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

The Good

  • Includes the great Age of Empires II and its expansion
  • Solid Steam Workshop support.

The Bad

  • Multiplayer is a buggy, broken mess.

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!

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.

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.

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

By Daniel Shannon