Everyone can recall their all-time favourites when looking back on their many years of playing games. Among those games that we think lots of people will hold a special place for is the second title in the Age of Empires series. At Gamereactor we're no different. The number of hours we have spent battling away in historic settings, creating exciting battles between Japanese, Roman and Viking armies is almost uncountable. Therefore, the announcement of a new optimized definitive edition - after a successful remaster - had us pretty excited. After the game's showing at E3, there was a playable presentation that had us lining up to get our hands-on the beloved classic.
During our extensive playthrough, we had the unique opportunity to chat with Bert Beeckman about all the changes coming to the new version as well as how they wanted to preserve the essence of the original. One of the areas that has received the most care is the online parts of the revamped Age of Empires II. Due to the original game releasing at a time with next to no focus on engaging online multiplayer, Beeckman explained how they had added an entirely new element to the game, and returning fans will undoubtedly appreciate the opportunity to showcase their civilization building skills on a bigger scale than ever done before.
Online, however, is not the only thing that's receiving a ton of special care in the new version. The story mode is likewise getting both a visual and audio overhaul. As in the original game, all story missions start with an intro told through old documents, narrated by a historian. To really do the game justice, Beeckman explained how they had completely redone the introductory cutscenes, with a new aesthetic design and by implementing even more voice acting. Beeckman continued and told us how they knew this area had to be notably updated due to it being one of the most beloved features of the old version. The demo we tried was, therefore, also a classic story mission about the East Roman-Byzantine Kingdom.
Despite it being too short for our liking, the demo perfectly showcased how the game had been optimised for a modern audience, as the graphics have received a thorough update. From the beautiful mediaeval countrysides through to small particles from trebuchets firing projectiles at castle walls, the amount of care given to breathing fresh life into this classic is a welcome addition to the legacy of the game. It was simply amazing how they have updated every single detail while keeping the exact same aesthetic vision. Our favourite addition was the new animations when the buildings collapsed. Notably, we attacked an enemy castle at the end of our presentation - the strongest and most expensive constructions by every civilization in the game - and the ensuing destruction looked nothing short of marvellous. Returning fans have a lot to look forward to.
Speaking of the Byzantine kingdom and other civilizations, Age of Empires II ups the ante with even more than ever before. All the civilizations from the original game and all the subsequent expansion packs combined have been included, with a couple of new ones added to the mix. Beeckman did not want to go into detail and instead wanted to reassure us that the game would offer plenty of variation in terms of factions. More specifically, Beeckman said more or less 40 civilizations have been made playable this time around.
With so many remakes, remasters and re-releases dominating the contemporary games industry, it is becoming increasingly difficult justifying why consumers should buy the same game several times. Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition is one of the games that looks to earn its place among the best of the bunch to have come out in recent years. With engaging new online multiplayer, updated story missions, and a massive audio-visual overhaul, Age of Empires II is making its way to new and old players alike with grace, and we can wait to play the final product.