Very lackluster, bug-ridden "update". Multiplayer is pretty much unplayable at the moment.
The graphics are pretty much unchanged from the original. I really like the improved water graphics, but the new cliffs, farms and fires look rather terrible in my opinion. Fortunately you can change them back via the Steam workshop, where you can also download other content made by the community. There's also a texture pack that makes the game look much better.
I'm also quite disappointed that there were no balance changes and no changes to the interface. It's still not possible to queue the research of different technologies in a building for example, so you gotta micromanage everything. If you've played Age of Mythology or Age of Empires 3, AoE2HD just feels like a step backwards in this regard. Yes, I know, that's how it was in the original game, but really, it's 2013 now and I expected some updates to make the gameplay feel a bit smoother. In fact, there weren't many updates at all except the (sometimes questionable) changing of some graphics.
I also tried out the singleplayer campaign a bit and not even that is bug-free. For example I played William Wallace Mission 7 and there seemed to be a problem with a trigger so that William's units weren't unloaded from the transport ships correctly and got stuck. I could still finish the mission, but come on, that's just dumb. Did nobody playtest this?
Also you can't view the full tech tree if you play fullscreen on a non-widescreen monitor. Wow.
Now on to the real horror: The multiplayer. Boy, where do I begin? As I said, I got the game on April 5th and for the first few days, multiplayer was straight-up unplayable. There were massive lags in every game, there always was about a 2-3 sec delay, people dropped randomly, games would frequently end due to "Out-of-sync" errors or other such nonsense, and sometimes the game would just crash. I've played like 25 online matches already and out of all those I was able to finish less than half of them. This is just a joke. I have to say that recently the lag has gotten better but the random drops and gamecrasher bugs persist. It's still a gamble if you'll be able to finish your game or not.
Not to mention that the Multiplayer lobby is just a nightmare.
- You can't see other people's win/loss ratio (why even have a global ranking then???).
- Computer players count as regular players in the lobby. You can add like 5 computer players to your game so that in the game list it says "6/8 players" - it will look like it's almost full and of course people are more likely to join. I've seen many people doing this and I'm really getting tired of it.
- You can't see the host's exact game settings until you've joined.
I mean really, they advertised this game for its' new and improved multiplayer and they couldn't even be bothered to make a decent lobby?
Also, there's no date yet for a patch to improve the multiplayer performance, so I wouldn't recommend buying the game right now. Without multiplayer you're stuck with the campaign missions (which may be bug-ridden and which you've probably played to death already if you're an AoE2 fan) and skirmishes vs the terrible AI (needless to say, they didn't update the AI either, in fact it seems to be even dumber than in the original game).
It was advertised that the game would work on Windows XP but apparently it didn't until today when they patched it. That's just unprofessional, really.
So, what to say? What we got was basically a beta disguised as a finished game, the multiplayer doesn't work properly and the game didn't receive any major updates at all (even though it could really have used some - it's 14 years old! They could at least have reworked the interface and the multiplayer lobby...). The community that has kept this game going for long after the MSN zone was shut down was totally left out of the development of AoE2HD even though there were some amazing community patches for the original game (like Forgotten Empires). This game could've greatly benefited from some community involvement. Yeah, I know, there's the steam workshop, but as of now the core game is a mess and only the developers can fix that.
FINAL VERDICT: Don't buy until the developers have fixed the multiplayer. If you're gonna buy this for the singleplayer, wait until the developers have coded an AI that isn't brain-dead. It's very easy to exploit its' behavior right now so "serious" games vs the AI are pretty much impossible. DO NOT buy this right now unless you enjoy stomping the AI.
After the terrible "Age of Empires Online", this is just the next nail in the coffin for this once-great franchise. But this also goes to show how little the developers care about the gamers nowadays. 10 years ago, they'd never have been able to release this broken mess without generating a tremendous sh°tstorm, nowadays people seem to accept the fact that 95% of all new releases by major publishers are broken and in some cases even unplayable. Wake up, people!!!
The fact that this game was released basically unfinished and largely untested really makes me sad, because this could've been an awesome revival of AoE2's multiplayer. But right now it seems like the developers just wanted to exploit AoE2 to make a quick buck. I'm seriously thinking about getting a refund if the game isn't patched soon, because this is just inexcusable.