Tag Archives: Age of Empires IV

Where Does The Age of Empires II Definitive Edition Fit?

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.

The Age of Empires trio at the Microsoft site

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.

How Many Ages Should an Empire Have?

There was an announcement yesterday that we might see an Age of Empires IV some day, complete with a deliberately vague hype trailer.

Age of Something IV

Still, on a slow Monday in August just before Gamescom simply whispering “Age of Empires” under your breath will get somebody hyped up.

It is a series with some genre-defining entries.  The original Age of Empires felt fresh and new back when it launched while the follow on, Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings (which we tended to call AoK)took the formula and refined it to near perfection.  It is an 18 year old title I still get out and play now and again.  It is an amazing mix of civilizations, each with their own strengths and weaknesses that somehow ended up as balanced as one could hope for.

It was a title deserving of an HD remastering, which we got via Hidden Path Entertainment back in 2013.

I am even a bit jazzed about revisiting the original game via the Age of Empires Definitive Edition that was announced earlier this year at E3.  I was never as big of a fan of it as I was the sequel, but I would still go back to give it a try again, especially with the promise of “improved game play,” which hope means rolling back some of the features from AoK.

So I have some sincere fondness for the series… or at least parts of the series.  After AoK the games fell flat for me.

Age of Mythology never thrilled me while Age of Empires III just fell flat in my opinion.  These are not titles I would go back to play again.

But by then key members of Ensemble Studios responsible for the initial magic of the series had moved on and the studio itself was shut down by Microsoft in 2009.  And while Microsoft attempted to leverage the fame of the series with Age of Empires Online, which really did flop, heralding the end of things.

Except now Microsoft is back and banking on the fame of the series yet again, with the remaster of the original and a new title in the form of Age of Empires IV, and my response to the latter is fairly cool.

I am not completely dismissive of the idea.  The did get Relic Entertainment to take on the task of creating Age of Empires IV and, as a studio, they have some RTS chops.  The are responsible for Homeworld and Homeworld 2, the Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War series, and the Company of Heroes series, all of which are notable titles in the genre.  And being owned by Sega hasn’t completely killed them off.

But can they make an Age of Empires title that feels like an Age of Empires title?  Do they really need to ride on the back of the old series?  Will that fence them in or set them free?  And what age will this be set in?  The industrial age?  The modern age?  The space age?  And haven’t they already been to that last one with Homeworld and Warhammer 40k?

Anyway the complete absence of any details regarding the title means any conclusion you care to come to barely meets the minimum requirement for speculation.  So we will have to wait and see if this is really hype worthy or not.