Review

Age Of Empires: Definitive Edition Review: Antique Revival

  • First Released Sep 30, 1997
    released
  • PC

Ancient Egypt in an ancient game.

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Booting up Age of Empires: Definitive Edition for the first time is immediately surprising. The original game launched more than two decades ago, but it's been refined and revived for 2018, ready for modern audiences--or at least old players with new PCs and missing CD keys. It begins with pomp as a curt opening trailer plays, showing off the upgraded visuals and the new, orchestral score. As a returning player, that moment feels like coming home.

Starting with the launch of Age of Empires II: HD Edition, Microsoft Game Studios has been working to update the series, even adding plenty of new content. Now, the game that started it all has been remastered in 4K, with new narration and slight gameplay tweaks rounding out the list of improvements. Even with all that, though, the core play hasn't been meaningfully altered, leaving it to feel relatively quaint by modern standards: You simply command troops to gather resources, chop wood, build out a base, and conquer nearby enemy strongholds. That's great for some purists, but it does put Age of Empires: Definitive Edition in the awkward position of having to stand on some old and tired legs. Thankfully, the majority of the game makes the leap well enough.

Not keen on tackling the whole of human history in one game, as with Rise of Nations or Civilization, Age of Empires games focus on limited timelines--for instance, the Ancient and Classical ages at play here. You aren't some disembodied leader looking to lead your people to an overarching victory against all others--you're just trying to survive and not be wiped from the history books.

In the Egyptian campaign, your work revolves around supporting one of the first Pharaohs, Narmer, to help him marshal the political and material strength needed to unite the early Egyptian Empire, thousands of years before the rise of Rome. That gives you immediate, tangible goals to pursue, allowing you to feel effective and influential.

Where those sort of history lessons fade into the background, of course, is in the open-ended multiplayer. You'll see the Egyptians fielding Roman legionnaires, even though that doesn't make sense. Nor does the troop progression of Hoplite, to Phalanx, to Roman Centurion, which implicitly suggests a linear path through history that both didn't happen and doesn't add up. But, again, this game hails from 1997, a year before Starcraft, when the idea of having factions with unique traits in strategy games was only just being considered.

It's hard to say whether that's an issue that you will personally find bothersome, but it's a strong example of the game's old-school foundation. While not everything in the game has been refreshed, all the things that were, however, are stellar.

Visual upgrades aside, small tweaks to sound effects as well as myriad gameplay adjustments are the real stars of this remaster. The expanded multiplayer mode in particular get high marks. It's simple and quick, allowing you to jump into a match less than 30 seconds after opening the game. Boosted population limits (all the way up to 250) allow much larger and more chaotic battles than before.

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The in-game scenario editor, too, offers up some powerful level-building and even campaign-creation tools. It's a bit complex, requiring you to have an external file organization system for your campaign maps and the like, but it's still quite robust for those who want it. Just about all the tools you need to design your own entire plots are there, too. You can, with some effort, create a historical campaign more-or-less akin to what you’d play in the main game. Or you can get silly with it and have a map made of forests where players will have to log their way to a foe, opening up some very unusual tactics and strategies.

Other changes might not get quite the same fanfare but are nonetheless vital to keeping Definitive Edition relevant. Improved pathfinding, tools for locating stray villagers and military, attack-move commands, and plenty more have all been folded into the remaster, making for an impressive bump to general feel and smoothness of the game.

Unfortunately, there's still a lot that just isn't quite there, by modern standards. The limited units--particularly the lack of unique ones for each faction--can make play feel homogenous very quickly. Structures aren't as developed either, meaning your ability to run more complex strategies is limited. You won't find extensive unit queuing, hotkeys, shift-commands, or any of the countless gameplay improvements RTS designers have come up with over the intervening decades.

If you're set on playing the original Age of Empires, this is far and away the best way to do so. That said, real-time strategy is a very feature-heavy genre. While this is the tightest the original AoE has ever been, it’s still sluggish and stripped-down compared to almost any modern offering.

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The Good
Great 4K upgrade
Soundtrack sets the historical vibe well
Historically accurate campaigns are still some of the best in the genre
New features help refresh the dated gameplay
The Bad
Many old problems persist
Lack of unit and building diversity
6
Fair
About GameSpot's Reviews
Other Platform Reviews for Age of Empires

About the Author

Dan Starkey's been playing Age of Empires almost since its inception. While he (like many) started with Age of Kings, he's since developed a perplexing passion for each of the quirky games in the series--yes, even Age of Mythology. He received a pre-release code from the publisher for the purposes of this review.
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nyran125tk

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Fck playing at 4K, unless the minimap and UI , is supersized and updated.

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DudeBroPartyYo

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So if original had a higher score shouldnt this one have the same score if its basically the same game plus graphical update?

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Pyrosa

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Edited By Pyrosa

This is exactly what it is intended to be, and it's still a blast. Very relaxing, fun RTS gaming -- and only $20 at that. It's both nostalgic and fun in its own right. Plays great on both powerful and not-so-powerful laptops, too.

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R4gn4r0k

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Edited By R4gn4r0k

I doubt this reviewer even knows, or cares, how important of a game AOE really was.

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sdporres

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Edited By sdporres

@R4gn4r0k: The review seems fair in summing up that if you are looking to play AoE, THIS is the version to play. But if you are looking for a new game, AoE:DE is bound to disappoint.

Its hard to disagree with this. I can think 0 zero why anyone who missed the boat on AoE 15 years ago would be interested in this release except out of historical curiosity. That still doesnt mean AoE: DE is a great game on its own right.

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T3RM1N8RX

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@R4gn4r0k: Agreed. Seems more like this one who wrote it has their head shoved far up their arse and is in need of glass navel so they can see. By the way. That loud *PLOP* sound you hear is the writer pulling their head out long enough to gasp for air before shoving it back up the anal cavity.

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superkev72

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@R4gn4r0k: It's a "review" not a commemoration/homage. The reviewer did indeed contrast it to older version of AOE and even bothered to list what sorts of modern features are "in" and which typical ones weren't incorporated.

The info in the review this time was solid and was not an analysis of what sort of contribution to RTS games AOE made. If I had written a review of AOE:DE I would place it around the same as the reviewer.

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R4gn4r0k

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@superkev72: Yeah let's find a single review for Starcraft remastered that doesn't talk about how important Starcraft was ...

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DeadManRollin

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"Dan Starkey's been playing Age of Empires almost since its inception"

Oh wait, he started from AOK, then later on (maybe) tried AOE. He will never understand how much of a breakthrough game AOE was back in its days. The other RTS games present in the market at that time came nowhere close to AOE in terms of narratives, unit path-finding and variety in strategies and depth. I fondly remember earning my first victory against an AI opponent in a random map game.

With all that said and done, AOE definitive edition cannot, and should not be compared with any other modern era RTS game, e.g. especially the likes of Starcraft 2.

AOE is not an adrenaline pumping game; one just doesn't commit to a 20 or 30 minute session of AOE.

I haven't yet played the definitive edition, but if they simply managed to update the original game for modern machines, it'd garner an instant 8 score from me.

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Mickeyminime

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The game both old and new isn't perfect, but it's still a good game and worth having if you used to play the original in the early days.

I bought it on day one and i'm happy with it. I do wish they gave us a bit more, like gates and maybe unique units, but mostly gates. The unit population from 50 to 250 is nice, although i'm sure AOE2 HD had 500, but i could be wrong.

The bugs can be annoying, but i'm enjoying the game and it does look really nice. I would have given the game 7 or 7.5. It brings back memories although i'm sure many of us, like myself will consider AOE2 to be the crown jewel out of all the AOE's that have been released.

I'm glad the cheats are the same. They where fun to use back in the early days. Shame you can't copy and paste the word though like you could before. But still fun regardless!

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Mastermatta

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If only they had updated Age 2 like this. Would have been definitely worth it. This was ever nearly as popular as Age 2 or even Age 3. Should have chosen the game they remastered more wisely.

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R4gn4r0k

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@Mastermatta: "This was ever nearly as popular as Age 2 or even Age 3."

I think you underestimate how insanely popular AOE 1 was.

And they are making the version of Age 2 you want: with new graphics, new models and new sound.

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P00DGE

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Edited By P00DGE

@Mastermatta: They did update Age 2. The HD update has been on steam for a couple years now and is amazing. They have added all sorts of new expansions too in the last year or two.

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Mastermatta

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@P00DGE: Yeah i am aware, and even though I have Age 2 HD and play it, I feel like it was a money grab. They didn't actually update the models. They just put in a couple new simple graphical effects and changed the resolution. If they had put as much effort into age 2 HD as they did this definitive addition it wouldn't have just been good, it would have been fantastic.

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Blathos

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Yes there was hotkeys and shift commands even in the original. While there aren't civ unique units, each civ had different bonuses and demerits.

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budah78

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good serves them right after blowing off console players, i would of got this game if it was for console. you didnt, so i hope it bombs.jerks

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R4gn4r0k

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@budah78: Cool, nobody cares.

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Pongman75

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Cool

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PETERAKO

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Edited By PETERAKO

You forgot to put the windows 10 requirement and the windows store exclusivity. would drop down to 3 and then to 0.

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jonsin1459

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Already bought it. It's not worth it. Refunded it. It even loses the charm and style of the first. First is worth it. Not this.

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Gamer_4_Fun

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It is a remaster, not a remake. From the description and from what I've played it stays true to the description.

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Gelugon_baat

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@Gamer_4_Fun: If it is a remaster, then why does it require Windows 10?

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chiefwiggum16

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Edited By chiefwiggum16

@naryanrobinson: No not at all, but just do the same for all brands. Kind of hard to defend them rating Microsoft games lower than the average and Sony games higher than the average. Now if you'll excuse me I have to play Secret of Mana on console

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chiefwiggum16

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Edited By chiefwiggum16

@naryanrobinson: I stopped reading at Detroit become human, because youre listing games that arent even out yet. You also forgot Quantum Break, Lost Odyssey, Blue Dragon just to name a few. And you are arguing with a wall because I have no bias. I enjoy playing all of my consoles which include the big 3 at the moment. All I'm doing here is calling out a biased site with numerous facts on my side. if you have a few minutes go look it up and you'll be surprised. And I enjoyed The Order incredibly and RYSE as well, both had faults but both had magnificent story which is why I play games

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Blathos

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Edited By Blathos

@naryanrobinson:

You're confusing publishers and development teams. Two very, very different things.

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MXVIII

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@blathos: @blathos:Publishers are defined by their developers. EA didnt develop Battlefield 1 and 2, but they sure are taking all the heat for it

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unikat

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Edited By unikat

@chiefwiggum16: Check Forza series please before you bring up "facts" most games got higher score than metacritic average, think that only FM7 got 8 while it's 86 average on metacritic which again isn't exactly lower since GS doesn't do scores with decimals anymore.

Then check Halo series where only Halo Wars 1 and 2 and Spartan Assault got lower than Metacritic scores.

Gears of War is half-half.

So you're basing your "facts" on AoE1DE review... review of the game you've not played yet it's safe to assume?

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Creepywelps

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Edited By Creepywelps

@chiefwiggum16: Sony games are better. Your precious metacritic proves it time and time again.

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chiefwiggum16

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Edited By chiefwiggum16

@creepywelps: And that's why I buy all consoles, so I don't miss any great games. Horizon shouldve been GOTY all around.

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unikat

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Edited By unikat

@chiefwiggum16: Is that research of yours another one of your "facts" or did it actually happen?

Anyway... if they disliked MS that much, they wouldn't bother posting a review so soon and wouldn't test it out properly either (as in, review would just spend few hours on it). 2nd, Sony has no RTS games for PS4, so no point in fanboy reviews botching PC RTS. 3rd if anything they'd be eager to give it higher score since they've received pre-release code from publisher, meaning that bad review might mean they won't get another code from same publisher.

However since you actually didn't play AoE1DE, you don't really have any claim on them botching reviews, just because they gave lower scores to AoE1, that it actually deserved higher score than 6, or then it got on Metacritic. One could spin the story and say, all those good scores on Metacritic are based on nostalgia, have nothing to do with actual game at hand, or are based on 3rd rate review sites receiving pre-release code and were scared they wouldn't get another one (basically only two major sites reviewed the game, GameSpot and Destructoid (yes I don't count IGN it and es as big sites)).

Or hey, since pro reviewers can be bought. How about we check user scores on Metacritic? 4.9 hm... So many Sony fanboys ruining PC game scores (which don't affect their console at all).

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lonewolf1044

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@lonesamurai1: In some aspect I agree with your post but somehow they keep making billions. I guess with those billions they can make mistakes and still make billions.

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lionheartssj1

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How many times must I buy AOE games?! Stop taking my money!

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santinegrete

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The 2nd one is the real classic. I hardly understood why they remastered the first, but I respect it because it helped Age of Empires 2 to be what it was and it still is.

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Age of Empires More Info

Follow
  • First Released Sep 30, 1997
    released
    • Macintosh
    • Mobile
    • PC
    This is not quite the game you hoped for. Even worse, it has some definite problems.
    7.9
    Average Rating7141 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Age of Empires
    Developed by:
    Microsoft Game Studios, In-Fusio, Forgotten Empires LLC, Ensemble Studios
    Published by:
    MacSoft, In-Fusio, Xbox Game Studios, Mattel, Microsoft Game Studios
    Genre(s):
    Real-Time, Strategy
    Theme(s):
    Historic
    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