Age of Empires II HD Edition Review

This high-definition edition of the classic real-time strategy game adds little more than bugs.

The appeal of Age of Empires II: HD Edition is readily apparent. After all, the original Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings and its expansion are so beloved that there is still a healthy modding and multiplayer community devoted to the game. This is an impressive feat for a real-time strategy game that came out over a decade ago, especially when you consider that the official multiplayer matchmaking service was shut down years ago. A prettier version of AOEII with easier multiplayer matchmaking and mod support (via Steam's servers and Steam Workshop) is a solid idea. Unfortunately, Hidden Path's HD edition of Ensemble Studios' classic RTS suffers from a variety of bugs and missed opportunities.

Nobody expects the Spanish cannon galleon fleet!

AOEII:HD's gameplay is instantly familiar to practically anyone who has ever played a real-time strategy game focused on the big picture. This fast-paced game has you exploiting natural resources, constructing beautiful wonders and formidable castles, and advancing from the Dark Ages to the much more dignified-sounding Imperial Age. Along the way, you use the tried-and-true rock-paper-scissors formula (pointy sticks kill cavalry, villagers kill sheep, and so on) to violently evict other players from the map. There is a lot of depth to AOEII:HD, because all of the 18 playable nations have unique bonuses, units, and tech trees. For example, Frankish castles are cheap, Turks field awesome gun-powder units early on, and the Huns don't need houses to support their population. There are also randomly generated and real-world maps to play on, as well as numerous game modes, including a pacifist game type where the first player to complete a wonder wins. Because of the variety of victory conditions and diverse powers for each nation, there are a lot of ways to play, and excel, in Age of Empires II HD.

However, Hidden Path missed opportunities to improve on AOEII's gameplay. As things stand, you cannot give move-attack orders; dragging a box over a mass of units selects both villagers and troops; and it's impossible to queue up a mixture of units and research at the same building. AI pathfinding also needs some work. For instance, villagers ordered to travel to a lumber camp located in plain sight 700 yards away over open country may inexplicably decide to take a scenic route through a canyon populated by ravenous jaguars. These are examples of flaws that could have been resolved, but increasing the maximum population limit from 200 to 500 is the only noticeable change made in terms of gameplay.

At least the old cheats work.

The main difference between AOEII:HD and AOEII is the HD version's use of Steam for multiplayer matchmaking, which, given the size of Steam's user base, is significantly more convenient than programs like GameRanger. You can hop into a random game from the lobby browser and, theoretically, enjoy fantastic experiences. The game is highly enjoyable for both friendly comp stomps and player-vs.-player games. Of course, some people rage quit after accusing you of cheating simply because of your Byzantine fire ships' predilection for sinking undefended fishing fleets.

Still, a victory is a victory. A match might involve you sending a series of impressive (and foolish) Aztec human wave attacks against Viking castles and longboats defending the river crossings separating your peoples. Untold hundreds of digital Aztecs could die trying to destroy the proud Norsemen's wonder. When the stars are aligned correctly and everything works, AOEII:HD's multiplayer is exceptionally fun.

Sadly, such experiences are rare because AOEII:HD's multiplayer is currently extremely buggy. You could encounter out-of-sync errors, random crashes to desktop mere moments into the game, complete strangers entering friends-only games, and excessive lag. Another recurring problem is that, often, when someone drops, everyone else gets stuck on a vote screen, and nothing happens even if the players unanimously vote to continue the game. Furthermore, when you are using two monitors, AOEII:HD runs so poorly that even the single-player modes are practically unplayable. Hidden Path has released a few updates over the past week and fixed some of the problems. The lag in two-player games is less pronounced and some achievements work now. While it's fortunate that Hidden Path has been working on some of these problems, it is inexcusable that the game was released in this state.

Valhalla, I am coming!

While AOEII:HD's multiplayer experience is a mess, at least the nine single-player campaigns work fine. Each campaign includes at least six scenarios, and most of those take at least 30 minutes to an hour to finish, so you could easily spend dozens of hours playing the single-player campaigns. Of course, quantity isn't the same thing as quality, but some individual scenarios are so enjoyable that they stick in your memory. One example is the scenario in Attila the Hun's campaign in which you extort tribute from the Eastern Roman Empire by raiding settlements near Constantinople. You can even try to sack that heavily fortified city if you'd like.

Another memorable scenario has you leading the Vikings as they run away from Norway's many hungry wolves in search of a new life across the sea. You need to raid Scotland and conquer Greenland before traveling on to North America. Finally, you must build a proper colony in the face of constant attacks by the native Skraelings, who think they own the place. The campaigns don't make up for the woeful state of AOEII:HD's multiplayer, but they are great fun, especially if you've never played them before.

Despite the name, AOEII:HD doesn't scream "high definition." The game supports higher resolutions, but there are already several lovely graphics mods on Steam Workshop that look better than the base game. Vanilla AOEII:HD is attractive, but (original developer) Ensemble's artists deserve most of the credit. Major historical structures, such as the Dome of the Rock, Torre del Oro, and Hagia Sophia, are depicted in stunningly gorgeous detail. In fact, practically all the structures are full of interesting details, such as seagulls circling the docks, goods arranged for sale at the markets, and swords and practice dummies visible in the courtyard of a barracks. In terms of sound, the HD edition has added no new material and only includes the soundtrack from the Conquerors expansion. Thankfully, you can find all of the missing tracks on Steam Workshop.

If you're having Turk problems, I feel bad for you, son.

Age of Empires II: HD Edition has enormous potential. After all, the base game is still enjoyable and visually attractive (excepting the units that were never beautiful), and you can smoothly download content from the Steam Workshop. However, the HD edition fails to improve on the original's gameplay in any way, and numerous bugs mar what should be an excellent multiplayer experience. Hopefully, Hidden Path will eventually fix the problems so that epic eight-player matches with hundreds of units on each side can entertain strategy fans until our civilization, like ancient Rome, falls and fades into the annals of history.

The Good
Includes the great Age of Empires II and its expansion
Solid Steam Workshop support
The Bad
Multiplayer is a buggy, broken mess
5.5
Mediocre
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Daniel Shannon still remembers the day when his family got a 486 with a CD-ROM drive. He used that PC to play an immense

Discussion

116 comments
TehUndeadHorror
TehUndeadHorror

I can't believe they called this the HD Edition. They have practically done nothing but upped the resolution in game. The menus are a blurry mess and there are next to no graphic options. Eugh.

starfleet007
starfleet007

Age of Mythology was my favorite, then number Age 2.

ahpuck
ahpuck

Age of Empires III is my thing, I can't go back.

PyreofKoL
PyreofKoL

It's still AoE II. This is one of the best multiplayer experiences ever.

rexz26
rexz26

Hey, Play Multiplayer With me...
My Hostname : BlackRooster-PC

Wachon
Wachon

the 2.8 patch fixes the compatibility to windows xp :)

MrJyrks
MrJyrks

Multiplayer works fine now, I think it's because of the updates, since it crashed a lot before.

regix416_basic
regix416_basic

Maybe the multplayer aspects AREN'T the main thing about this game?  It was about playing your own computer skirmishes and testing your skills ala Warcraft II-style.  Only the pros did it online, but casual players enjoyed playing it against the AI of the computer which was challenging enough for most.  

lostn
lostn

Graphics look the same as original, i.e. 14 years old.

Salanderr
Salanderr

I've been playing this a bit and haven't had any problems at all with multiplayer. Maybe I started playing once they were fixed (although I started almost as soon as it was released). I'm surprised to read this since multiplayer was always so smooth for me. 

ViggyNash
ViggyNash

This needs a re-review now that the multiplayer has been fixed.

bmart970
bmart970

I really enjoyed Age of Empires 2, but for an HD remake I would expect better visuals in this day in age.

gbrading
gbrading

I don't think you can really criticize AOE:IIHD for not improving the gameplay of the original, because this is meant to be simply a HD up-rezzing: Like Shadow of the Colossus or Ico had. It would have been nice if the multiplayer worked better though.

Rickystickyman
Rickystickyman

Since I've had the game for two weeks now: Any errors that occurred with the original game are in this game. The reviewer attacks the pathfinding (yet I haven't encountered any errors yet) even though the AI is identical to the first game. You CAN in fact separate units from each other when you highlight multiple units. It is called double clicking a unit to select all of one type. This is common knowledge.

The only things that bothered me were the updated textures which looked kind of crappy on some stuff such as corn... seriously there was NO CORN IN THE OLD WORLD! However there are mods which can easily fix these problems, so all of my textures in the game are back to normal. Honestly I don't see how this is a 5.5 if it is pretty much the same game with only a texture update and steam workshop.

g8minhquan
g8minhquan

We Vietnamese have been playing this game as an e-sport for many years through Hamachi & Garena. Just can't imagine how this great game is rated as 5.5/10. C'mon

toshineon
toshineon

How is the multiplayer on the AoE games? Not this one, but the series in general. I've never been that interested in online multiplayer, so I've never bothered trying. Is it worth getting this to be able to play online, or am I not missing out on anything?

Synysteria
Synysteria

I remember getting my allowance and riding my bike 25 miles each way just to get this game. This was about 12 years ago. I'm 24 now. Damn that makes me feel old.

Saidrex
Saidrex

Cliffs look like crap, no really, it's crap smeared all over cliffs, that is HD texture??? I better stick with old version, works like a charm on Win 7 x64, sharp menus, no buggy multiplayer, no sh*t cliffs.

JMcN76
JMcN76

Forgotten Empires...GameRanger...that is all.

avengerb
avengerb

Hmm i guess I will wait for 3 months and then buy it.. so that I can play multiplier after all the bug fixes have been made.

cookamonger
cookamonger

can you play multiplayer between a Mac & PC through Steam?

soygamer
soygamer

Probable the main selling point of this remake is that it works with Windows 7. Love this game to death but my old disk does not work on my OS :(

Paradosis
Paradosis

After having first bought it 12 years ago, I rebought AOE 2 about a year ago at Walmart for like $10. Don't need a bug-filled HD version...

laser00
laser00

Ahh...Age of Empires II..Good times..Goood times...

Caldrin
Caldrin

errm i have not had any performance issues and have not had any MP games crah out on me.. also never had any random people joining my friends only gaems..

It was a bit to expensive really as the only changes are the steam multiplayer from what i can see..

The core game is still just as much fun as it used to be.

Score for me would have been a 7/10 that low because its way to expensive for what is basically a re-release of a game with the addition of multiplayer via steam...


Also why is it called HD i could not see a way to change the resolution to a HD resolution..

Sakuban
Sakuban

Finally gamestop scores became more and more accurate. Trash the bad games.

Targzissian
Targzissian

I played The Conquerors regularly for about ten years.  My favorite civs were the Huns and the Mongols.  Always, the largest random map.  Always single player.  No game was the same.    Each map was a little different, and the game would go differently depending on events at the beginning.  I would love to play in 1920x1200.  I never could do that before...  But I'm not sure if it would be a good idea to rekindle this old addiction of mine.

axelx666
axelx666

i remember going to the store looking for video games and finding games like this and falling in love with them..

i mean this game was EDUCATIONAL! you could ask any history teacher about this game, guarranted they've heard of it.  ignore the graphics, love the gameplay

if it wasn't for this game, i never would've learned about little skirmishes/battles

el cid, erik the red, montezuma, etc  i hadn't even heard those names until i played this game and i actually got to learn about the huns,koreans,mongols britons ,etc  from THEIR perspective and not how history (america) portayed them to be. 

it gave me such fond memories   i got to witness the spanish destroy the aztec empire, genghis khan take over the world, the japanese korean war, etc

if this generation wasn't so focused non RTS games,

maybe they could give this game a try and actually LEARN something..and have fun while they're at it. this is probably one of my favorite games of all time..but the price tag isn't worth it, even for HD, it's better to just go online and order a $5 complete edition and enjoy that. (you can get a used copy of just vanilla for less then a $1! )

nicolasetespqr
nicolasetespqr

@lostn 


Sprite graphics never age as bad as 3d.

The game still looks fine to me. The only thing that stopped me from playing it these years was the low resolutions and the uncompatibilities with modern operating systems.

petez34
petez34

@gbrading agreed. 2013 is not turning out to be gs's year for accurate, fair reviews imo

g8minhquan
g8minhquan

@toshineon believe me, it's great game to play against your friends. You can play through LAN or virtual LAN services like Hamachi & Garena. I love this game more than StarCraft thanks to the more joyful game pace. StarCraft is much more stressful due to the rushing pace

InkOnTube
InkOnTube

@Caldrin HD as marketing thing. Merchants like to ovehype things by adding this HD where potential customers see that as "Well it is HD I heard that is something good"

s2i2p2i2o
s2i2p2i2o

@axelx666 Well, wasn't this game made by Americans? So technically it's still "the American perspective" you are seeing. I mean, they probably did their researsh by looking at the same texts as everyone who wrote history books did. It's still educational though, not trying to dispute that (Correct use of the word "dispute"?)

hombreg1
hombreg1

@axelx666 I'm pretty sure those events happened well before "america" as you call it, could portray them

lostn
lostn

@regix416_basic @lostn When I play it is it magically going to look a lot better than in the screenshots? 

Could you take some for me, just in case Gamespot is being dishonest? I want to see how it looks for you as opposed to for everyone else.

X-7
X-7

@petez34 I have not run into a single bug yet in single player so IDK WTF they are talking about.

azetav
azetav

@nechiken @g8minhquan It is HD, and the multiplayer issues can be patch.  I know it is a terrible first impression but not a terrible game. The game is the same good old game.

SpYkz101
SpYkz101

 @hombreg1

Are you having difficulty in understanding his comment? He is saying that he enjoyed experiencing it from a different perspective instead of the way it is portrayed in American history books.

DaRq_MiNoS
DaRq_MiNoS

@X-7 @petez34 This game is 1,000x more fun in multiplayer (where the bugs are/were), so that's why they're upset.

toshineon
toshineon

@thedarkart @toshineon @g8minhquan Age of Mythology? Do people still play it online? I used to play it a lot a long time ago, I remember it as a pretty damn fun game. It's kinda like Age of Empires, but with magic and stuff, right?

Age of Empires II: HD Edition More Info

  • Released
    • PC
    Age of Empires II: HD Edition lets you explore all the original single-player campaigns from both Age of Kings and The Conquerors expansion, choose from 18 civilizations spanning over a thousand years of history, and head online to challenge other Steam players in your quest for world domination throughout the ages.
    6.7
    Average User RatingOut of 171 User Ratings
    Please Sign In to rate Age of Empires II: HD Edition
    Developed by:
    Hidden Path Entertainment, Ensemble Studios
    Published by:
    Hidden Path Entertainment, Microsoft Game Studios
    Genres:
    Compilation
    Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
    Teen
    All Platforms
    Blood, Violence