Age of Empires: Definitive Edition Beta Impressions

It’s been ages (lol) since an Age of Empires game was last installed on a PC near me, the year was 1997, and the world was different back then.

The real-time strategy genre was a hot-seller, and nobody knew what a MOBA was, much less a hero shooter.

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Unlike its space-faring and military cousins, the first AoE was a lens through which ancient history was studied through warfare, resource-gathering, and armies of priests preaching their words of conversion. It was, and remains, an integral part of my gaming upbringing, and with Age of Empires: Definitive Edition on the horizon, the feelings of nostalgia were strong and fervent.

After trying out the multiplayer-only Closed Beta, it is not without its flaws.

The foundations of Microsoft Studios’ Age of Empires: Definitive Edition remains entertaining, tactical, and as nuanced as ever, albeit with the graphical enhancements afforded by the Definitive Edition.

The depth remains in this classic RTS, although differently than what many would be used to nowadays. Forget about faction-specific units, those only came in Age of Empires 2 and more modern equivalents like Starcraft, Command and Conquer, and more. It is a form of simplicity that still works to make the entire experience of a battle enjoyable.

Units work as naturally as they should, a swordsman moves in close for the kill, while an archer fires from afar. It is far more balanced take on the combat and a more realistic one. Logic will carry you far in Age of Empires: Definitive Edition. No hidden stats, bonuses, or critical damage when you pit one unit against another, a war elephant will squish a swordsman any day.

This makes positioning and placement much more important than having an army planned for any particular strategy. Terrain also comes into play, and it makes for a refreshing change from what has become the norm.

That said, the AI could use some improvement.

An army of ranged units do not work effectively if the front line fires off but blocks the rest of their comrades from doing the same, and pathing can be confusing at times, costing you time and essentially, the opportunity to strike.

It remains important to branch out and found new outposts every once in a while, and while newer RTSes task you with choosing the right location, AoE demands to know which resource needs your attention currently. Not every location has supplies of gold, food, wood, or stone, and you will have a decision to make when expanding.

You can’t have it all without sacrificing in some ways.

Scouting thus becomes essential not only for discovering your enemies’ locations, but also for areas ready for expansion and harvest. And as you build up your empire amidst disappearing forests and dwindling stone, the instantaneous change when you advance into a new age still provides feelings of progress and excitement that hopefully never gets old.

As a remaster, Age of Empires: Definitive Edition looks spiffy and detailed, even the UI has undergone some improvements. Zooming in will reveal vibrant and detailed sprites, all in glorious 1080p, and the world around you seems teeming with life as you get busy in one corner.

Getting through the usual build queues, commanding your people, and moving around the map felt great and intuitive, which is more than I can say for some RTSes.

It has been twenty years since Age of Empires first invaded PCs everywhere, and the Definitive Edition does not just stokes the fires of nostalgia but backs it up with the classic gameplay that still holds up.

The historical RTS has always been a great strategy game, and with Age of Empires: Definitive Edition (February 20), a new generation could well be afforded the chance to experience a true legend that has inspired many after it.