Review: Conquer your enemies in Age of Empires 2: HD Edition
AOE 2 was a game beloved by critics and players alike, garnering a score of 92 on Metacritic, setting lofty expectations for the development team at Hidden Path Entertainment.
Thankfully, Hidden Path kept the spirit of the game alive while bringing AOE 2 into the wonderful world of high definition. With subtle changes to the fire, water, and lighting effects and an enhanced visual engine, AOE 2: HD looks like a brighter, crisper version of the game fans know and love. A bevy of new features and perks that modern PC gaming offers transports AOE 2 from 1999 to 2013, and makes AOE 2: HD a game worth checking out. Head on down below for my full review:
Age of Empires 2: HD Edition
8.5 out of 10 Buddhas
- Updated graphics make an old game feel new
- Access to Steam Workshop adds limitless potential to your gaming experience
- Gameplay easy to grasp, difficult to master
- Nice variety of civilizations with different strengths and weaknesses
The Not So Awesome
- AI occasionally gets tangled up or acts erratically
- High unit cap makes the game prone to frame-rate drops
AOE 2:HD has a wide selection of modes and scenarios that will appeal to separate crowds, but the gameplay always centers around resource and land management. A typical game starts the user with just a few villagers and a large map to explore, putting the onus on players to get to work harvesting crops and discovering assets.
There are four main types of resources in AOE 2: wood, food, gold, and stone. Each of these resources is used differently, and each is essential in building the diverse parts of your empire. Food bolsters your population, wood is used to build all of your basic buildings, stone is the foundation of advanced buildings, and gold is used in harmony with the other three resources.
By using these resources to construct buildings, the player can advance from the beginning Dark Age all the way to the Imperial Age, a time which closely resembles the Renaissance, covering around a thousand years of world history. With a nice tie to history, AOE 2 ties the unit production to each civilization based on the actual groups they represent.
For instance, the Spanish empire, known for exploration and discovery, has a couple unique cavalry based units which give them the speed to cover the map in a short time frame. The Chinese start with extra villagers that allow them to undertake production quicker, a reflection of their history of being ahead of the technology curve.
Every civilization of the 18 included has strengths and weaknesses that will make the player think before selecting their team, especially when map influence is accounted for. Some civilizations such as the Vikings take to water-based levels like ducks, so assessing the perk tree of your empire pregame is not only encouraged, but necessary.
Depending on the scenario or mode you play, the objectives to win the game are different. Most often the goal is to exert the force of your militia and pound the other civilizations into submission, leaving you as ruler of the map. Building alliances helps immensely, as trade routes bring you valuable gold and the combination of military forces eases resource spending for all parties involved. Playing the game with friends ratchets the game up another level, with pre-coded taunts twisting the knife in the corpse of your fallen enemies.
In addition to AOE 2: HD’s solid foundation, Hidden Path and Microsoft have given players access to Steam Workshop, allowing user created content to be added to your game seamlessly. From user-created maps and scenarios to hilarious taunt options such as this taunt pack of Arnold Schwarzenegger one-liners, access to the Workshop provides even more variety.
There were a few hiccups with the AI while playing, which seemed to be heavily tied to raising the max unit cap to 500. When sending waves of villagers to construct buildings, chop down trees, and mine gold, they often got tangled up amongst themselves and impeded each other from getting work done. This was an issue in the original game which only got worse with a larger population. With the period key serving as a way to check on idle villagers, figuring out which of your units are being impeded is fairly intuitive. But in a game where time and management is of the essence, this lost time can mean the difference between victory and defeat.
Learning the ropes in AOE 2: HD is fairly easy. Getting a few games under your belt will help you learn the ebb and flow of the game and build a base understanding of how to play. There’s even a nice tutorial campaign that brings you along from the most basic of gameplay tips to advanced battle techniques.
But the game’s skill curve is punishing; make a few wrong moves or invest your resources in a failed war effort and players and AI alike will capitalize on your weakness. The key is to focus on building a robust economy and strike before the enemy has a chance to establish their own, making counterattacks impossible. When your actions become instincts instead of reactions to the surrounding environment, you’ll know that your immersion into AOE 2: HD’s world has been completed.
Of course, the fantastic gameplay was expected given the core game that was already in place. The real magic was Hidden Path bringing AOE 2 into HD, no small task for a game that released 14 years ago as of this September.
It becomes plainly obvious how far the industry has come since 1999 when you look at the minimum specs for the original release compared to today’s HD edition. Jumping from 166MHz and 32 MB of RAM to 1.2GHZ and 1GB of RAM is the equivalent of a quantum leap in graphics, and Hidden Path showed they were more than up to the task of rebuilding the structure of AOE 2.
Despite the game’s basic design remaining mostly unchanged, Hidden Path did a masterful job at turning a relic from the 256 color PC era into a modern looking game. The colors are brighter, with shades of the common browns and greens of the world looking more distinct. This more vivid color pallet is a key instrument in the game’s updated visual appeal, a welcome change from the washed out and muddied colors of the old game.
In addition to updated colors, Hidden Path did a lot of work under the hood enhancing the game’s visual engine. With smoother textures, better water and fire effects, and support for multiple-monitors, they pulled out all the stops to bring AOE 2 into the 21st century. The result was an overwhelming success and a feather in the cap for the team at Hidden Path.
The only issue that arose at times was a drop in frame-rate when large groups were on screen, tied to the same increased unit cap that was touched on in the gameplay section. This detracted from the high definition experience when it occurred, but its frequency was not enough to disturb gameplay.
Wrapping up the full package, AOE 2: HD’s sound provides the atmospheric backdrop for your progression through history. Flutes and stringed instruments play as you build the foundation of your empire, the sounds of your workers and warriors ringing through the air. The clang of pickaxes, the chopping of wood, and the shouts of soldiers take you back through time, giving the player an idea of what the world sounded like before the dawn of technology.
The game’s chat system allow the player to communicate with both AI and humans through a series of pre-recorded chat options, which can be used practically or as a way to annoy your opponents. Your AI allies can only ask for gold so many times before the request begins to grind on your nerves, so save your most defiant sayings for keeping these chatterboxes in check. The overly dramatic chatting can border on cheesy, but it is charming overall and adds to the game’s total package.
AOE 2 is a game I associate with my childhood, a classic RTS that came out when I was harvesting the love I have for games today. I hold remakes and HD restorations to a high standard, because of my own nostalgia and the belief that if you already have the basic structure to work with your built-in excuses disappear. Too often, companies fall into the trap of “updating” games and end up removing the charming pieces that made them fan favorites.
That’s why I was so pleased playing through AOE 2: HD, as Hidden Path did a great job fostering their vision for the game while keeping the framework of the original intact. Providing the Conquerors expansion as part of the package and giving players access to a larger base of content was a commendable move from both a gameplay and PR perspective. With all the original cheat codes in working order, AOE 2: HD provides a walk down memory lane for series veterans and brings a classic RTS experience to a new audience.
Several hitches popped up throughout, mainly stemming from the game’s increased population, which I can excuse given that the minimum requirements for the game were kept fairly low. Hidden Path made the game accessible to people who don’t have the resources to keep upgrading their computers constantly, which is completely understandable for the remastering of an older title.
AOE 2: HD is a wonderful repackaging of one of the crown jewels of real-time strategy, and a game you should add to your collection. I award AOE 2: HD 8.5 out of 10 Buddhas. Check out the trailer below for a sneak peek.
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