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Age of Empires: Definitive Edition

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Strategy
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release Date: Feb. 20, 2018

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PC Preview - 'Age of Empires: Definitive Edition'

by Cody Medellin on Feb. 9, 2018 @ 1:00 a.m. PST

Fully remastered with 4k graphics, re-orchestrated soundtrack, major gameplay improvements, new narrative, Xbox Live multiplayer and achievements, the Definitive Edition brings back the classic game and its Rise of Rome expansion.

In 1997, Age of Empires was released, and it was Microsoft's entry into one of the PC's specialty genres: the real-time strategy. Developed by Ensemble Studios, it was a huge hit among players and loved by most critics, and it paved the way for a number of sequels and expansion packs. While it has been easy to obtain and play the sequels and spin-offs, the original has been a much harder proposition. To celebrate the game's 20th anniversary, Microsoft has released Age of Empires: Definitive Edition, which is designed to work on modern computers. The title has undergone a massive remastering effort to make it more presentable for 1080p displays and 4K. We got our hands on the last closed beta before the game officially launches later this month.

With the big change being related to the presentation, it's a relief to see that this remastering effort is one of the better ones. All of the artwork, from the trees to the buildings, has been redone to show off more color gradients and details. For those who remember the game's original artwork, it's amazing that you can now see the individual tiles of a building. The animation isn't as smooth, but some would argue that it's part of the game's charm. Meanwhile, the music is completely redone, and while an option for the original score would've been nice, the new orchestra gives the game some extra gravitas.


While the closed beta didn't provide any glimpses into the single-player campaign, it did show off some of the multiplayer. In a nutshell, the game faithfully re-creates all of the modes and strategies from the original title. Up to eight players can play against each other, whether on their own or in teams. You can choose which age to start in, go for random civilizations, and decide whether the map is encompassed in a fog of war. You can even bump up the resources to unprecedented limits, giving everyone the chance to build quickly and go to war at a quick pace. While you won't find the deepest or smartest AI here and the pathfinding is less than optimal, it still accommodates veterans more so than newcomers.

Despite this, there's one issue that has been plaguing the game thus far in the closed beta: online performance. During the first few days of the beta, people were unable to start up matches since the connections would collapse while everyone was syncing up. Other times, players would drop out at the beginning of the match or in the middle of the game. Even when everyone made it to the end of the match, there were loads of hitches to the point where you got unintentional breaks in planning due to the pauses. All of this culminates in matches that are won by luck where your real opponent is a connection more than actual skill. To be fair, there have been patches that have improved things, but not to the point where the problems have been completely eliminated. For a game in this era, that kind of thing can quickly kill any interest from those who aren't attracted to the game via nostalgia.


The only other thing that will stand in the game's way is its exclusivity to the digital Microsoft Store. As a service that's been comparatively more problematic than Steam in regards to downloads and updates, some gamers would simply wait to see if the title will show up on Steam before pulling the trigger. While it's doubtful that the marketplace could change by the time it releases, it'll be interesting to see if the name recognition could convince other players to bite the bullet and grab it anyway.

Thus far, Age of Empires: Definitive Edition has the presentation down. Even with the less-than-ideal animations, the look is clean, and a very good amount of detail is shown in every available spot. The online performance leaves a bit to be desired, and while the patches have made some improvements in this area, it remains to be seen if the game can handle a much larger group of people on launch day. Let's hope the team can pull this off by the time the title hits in a couple of weeks.



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