The Little Mod That Could.
A Franchise Refurbished, Yet a Missed Opportunity.
The age of empires series is one of fame. After 13 years it can still be purchased (along with its expansion, The Conquerors) at Wal-Mart and Office Depot. This "new" title is an attempt at sprucing up one of the most beloved games of the franchise. It is amazingly rare to see an old property being brought back to life and updated, especially by a parent company that is only looking forward to the next big buck, and are willing to drop any title not making 500% profit (AOE Online was scrapped after a year in the wild, and much needed updates to many games still hang in limbo at EA). Only the bigwigs know what made them bring this one back, but we are glad to see some dust wiped off of our past every once in a while. Developer "Hidden Path" was contracted to shine up the series fav and bring it into the new age of gaming, they fixed important things and they didn't fiddle around where it wasn't needed, but they missed a couple of points that would have made it into a new age RTS diamond.
First of all, I must thank hidden path for finally raising the unit cap, but why only 500? While it is a good 2.5x higher than before, our machines are 250x more powerful than the Pentium II 200mhz it was originally designed for. I can only guess that much of the core engine remains as it was, and 500 was the highest they could go without breaking it. Even though the cap has been raised, you can still only select 20 units at a time. Was it something that was overlooked? not likely. Here is another notch in the theory of a stretched engine. They just couldn't do more without overhauling the back end.
While we are on the graphics, The reason it has HD in the title is the ability to hit 1920x1080, (and beyond for multi monitor rigs) whereas the original topped out at 1024x768. I agree with the general consensus in that the overhauled building and unit models are amazing, but once again the elderly engine comes through showing us no shadows, no zoom, and no visual effect updates. These are an almost standard feature of today's even bargain bin games that they missed completely. Does it detract from gameplay? Not really. Could they have spent a little more time bringing the graphics engine into this decade without effecting gameplay? yes.
The multiplayer. What can I say here? Game Zone worked (kinda) back in the day, but thankfully we have learned from those early days and have integrated the game wholly into Steam's online network with only a few launch bugs and some early lag issues (to be continued). What this means is a front row ticket to a beautifully seamless multiplayer before-game matching experience, but completely removes the LAN option that, like me, so many young geeks had permanently set up in their basements just for this. Inclusion with the Workshop will make mod and map finding a breeze, and I believe the good outweighs the bad here, but somehow there is still a bad taste somewhere in my mind from losing our offline multiplayer. (single play is still allowed offline).
The music score has been redone, but I can still pound the number keys for WOLOLOOO and "I Need Wood". No complaints there.
All-in-all it was well worth the money, and it is the authentic Age Of Kings/Conquerors experience, but the lack of improvements to the gameplay, and the surface improvement to the graphics makes this game feel more like a decent mod than a blockbuster.
(For further fiddling- the mod "Forgotten Empires" does everything this HD remake does, plus adds hours of single player campaigns, and a good dozen fixes)