Age of Empires II released in 1999 to worldwide critical acclaim and continued to have strong support from a loyal player base and Microsoft. In 2012, an HD edition was released on Steam and in 2019, Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition was released and the simmering popularity of the game rose to even greater heights. The classic RTS continues to attract a large gamer base for single player and multiplayer action and the active subreddit has over 137,000 subscribers.
In the last two weeks of October 2022, Microsoft hosted a LAN tournament for AOE2, called Redbull Wololo Legacy, the sixth tournament in the series. Played in Heidelberg, Germany, the tournament has a $200,000 prize pool, the largest ever for an AOE tournament. The Definitive Edition of the game is a textbook example of how to improve a beloved property while still retaining everything that made the original great.
AOE2: DE introduced a much smarter version of AI opponents for single player and campaign games. In the original versions, the AI increased in difficulty by cheating, meaning, the AI opponents were only capable of increasing their difficulty by making game changing concessions such as giving the computer more resources.
But computer programming improved to such a point by 2019 that the developers were able to make AI opponents that could play similar to a human without cheating, from skills ranging from easy to extreme. Now fighting the computer feels more like playing an intelligent human rather than a frustrating grind against an unfair AI.
One of the most important aspects of Age Of Empires 2 is making sure the economy in-game is efficient and constant. Fortunately, for all resources on the map, villagers will immediately begin looking for a similar resource once they expire one. But until the Definitive Edition, that did not include farming.
Farms are one of most important sources of food in the games and for most players, their towns will eventually be filled with the green squares. Every couple of minutes the farms run out and have to be replanted, before DE made that automatic, gamers would have to click each individual and make another farm each time they ran out. This quality of life fix was a necessary step to streamlining the game.
The original Age of Empires II has a distinctive look that fans of the series, and even casual gamers can recognize anywhere. With the DE release, all the game graphics were updated to 4K and the game has never looked better. Some players solely spend time in the scenario editor using the great graphics to play it as a city-builder video game.
Colors pop, water looks realistic, and most importantly, it is easier than ever to tell different units apart. A common complaint of the game when it was first released was that it was difficult to tell who was fighting who on a battlefield. With the graphics update, there’s never a problem no matter how large the army is.
Thanks to Steam and the player-to-player connection options it has provided, finding a human opponent and teammates has never been easier. DE made signing on and finding players of equal skill level extremely easy thanks to creating a ranked and quick play option with surprisingly active servers.
The ranked multiplayer system allows for only a set number of maps to choose from and randomly assigns teammates and opponents with equal elo, a skill ranking system much like the one found in competitive chess. Multiplayer AOE2 provides a whole new fun and exciting gameplay option that many players have taken full advantage of.
In the old days of Age of Empires II, there was never an indicator of how many villagers were collecting which resource. But in DE, players can now see how many villagers are assigned where and even if there are some who have stopped working. AOE2 is a game based on maximizing your resources and unit production out of military buildings.
The visual indicator of villagers to resources has allowed gamers to more easily calculate exactly how many villagers it takes to create one unit or buy one upgrade. It is a simple update, but it’s one that has improved player capability across the board and removed some of the annoying guesswork from the game.
People who haven’t played AOE2 since its initial release may be surprised to learn just how many playable civilizations there are now in the game. Originally released with 13 civilizations, there are now 42 historical civilizations to play covering cultures like the Aztecs all the way to the Koreans.
There have been a number of DLCs that release every few months that include among some smaller changes, anywhere from 2-4 fully realized civilizations. Each is unique and enjoyable to play, and the developers have managed to avoid making any balance changes even with so many styles of playing.
An important note about AOE2 is that when the game begins, each player can only see the parts of the map that their units have explored. The mini-map at the bottom of the screen and at the edges of a unit’s vision are completely black and must be revealed to learn where the opponent is. Each player starts out with a horse rider that can move quickly and find out what the battlefield looks like.
Unfortunately, controlling this scout and dealing with villagers at the same time can be tricky for new players. SO DE created a way to make the scout explore on its own. This tiny change has gone a long way to making it a better strategy game for beginners while still rewarding those who want to manually control the scout like in the past.
Originally, the only way to move around the map was to drag the mouse and go left, right, up, and down. DE made it possible for players to zoom in and out on their maps, in order to get a wider look at their civilization and battlefield.
This quality of life change was made possible by the huge jump in graphics quality that make spotting different units and buildings possible even when the camera is far away from the action. The zooming in and out feature granted players a much wider range of control.
The queuing system was dramatically improved in DE. The original version was outdated even compared to its contemporaries but DE made it much easier to follow and more competitive as a result. A global queue at the top of the screen shows every unit and technology that a player has selected, so going from building-to-building to check is no longer a tedious task.
Secondly, being able to shift-queue units has made the economy side and the military side much more enjoyable. Villagers can be told to build a house, build a market, and then chop a tree in one sequence of button clicks, so the player can go off and take care of something else. No more waiting around for each action to complete before assigning the next.
Along with adding a bunch of new campaigns and historical battles, as well as updating older ones, DE has also introduced co-op campaigns for players who want to complete missions with friends. There are many campaigns available for co-op style.
It is a testament to the programming and multiplayer simplicity that the co-op missions work as well as they do. Playing historical campaigns from childhood takes on a whole new life when they’re replayed with an ally.
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