Sunday, 31 March 2013

#1 Age of Empires II HD Edition Review [PC]

        I have to admit this is the first time I have experienced something like this. I have been given a review copy of a game which I know inside out, which I have played houndreds of hours and which could easily be called one of the best I have ever tried. Age of Empires II HD Edition, the game in question, is a remastered version of a Ensemble Studio's blockbuster from 1999. But does a almost 15-year-old game have a chance to win the hearts of the PC players once again?

        Age of Empires II is a classic RTS, which quickly amassed a great number of fans and still holds many of them, the evidence being the numerous vivid communities and tournaments held from time to time. It was, and is, quite a phenomenon, comparable with the titles like WarCraft or StarCraft. AoE II HD Edition is the very same game, which underwent a thorough renovation, both in terms of graphics and the technical aspects. A successful renovation, I have to admit!

"The game still amazes with its complexity!"

        Even though the golden era of the "Ages" is long gone, the game still amazes with its complexity. The player may choose between 18 nations, each of them having a slightly modified technology tree, passive bonuses and a unique unit. It makes every nation differ in the playstyle, making the player focus on different aspects. For example, the Huns are a typical zerg without a unit limit, while the Teutons' main strength are the fortified castles and small troops of mighty infantry. AoE II HD Edition includes also the Conquerors Expansion, allowing the player to lead the New World civilizations and try out new campaigns.   

        Speaking of campaigns, let's have a look at the available game modes. There are two, actually - standard game and the aforementioned campaigns, of which we have two sets, 9 ones in total. I think it is quite obvious what they are - we are told a story, divided into several chapters. Each chapter is a mission, in which we are given some troops (often also a powerful hero) and a number of quests to fulfill. This part of the game has been realised nicely, but one does not play AoE for the campaigns!

        The real beauty of the game is revealed in the standard mode, which is basically a player vs. computer or a player vs player match. We may choose a map type (the map itself will still be random, but it will follow the basic characteristics of, let's say, a steppe or a jungle), the unit limit, the victory conditions and, naturally, choose the nation we are going to lead. The AoE map generator and the randomness if the matches are not far from legendary and still do their job perfectly, making every match unique.

The campaigns are actually a secondary feature,
but they are well-made nevertheless

        A game of AoE is divided into 4 ages - Dark, Feudal, Castle, Imperial. Each of them gives us access to better units, but it is actually up to us when we choose to go for the victory. It can be achieved in many ways, from the military conqest, to building and defending the Wonder, to gathering the Relics scattered all over the map. If we add the aforementioned nation differences, we get a title which may be played in hundreds of ways!

         The biggest change compared to the original game, just as the title of the release suggests, is the graphics. The models of the units and buildings are of better quality and so are their animations. The graphical engine has been made more efficient, making the game run smoother. Many of you will surely be happy to hear that the game is going to support multiple screens, giving the battles a never-before-seen scale! Take a look at the screenshots, the differences are noticeable.

"AoE II HD features multiple new features in terms of multiplayer gaming"

        Apart from the graphical improvements, AoE II HD also features multiple new features in terms of multiplayer gaming. The multi now has the full-scale lobby, a ladder system, quick matches and everything else a player could want. The developers Steam achievements (217 of them!) and a biggest mystery as for now - Steam Worshop, Valve's modding platform, which has been known to let the best mods' creators earn real money. It is hard to say anything about it right now, as it has not been turned on yet (the game is due to come out on 5th of April). The multiplayer, on the other hand, works really fine, despite a few technical problems caused by the still-continuing development. The matches are smooth, matchmaking does not cause problems, nor does the in-game chat. This aspect was quite underdeveloped in the original game, so it is a good thing the new developer decided to improve it. Additionally, the application is very "light", allowing minimizing and maximizing without problems, even on weaker PCs.   

        If I were to have any complaints, all of them would be connected with the age of the game. Despite the renovation and engine improvements, it is still the same Age of Empires II, the greatness or graphics of which can not compare to those of modern RTSs like StarCraft II. The AI is also not of best quality, making AoE best experience when played against a human opponent.

        Summing up, it is a shame not to try Age of Empires II HD Edition! Those who played the original will once again experience the unforgettable battles with familiar tunes in the background, and those who encounter the game for the first time will get to know a huge piece of RTS history! I strongly recommend the game, on one hand as a reviewer - it is really solid, complex and worth every cent, and on the other hand as a veteran, who could not stop playing the enhanced version of his favourite title! If you give AoE a chance, you surely won't regret!

I also encourage you to give a quick read-though to my little guide on Steam, which will introduce you to the basics of Age of Empires II HD Edition: HERE

  • Good, old Age of Empires II
  • Enhanced graphics and engine
  • The complexity keeps amazing!
  • Well-differentiated nations
  • Improved online content (Steam achievements, Steam Workshop, improved matchmaking)
  • "Lightness" of the application
  • AI does not always do its work (it is 15-year-old, after all), so it is best to play with human players
- minor problems with multiplayer, which the developers promise to fix by the release