Age of Empires: Definitive Edition (PC) Review

By Kevin Tsai 07.03.2018

Review for Age of Empires: Definitive Edition on PC

Age of Empires is a beloved strategy title released in 1997. In the past two decades, the gaming landscape has transformed into a nearly unrecognisable state, exploding into the mainstream and becoming more ubiquitous than anybody could have imagined. Real-time strategy games, in particular, have seen many iterations and changes over the years, ranging from Starcraft's worldwide popularity, to the Total War series' massive battles. Age of Empires is from a time before these momentous shifts in gaming history, and has been remastered and released by Microsoft Studios in 2018 as Age of Empires: Definitive Edition. While the game offers some shallow enjoyment and light strategic decision-making, it negatively shows its Age in mechanics and design.

Being a primary influencer of the real-time strategy genre, Age of Empires' setup is immediately familiar to long-time fans. Starting with a basic town hall structure, workers are sent out to gather food, wood, gold, and stone; the four resources required to expand and upgrade your settlement. Buildings are available to construct, which are primarily for creating military units for combat against the other factions on the map, or researching technologies. Generally speaking, the goal is to defeat the enemy factions on the map with an appropriate mix of ranged and melee units, along with siege units to destroy buildings.

Screenshot for Age of Empires: Definitive Edition on PC

The interface is clear and simple to understand, and the tutorial does a great job of teaching an exhaustively comprehensive understanding of the mechanics. However, some of the upgrade paths are unintuitive, such as a granary structure being essential for building taller walls and tougher towers, or a storage pit inexplicably responsible for increasing weapon and armour efficacy. Regardless, the unit and building diversity is limited enough for this to be less of a problem as the player familiarises themselves with the action at hand.

Instead of a simple high definition refresh, as is the case with many remasters, Age of Empires: Definitive Edition has had a completely re-done graphical aesthetic, which is impressively detailed and animated. Now, it does not look 20 years old, but rather more like 10 years old - functional, but still far from top of the line. Each unit type has a charmingly voice acted mumble, which helps a villager distinguish itself from a hardened military unit. The driving progression in Age of Empires has always been the advancement between technological Ages, from Stone up to Iron Age. It is satisfying to watch a settlement of primitive tents instantly upgraded to stonework houses between each age, or a broadswordman transformed into a longswordsman as soon as the technology has been researched. The Age progression also serves the purpose as a helpful visual mechanic in charting your civilisation's progress in a particular match.

Screenshot for Age of Empires: Definitive Edition on PC

There is plenty of content available in Age of Empires: Definitive Edition, containing nine campaigns plus a hefty tutorial, and up to eight players in multiplayer. Custom campaign and skirmish modes are available, as well. The base campaigns offer a decent variety of objectives and strategic situations, but some missions seem to be unbalanced, or poorly paced. This was less of an issue in 1997, but after a slew of excellent real-time strategy efforts in the past few years, Age of Empires: Definitive Edition's inconsistent campaign is often frustrating due to unexpected difficulty spikes and grindy objectives.

In fact, many of the issues stem from the fact this is a faithful remake of an older title, with many of its dated problems intact. Clicking and selecting units is simple, but it appears that all residents of ancient times have personal space issues, as they never seem to want to stand too close to one another. Units tend to pause in place for up to a second when their path is interrupted, politely allowing other units to pass ahead, which is incredibly annoying during pitched battles. Pathfinding in general is an issue, as units have trouble navigating around trees and bodies of water. There are also some outdated design oversights that weren't changed, but preserved faithfully, often to the detriment of the player's enjoyment. Whether it's a villager's refusal to automatically reseed a farm after depletion, or the infuriating lack of ability to queue up different units for production from a building, there are many small issues that add up to a greater, more damaging whole.

Screenshot for Age of Empires: Definitive Edition on PC

One of the appeals of historical strategy titles is controlling different cultures as they battle for supremacy. While there are 16 empires to choose from, this may be interpreted as misleading, as all civilisations share the same basic units and structures to choose from. There are differences in available technologies and percentage bonuses, as well as aesthetic differences in the buildings, but playing every civilisation feels essentially the same. While this is a technical limitation found in the original, it is jarring in 2018 to play as the Japanese Chosun civilisation only to see their units appear identical to the Macedonians. This barebones approach to faction design may have been acceptable during the initial release, but undoubtedly disappointing now, especially when compared to other games in the strategy genre.

Screenshot for Age of Empires: Definitive Edition on PC

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 5 out of 10


Age of Empires: Definitive Edition is a functional and faithful nostalgia trip for fans of the original release, and manages to earn the title "definitive." However, newcomers to the genre will be disappointed by the shallow civilisation diversity, and be annoyed by the dated design and mechanics. As of right now, this is a title that can only be recommended for fans of the original game, as Age of Empires II is a more complex, deep, and a better release in every way.


Forgotten Empires


Microsoft Game Studios





C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  5/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   


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