It’s always a conundrum when it comes to classic video games, do we continue to revere them in the original time and place, or do we make it contemporary so more can enjoy it? Age of Empires is one such classic, and suffice to say, Age of Empires: Definitive Edition is a great way to reintroduce the real-time strategy genre to the masses, albeit with some flaws.
If you are a history buff, you will be enraptured by the game’s focus on ancient history. We are talking about the Hellenic Greeks, the Egyptian Kingdoms both Old and New, the Phoenicians, Persians, and with the Rise of Rome expansion, the glorious Roman Empire.
Unlike other equally acclaimed strategy games like Civilization which can cover the entire age of men, Age of Empires focused on one time period, and did it well.
By today’s standards, there is much to nitpick about Empires approach, like the extended tutorial. What remains awesome is that the game is steeped in history, and goes to great lengths to ensure players know about it. A tutorial about farming is not just that, it’s about uniting the fractured kingdoms into a unified Egypt, and taking your first naval units for a conquest is the first step to establishing the rule of one Pharaoh Senusret III.
Compared to the thousands of moving parts in today’s strategy titles, this is refreshing and more importantly, grounded. Your actions mean something in the context of the world you are affecting, and in turn, makes the various campaigns in Empires a genuine challenge and joy to master.
It is important to note, however, that this was the first game in a celebrated series, and that means there are drawbacks. As covered in our Beta impressions, it is decidedly more simple than the arguably superior sequel, Age of Empires II.
You can erect walls but there is no gate to let your people out, and every faction pretty much functions the same with similar units, just slightly tweaked movement speed and the like. Empires show its hand early, and that is the entirety of what it offers, like it or not.
Taking it for what it is, it makes perfect sense for a game first released in 1997, but with a more fleshed out sequel that also got an HD upgrade a few years ago, and the modern landscape of competing rivals, it feels barebones, to say the least.
Thankfully, it stands up visually. Units look great on modern rigs, and the world definitely feels more alive than the pixelated universe way back when. Improvements have been made to better the gaming experience, like increased population caps, and the action definitely moves faster than the original.
For what it’s worth, this is truly the Definitive Edition of the original Age of Empires, quirks and all. Unless you are a true history buff that wants the classic way of playing an RTS, Age of Empires: Definitive Edition can be too old-school. It remains an enjoyable journey through some of the more spectacular historic periods of our time, but it could have made the ride much easier.