Age of Empires 2 HD is a fully high-definition remaster of the classic civilization-building game
Windows 8 / Windows Vista / Windows 7 / Windows XP
Age of Empires II HD Edition brings one of the most storied real time strategy franchises back to life for modern gamers, and it brings a fresh coat of paint with it. If you've never played the Age of Empires franchise before, you can look forward to trying one of the trailblazers of the genre. If you remember playing it fondly back in the day, you can look forward to a healthy dose of nostalgia. While the systems in place still hold true to a large extent, and the game was revolutionary to the time, the lack of quality of life features and complexity that have been added to the genre can make it seem somewhat dated and simplistic, but it's well worth playing as a window into the genre's past.
The reputation Age of Empires has developed is well earned. Even over a decade later, it still managed to retain a healthy modding community and saw play in on online lobbies regularly. Age of Empires II HD looks to revitalize that still nascent community by adding matchmaking and support through Steam. It's a solid premise that builds off a game with a lot of mileage, but the execution doesn't quite stick the landing. The new version's gameplay is certainly a step up from the original version, but it sits in an odd middle ground between the past and the present. It's not nearly impressive enough to stand shoulder to shoulder with the most modern iterations of RTS' like Starcraft 2, and the visual upgrade loses a lot of charm that could be found in the original version of the game. Perhaps more worryingly, Age of Empires II HD possesses a number of bugs that weren't present in the original iteration of the game. Add to that the fact that the genre has come a long way since the original was released. Things like lassoing large numbers of troops, setting move and attack orders in a single click, and tightening up the artificial intelligence could go a long way towards making the user experience tighter, and it's an opportunity Microsoft missed. On the other hand, there's an argument that could be made for keeping things as they were for the sake of preservation.
But if you can look past these flaws, this is a game well worth exploring. In a bold move for the genre, eighteen factions are available, and each of them comes with their own units and advantages. That adds deep layers of strategy and makes sure that every play through the game is distinct. Then there's a development system that has you moving through the ages, not dissimilar to Civilization. If you can overlook the dust that's been gathering, take the game out for a spin. At the very least, it's a curious look back on what games were and what they've become since.