically require a set of criteria to be achieved in a relatively linear fashion. This seems to go against the open ended nature of the Random Maps mode, but there is more than enough depth on offer for the campaigns to be largely ignored if desired. They're still a good place to go for beginners, or for those that wish to limit what they can do in a match.

Lastly, another way in which the re-release has added new features is through the expansion packs. The standard release includes the first expansion pack released in 2000 for free, but there have also been 2 further expansions. These feature new units, new campaigns, and, best of all, new civilisations. It is fantastic to see that the game can now truly represent all empires across the medieval world. The additional expansions are a worthwhile purchase, and they really do what they say on the tin: expand the game, without any particularly significant fundamental changes. There's more than enough to enjoy in the vanilla product, meaning that these packs are not a required purchase, particularly for those that wish to dip their toes into the franchise.

Screenshot for Age of Empires II: HD Edition on PC

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Age of Empires II: HD Edition is a solid game, and, in many ways, a great one. It's fun, well balanced, and with plenty to do. It doesn't provide any ground-breaking gameplay advancements over the original sequel, but it doesn't really need to. The only real disappointment comes in the form of graphics, even though it all looks clearer and better than ever before. There's always a compromise between improvement and ruining hard-earned nostalgia, and the designers have been conservative with this effort, particularly when it comes to the new expansion packs. Those with a hankering for nostalgia will be well placed for a fantastic experience, but newcomers should appreciate that this is very much a light-touch remake of a 20th century classic.


Hidden Path


Microsoft Game Studios





C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  10/10 (1 Votes)

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