Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition on Xbox is eccentric and enthralling, as always
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Featured Image Credit: Xbox Game Studios, Mikhail Nilov via Pexels
Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition is on its way to Xbox tomorrow and this will be the third iteration of the game that was released 20 years ago. Three is a magic number yet it certainly starts to get a lot tougher to not reinvent the wheel but rather to convince you that the wheel is still cool and fun with each successor. Though any real-time strategy fan worth their salt knows that there is still a titanic amount of enthusiasm for the older Age of Empires entries, this one serves as a demonstration of how to translate those time-honoured tactics to a new home on console ahead of Age of Empires IV later this year. There are quirks, like it would be for a toy disentombed from the dark depths of your dad’s attic, however it harkens back to simpler times and simpler days. And I feel we’re in dire need of those.
Check out the trailer for Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition on Xbox consoles here!
Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition comes with three DLCs - Lords of the West, Dawn of the Dukes and Dynasties of India - as well as magnificent 4K ultra HD visuals and remastered audio. It took me a minute to settle into the reality of playing this game on my Xbox in the year MMXXIII, but listening to the chirps of sounds like bustling villagers, docks, infantry and of course, the monks did more for me than any beginner’s guide to meditation on YouTube.
Let’s stray for a little moment on that, though. I used to play Age of Empires II on a dining room chair, my feet not touching the floor and face glowing in the light of a grandiose 19 inch monitor. Video games are obviously terrible for the development of young brains yet this had the caveat of being a somewhat educational way to spend afternoons after school. Sometimes if we had done very well in our swimming lessons, we would go to WH Smith and get one of the games off the spinning carousel, but I believe this was my mum’s favourite game. It still is. I was decent enough, if scared of conflict, but Mum was undoubtedly much better.
Peering over to the screen, I could see my mum’s game sprawling outwards in lines too neat to be the watery parts of the map. There’s something slightly The Lion King about all of this description, and now playing Age of Empires II on my Xbox Series S, I’m lucky that I am not voiced by Matthew Broderick because it could have happened. Very easily, it could have happened.
As much as I love the game, there’s that apprehension over porting a PC game developed for PCs at the time that console gaming was a concept rather than one of the most accessible ways for people to get into gaming. And some of The Sims games on consoles were a slay, like The Sims 2 on Nintendo DS, but it’s widely agreed that the experience was suited for PC.
Fortunately, Age of Empires II features a tutorial on the Xbox controls that I certainly recommend choosing at the start even if you’re a regular Genghis on the weekends. It took me a bit of time to smoothly switch from unit to unit on the map, and part of that I am putting down to the fact that I’m left-handed and the majority of the commands are centred on the right side controls. There are dozens of us. Dozens.
Charging through the William Wallace campaign and then into my own scenarios, the game looks great. It’s just very wholesome that this practically universally treasured game from the late 1990s is now playing without a hitch on a big telly. Actually, seeing the troops bundle up and loop round each other repeatedly when encountering a small incline did send me back in time, but that didn’t take away from the overall experience. You should be keeping an eye on your units anyway if they’re venturing into unknown territories.
The Definitive Edition of Age of Empires II lets the player zoom in and out of that visible part of the map but I imagine most will be zoomed in to the maximum level for two reasons. Firstly, the artwork is allowed to realise its potential and secondly, it’s going to get difficult to see everything in that view while sitting on the sofa. Shortcuts allow you to snap from one side of the map to your town centre and other major units which was appreciated over holding down one stick.
Resources and the age of your settlement (Dark, Feudal, Castle, Imperial) are writ large so familiar and fresh-faced players are able to strategise their priorities as well as the winning conditions of the game. Being one of those familiar players, I loved the inclusion of presets for villagers based on what your goal at the time is, like gathering lots of food and wood to ascend out of the Dark Age or advancements as a naval force. The Technology tree menu doesn’t translate well with a controller to scroll through the upgrades, so I opted to select units and then roll round the wheel of possible inventions in game. If you want to use a mouse and keyboard, the game has support for that if it’s the way you’d be most comfortable playing.
Again, I regressed to my younger self in that I didn’t busy myself with trading, but with the whole world in my hands and a 40 inch television screen, the power surged through me. I focused on building my military strength. This is Age of Empires, not Age of Best Friends. While there are these aforementioned adjustments that have had to be made for the Xbox version, it’s still as entertaining a game as it is on PC. It’s something that incites a sort of meditative state, ideal as we defrost into February.
As an added bonus, if you’ve got Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition through the Microsoft Store on PC, there’s no need to purchase the Xbox version. However, those who have been playing Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition on PC Game Pass will need to shell out for Xbox Game Pass to play the game on their console as PC games are not compatible. This is a cherished game so that’s just a quick aside to make sure everyone who wants to play on Xbox can as soon as they’re able to.
In spite of this, it’s time to address the war elephant in the room. Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition is not doing anything new here. To scratch that nostalgic itch, this game is ideal, however new players wondering what all of the fuss is about might not find this game up to par with newer strategy titles. Once it is launched, there are online battles to be won though which will no doubt spur hours to be sunk in this classic. And the fact that it is on the big telly now opens it up to be a much more sociable pastime - who knows, maybe a whippersnapper might be enthralled by the game like I was.