The golden age of the Real Time Strategy genre is nearly 20 years gone at this point. Like most ideas in video games, it first made a splash in a raw form, in this case via Dune II ,and then saw change in great leaps, some of which made companies, as the original Warcraft did with Blizzard. There was lots of variety as new titles rolled out.
Then somebody “won” the genre, created a title that seemed to perfect some aspect of it… that was probably StarCraft… after which the genre tapered off. It didn’t die, but like MMORPGs or Facebook games, it stopped getting so much attention. It was no longer the hot new flavor to chase.
In around the peak of the genre came Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings, one of my favorite RTS titles. I’ve written about it before, but in summary it was kind of a big deal for myself, friends, and co-workers. Back in the days when IT wasn’t policing every PC in development for unauthorized software, we would play a couple of games at the office every Friday night.
So you might think I was pretty excite to hear about Microsoft announcing Age of Kings II – Definitive Edition last week during E3. Except, of course, I am not.
I mean, I should be happy that Microsoft has finally dusted off the web site for the franchise, which was locked in 2001 for about 15 years, and decided to pay attention to the franchise. As late as four years ago there was a banner ad for the original XBox on the franchise page.
But there are a few issues for me.
The previous remaster, the Age of Empires Definitive Edition didn’t exactly make a splash. After a big announcement two years back, it was quietly released on the Microsoft store eight months later where little seemed to be said about it. It remains an exclusive there last I checked, though there seems to be some plan to bring it to Steam at some point.
I was also more than a bit convinced that the AoE remaster was little more than a marketing scheme to draw attention to the planned Age of Empires IV, so this might just be more of the same. Also, given that I wasn’t big on Age of Empires III and that all we got was a vague trailer about the game, I wasn’t too excited on that front regardless.
But the primary reason I haven’t been all that thrilled about the Age of Empires II – Definitive Edition announcement is that we already got an Age of Empires II remaster just over six years ago.
Hidden Path Entertainment, who did the wonderful Defense Grid and Defense Grid 2 tower defense games, did a remaster of the game back in 2013 that included:
- Re-mastered for high resolution displays 1080p+.
- Enhanced visual engine with improved terrain textures, water, fire and ambient lighting effects.
- New Steamworks features: Achievements, Leaderboards, Matchmaking and Cloud support.
- Share user created content with Steam Workshop support.
Not only that, they also updated the unofficial expansions for the game and even added another one just last year. When steam does stats, Age of Empires II – HD Edition is always doing surprisingly well given its origin in the last century.
Basically, there is already a happy and thriving Age of Empires II community on Steam that is good with the game, so a new version from Microsoft just raises uncomfortable questions… like what happens with all of the Steam Workshop stuff people have created and what about those three expansions?
What does Age of Empires II – Definitive Edition really bring to the table, besides 4K graphics, and what will people lose if they go there?
I personally think that the graphics upgrade and a remastered sound track is insufficient to get people to buy another copy of a game they have probably already purchased twice at this point. Or that seems to be a common thread in the reactions to the press release on Steam.
The press release mentions three new single player campaigns to be released with the Definitive Edition, and four new civilizations as well, which makes this seem even more like a branch that will be incompatible with the HD Edition.
Microsoft also seems to have learned from the Age of Empires Definitive Edition and will be launching the new game straight onto Steam, where the fan base has resided for years now.
However, even that move gives me pause. Are they planning on supplanting the HD Edition on Steam? Hidden Path may have done the HD Edition, but Microsoft owns the title and all the rights. If they want to yank the HD Edition in hopes that the fan base will be compelled to buy the Definitive Edition, they can do that.
I don’t think they will keep you from playing the HD Edition if you already own it. It will likely still be there in your library. But they can certainly disappear it from the store, take down the Steam Workshop, and remove all evidence of the expansions that have appeared since they last cared about the game.
Furthermore, it Microsoft being tone deaf and heavy handed isn’t exactly out of character for them as a company.
I hope that they will find a way to embrace the current and thriving Age of Empires II community that exists on Steam. Age of Empires II – Definitive Edition is due out this fall according to the press releases, so I imagine that we will see how they plan to play this soon enough.