Age Of Empires 2 has often been considered to be one of the greatest RTS games of all time. From its massive epic battles, thematic soundtrack, and highly competitive multiplayer, it has been a staple on PC for decades. The release of the definitive edition on PC back in 2019 saw a whole new generation of fans fall in love with the franchise. Now in 2023, Age Of Empires 2 has made its way to an Xbox console for the first time ever. There are many challenges in bringing an RTS to console, due to the wide variety of movement and keybinding allotted by the mouse and keyboard peripherals. With so much action happening all over the map translating such an intensive game like Age Of Empires 2 to a console is a tall task. Despite these challenges, Forgotten Empires and Tantalus Studios smashed my expectations with a fantastic port of a legendary franchise.
Falling In Love With The Past
Age of Empires 2 was one of my first RTS games as a kid, and I can remember being blown away at first. As an avid history enjoyer, seeing so many different factions combined into one world was incredible. In what other world could you make the Britons fight the Persians? It was such a chaotic mixture of history. To be able to experience it and pit all these different factions against each other felt otherworldly at the time. Now fast forward to 2023 where plenty of RTS has combined even crazier ideas such as the battles to be found in franchises like Warhammer. Does Age Of Empires 2 still have that “WOW” factor if you didn’t play it back in the late 90s as I did? I think it absolutely does.
The biggest challenge a lot of remasters/remakes face is how do you update the graphics and gameplay mechanics for new fans looking for a modern experience. While still maintaining the classic appeal of what fans like me who have nostalgia for the series are looking for. Somehow the developers managed to check both of these boxes, offering the almost standard 4K UHD graphical fidelity. While also updating the art style in a very clean and respectful way. The only way I can describe it is that Age Of Empires 2 on Xbox looks the way I thought it did when I was a kid. It is stunningly immersive as you feel like a tactical war general enacting your battle plans. Seeing your units fight to the last man, as catapult shots and individual arrows rain down on them is exhilarating. Watching units collapse and perish in combat was very well done, however, I kind of wish that the bodies of vanquished units would stay on the map. This would create almost “dark zones” between empires where you could see the history of battles fought there.
Quick And Easy Controls
I was especially curious as to how they would adapt the wide range of controls required for Age Of Empires 2 to an Xbox gamepad. This is where I really have to tip my hat to the developers because out of all the RTS I have played on console Age Of Empires 2 felt the most natural in motion. The use of toggle menus saves a lot of potential button mashing when you are deep in the field of battle. For example, when you are building with a villager, instead of having a menu at the bottom of the screen to scroll through. The classic “wheel” of buildings you can build is brought up in the center of your screen. With a simple tap of the Y button, you can toggle between military-focused buildings and economy and resource-based buildings.
This simplicity is found throughout Age Of Empires 2, pressing up on the d-pad with no units selected will toggle you through idle villagers. This will allow you to task them individually at your will depending on what tasks you need them to complete. There are even behavioral presets that you can use to indicate what resources you want your villagers to focus on gathering. By being able to prioritize the resources I needed as my empire evolved, it was just two simple button hits to rearrange my resource management. Instead of individual management, this means you spend less time micromanaging and more time focusing on the bigger goals. This in all honesty helps to speed up the game, as it takes a little bit more time to navigate sub-menus, but you gain time in some of the automation available to you. Overall, at no point did I find myself frustrated with the controls, or that I was at a disadvantage using a controller over a traditional mouse and keyboard setup.
A Game For Both Beginners and Veterans
When you initially boot up the game, you will be put into a tutorial-style campaign, where you follow William Wallace as the tries to defend Scotland from the invading English army. This is where you will cut your teeth and learn the basics of Age Of Empires 2. Even if you are a veteran of the franchise like myself, I recommend playing through this entire campaign to learn the controls on the gamepad if nothing else. Then after that is where Age Of Empires 2 really opens up depending on how you want to experience the game, no matter what your skill level is.
The campaigns are brilliantly written and set up, so you can fight historic battles from major points in history complete with backstory leading up to the fight. They can be played at a variety of difficulty ranges as well, from the most basic Story difficulty to the unforgiving Hard difficulty. As you play through all the campaigns you will likely scale up the difficulty as you will progressively get better at building and commanding your army. Each campaign offers a few bits of hands-on knowledge about the faction you are playing and will put you into scenarios that will test your skills and resource management. I think the natural progression of introducing new mechanics while scaling difficulty is brilliantly executed in Age of Empires 2. The one campaign I must absolutely recommend is the Attila The Hun campaign. You battle through the heart of the Holy Roman Empire and it is one of the most brutal and satisfying of the campaigns that I experienced.
An Endless Wealth Of Content
When I say there are 100s of hours of content in Age Of Empires 2, I am not exaggerating in the least. There are 35 factions and 27 campaigns to be discovered in just the single-player side of Age of Empires 2. This does not include skirmishes that you can have co-operatively or versus your friends, as well as against bots. There is a subsection of challenges called The Art Of War, that allows players to do time trial style tasks completing increasingly difficult objectives. Then after all that, there is still the online PVP mode if you feel so brave to go up against some of the best players on Xbox and PC. There is also a co-op campaign mode that you can play in unison with a friend to tackle unique and challenging scenarios together. There is no shortage of meaningful content in Age Of Empires 2.
I found that I spent most of my time playing customized skirmishes against multiple AI enemies. As the random outcomes of scenarios from the AI presented a unique challenge. Sometimes they would play more defensively and other times they would be astoundingly aggressive early on. Hardcore veterans will likely be heavily drawn to the Art Of War challenges, but personally, I found them incredibly challenging for my skill level and the reward for grinding them out really didn’t match the amount of time spent trying to grind each scenario.
I spent roughly 40 hours battling through this massive game, and I feel like I barely scratched the surface in terms of what the game has to offer. It is easy to fall into a classic loop of “just one more game”, then the next thing you know it’s 2 am. If you are looking for a game with a variety of meaningful content, Age Of Empires 2 is certainly a great option.
Soundtrack and Narration For The Kingdom
Age Of Empires 2 does two things incredibly well and that is subtle audio quirks and campaign narration. Each campaign mission is prefaced with exquisite narration that sets the tone for each battle you are heading into. The music is subtly layered throughout Age Of Empires 2, whether it’s in the subtle menu music or the drums of war in combat. The soundtrack is always present but it never takes over completely.
This is for good reason, as there is a wealth of audio cues that help alert players of various actions being performed throughout their empire. From the horn as enemy units begin attacking you, to the subtle unique sounds that indicate a unit you have built is completed. Every unit having a unique audio cue really helps in the heat of battle if you are trying to build a backup force quickly. You know what units have just spawned and you can send them head-first into battle. Age Of Empires 2 may be more reserved than other games in terms of its audio design, but it seamlessly meshes with the gameplay without being a nuisance.
Age Of Empires 2 Takes The Crown On Xbox
It has been a long time coming, but to finally have Age Of Empires on console is exciting as a long-time fan. The amount of hard work that went into nailing down every detail from the art style to adaption to the controller is exactly what this title deserved. Age Of Empires 2 Definitive Edition is the best RTS game on Xbox consoles currently and whether you are a massive fan, or just getting into the series for the first time it is a great place to start.