Age of Empires II: HD Edition Review
Age of Empires II: HD Edition Box Art
System: PC
Dev: Ensemble Studios, Hidden Path Entertainment
Pub: Microsoft Studios
Release: April 9, 2013
Players: 1
Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p Blood, Violence
A Bygone Era
by Josh Wirtanen

Back in college, I once spent an entire Spring Break playing Age of Empires III. Sure, my social life suffered for that week, but it was one of the most incredible gaming experiences I’ve ever had. In fact, AOE3 is the game that opened my eyes to how enjoyable it is to control dozens of tiny little soldiers who murder each other in the most adorably violent of ways.

More recently, I’ve been spending quite a bit of money on Age of Empires Online vanity items, mainly just to assuage the guilt of having pirated AOE3 all those years ago. Of course, AOE Online does a lot to pull the series away from its roots, adding MMO elements and giving it a more cartoony visual style. These changes to the series made a lot of people (including myself) sad.

Age of Empires II: HD Edition Screenshot

Now, though, Age of Empires returns to a previous decade, as Age of Empires II was recently given a high-definition makeover. Wait, I should probably clarify that statement a bit. The “HD” in the game’s title is a bit deceiving, as what we’re given here isn’t what we typically think of when we hear the term “HD upgrade.” That’s not to say the textures haven’t been upgraded—they have—but the game is still completely built around isometric pixel art.

Then again, that’s not a bad thing. In fact, the game’s pixilated art style is one of its most charming elements. I know there are people out there who will disagree with me, but I think the game’s visual style holds up just fine almost a decade and a half later. There’s just something special about seeing adorable little isometric pixel houses, and then burning them to the ground.

Age of Empires II originally came out back in 1999, and the RTS landscape has changed drastically in a lot of ways since then. However, the gameplay here holds up surprisingly well. You’ve got your various civilizations to choose from, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, making rounds play like an incredibly complex game of chess. (You thought I was going to say Rock, Paper, Scissors, didn’t you? Well, that’s a perfectly fine metaphor too, since every troop type is weak to an opposing troop type and strong against another.)

Age of Empires II: HD Edition Screenshot

I was actually quite surprised at the sheer amount of strategic depth in a game this old. Not only are the troop types varied and balanced, but there are detailed options for how your army arranges itself. While this is a thing that would simply be taken for granted in any RTS that came out in 2013, it’s a bit more unexpected from a game that’s almost old enough to apply for its driver’s permit. And it works. There are a few frustrating pathing issues that show up when you’re moving around larger huddles of soldiers (a strategy I probably rely far too heavily on), but I’ve seen far worse in some of the more modern RTS games I’ve played.

Age of Empires II: HD Edition Screenshot

This package includes the original AOE2 campaign, as well as everything from the Age of Kings expansion. I must say, these missions can often be brutally unforgiving, requiring an in-depth knowledge of hotkeys and the ability to multitask especially well. You won’t get very far into it before you’ll be required to manage a fairly complex resource economy while simultaneously maintaining a strong line of defense and building an offensive powerhouse.

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