The HD remake trend hasn’t really seen many releases on PC, largely because most PC games have been “HD” for far longer and many still work on current machines, allowing for a simple digital release to appease fan demand. Though not as well-known as some of the major console franchises there are quite a few PC games that are deserving of getting a re-release, especially with newer operating systems acting a bit odd when faced with old software. And Age of Empires II is certainly one of them.
Calling this an HD remake is a bit misleading, as the game looks just as it always has, but now it’s running in a 16:9 format. Some minor graphics were changed, presumably due to scaling issues. It contains the original Age of Kings release and the expansion pack The Conquerors, offering the same content as was present originally.
Despite being a Microsoft Studios game, AoE II HD is Steam exclusive, as opposed to its own Games for Windows service. With this comes full Steamworks support and achievements. This is where Age of Empires II HD really justifies being more than just a digital reprint of the game. For one, the game uses Steam’s built in matchmaking to learn how you play, and find similarly-skilled players to match you with. The more you play, the smarter and more accurate the system becomes. This is similar to what is found in other competitive RTS or MOBA games like StarCraft II or League of Legends in design, and ensures matches will be fairly even, once you play some games to allow it to gauge your ability.
Finally, the Steam Workshop is available at launch. The original game offered a fairly expansive modding community, and I was pleasantly surprised to see the re-release continue that trend. Modding remains one of the biggest selling points of PC gaming, and it’s nice to see when it’s not left behind in the move to a digital distribution format. Most of the mods so far are maps or art replacements, but it will be interesting to see if modding becomes popular again.
One noticeable problem: the game suffers from a near-unplayable level of lag when played on a system with two active displays. Disabling the second screen fixes the problem, but it is still rather annoying to deal with. I also ran into several other bugs that may have been present in the original game.
This is a decent digital version of Age of Empires II and its expansion, however it doesn’t offer much. I would suggest it to fans of the initial release, but others may find it to be a bit dated and buggy. It’s a release that simply repackages a classic, adding Steam’s modern conveniences without taking anything from the original.
Pros: Same gameplay you knew from the original release, Steam matchmaking
Cons: Buggy, lots of slowdown on multi-display systems