Back in 1997 Microsoft Studios published the Ensemble developed Age of Empires, a game that quickly garnered a sequel in 1999 with the release of Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings. There have been numerous sequels and spin-offs since the millennium with games such as Age of Mythology appearing on PC and ports appearing on both home consoles and handhelds. Yet nothing has approached the success of the original Age of Empires II.
The critical success of Age of Empires II has been quite astonishing. IGN ranked it in its top 10 PC games of all time, while its aggregate metacritic score was 92%. The sales have more than matched this critical success: in 1999 it was the 4th best selling game of the year – an astonishing feat when you consider it was released on September 30.
While sequels in the Age of Empires series have brought delight to fans around the world, Age of Empires II is still the one that is remembered most fondly, so it’s understandable that the announcement of an HD remake was met with considerable anticipation. Could the re-release live up to the original?
As good as it ever was
The good news is the gameplay hasn’t been tinkered with – it’s still the same great game. As well as high definition graphics the game also supports widescreen. Apart from these graphical upgrades the multiplayer experience has been improved thanks to Steam integration. The expansion pack, Age of Empires II; The Conquerors is also included, which adds more civilizations, units and technologies, as well as more gameplay modes.
While Ensemble developed the original game, the studio has since become defunct. Thankfully, one of the lead developers from Ensemble, Matt Pritchard, headed the HD remake as a part of Hidden Path Entertainment. Despite the experience of the development team there have been teething issues. As people who pre-ordered the game managed to bag themselves a pre-release version, members of online forums began complaining of problems such as the game not loading properly and it crashing at random points. Thankfully a patch has already been released that has managed to address these problems.
History repeats itself
Considering the game is over a decade old many people may not have had the highest expectations when it came to commercial success – after all, nostalgia doesn’t necessarily translate to sales. However, after holding steady at number 3 on the pre-order charts, the game has managed to top the Steam best seller list, ensuring that a game that is still critically loved has also managed to do well financially.
While this HD remake will bring joy to hardcore fans that believe Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings is the pinnacle of RTS gaming (especially when they find out that all the original cheat codes still work), convincing younger gamers of its appeal might be more tricky. There’s no doubt that it does look as if its aged when placed next to modern games, but luckily its budget price point should mean that plenty of newcomers to the franchise are willing to give the game the chance it deserves.