Age of Empires II: HD Edition Review

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Developer(s): Hidden Path Entertainment, Ensemble Studios
Publisher(s): Microsoft Studios
Platform(s): PC
Release Date: April 9, 2013

In 1999, Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings was released and changed forever the way real-time strategy games were made. It was an important game for the genre. One year later, an expansion for the game was released under the title Age of Empires II: The Conquerors, and it proved to be just as successful as the The Age of Kings. Someone at Microsoft Studios decided it was time for one of the most beloved RTS games of all time to get a face lift, which brings us to Age of Empires II: HD Edition.

For those of you not familiar with Age of Empires II, it is a real-time strategy game that centers around resource gathering and military conquest. It’s a classic 4X strategy game that focuses on expansion, exploitation, extermination, and exploration. You’ll start with a small number of villagers and a town center and use those villagers to start gathering one of four resources: food, wood, gold, or stone. As you acquire more resources you will be able to advance in “age”, essentially Age of Empires version of a tech-tree from Civilization. As you advance in ages you’ll have access to more buildings and units, and you’ll be able to research different technologies that provide anything from more hitpoints to your walls to +10 movement speed for your infantry. While you’re managing your resources you’ll need to build an army to defend your villagers from enemies and another army to form the offensive part of your strategy.  

There isn’t a thing about the game mechanics that have been changed and all your favorite civilizations from the Goths to the Aztecs return in HD glory. Age of Empires II: HD Edition includes both The Age of Kings and The Conquerors expansion. Maps, multiplayer options, and both campaigns are included. Images are noticeably sharper, and the game looks much better and crisper displayed in HD. Environments contain more texturing and color, and unit animations are less jumbled. It’s also significantly easier to make out what’s what in the heat of a battle because units are more discernable.

New to Age of Empires II: HD Edition is Steam Workshop. The game was released exclusively on Steam on April 9 of this year, and the multiplayer is now run through Steam’s servers. Let’s face it, most of us played Age of Empires II for the multiplayer, and I’m glad to report that the game runs like a charm while connected to Steam’s excellent servers. There are actually a good number of people still playing it, too. At any given time there are 20 to 30 matches you can join, and that number spikes a bit on the weekends. The ability to add user-created content to the game via Steam Workshop is also a nice addition. I haven’t noticed anything yet that has caught my eye on the game’s Workshop page, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before the game’s faithful legion of fans produce some excellent content.

I thought my time with Age of Empires II was done many years ago; but, Age of Empires II: HD Edition has given me a second wind, and I’m am very much enjoying another love affair with a game that has provided so many great times with friends. If you’re a fan of the original Age of Empires II, you probably shouldn’t miss out on this one. 

Final Score“The Revolutionary Classic Returns”8.0
The game doesn’t look dated. The graphics still manage to work, and they look even better in HD. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t Crysis 3 levels of beautiful, but they still retain their own charming qualities. Colors pop and textures look much better than they did in standard definition.
This game set many standards of game design in the RTS genre, and you can see why by playing it even today.
I’m not sure that $20 USD is a fair asking price. It certainly tops out what I’d be willing to pay for the product; but, even with the inclusion of The Conquerors expansion, I would like to see that number come down to $15 UDS. I mean, the game is almost 15 years old.
All the little interesting things about the sound are still there. Every civilization still has villagers and units that speak their native language and the music is just as awesome as you remember it to be.

Review by Jon Hamlin

Jon Hamlin is a freelance game journalist living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He plays too much Mass Effect 3 multiplayer and enjoys a good glass of wine. Occasionally, he can be found commanding his legion of doom on Xbox Live as GeniusPantsPhD. Follow him on Twitter @WordsmithJon, or email him at All Articles by Jon.


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