Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition Review — Classic Strategy for a Modern Palette

Improved visuals, modern quality of life features, and brand new content upholster a classic RTS in the Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition.

Age of Empires 2 was a stand-out strategy game in its late-90s heyday, rivaling the more intense Starcraft and Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun by cross-pollinating with the open-ended philosophies introduced by Sid Meier's Civilization series.

Instead of positing military superiority as the de facto win-state, Age of Empires 2 introduced opportunities for city-building and economic or cultural victories. As such, it was slower-paced, forcing players to strategize over a longer course of time rather than dominate by having the highest APM (actions per minute).

Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition is the same as the original  plus all of the content from previous expansions  but with a fresh coat of paint slapped right on top.

To be completely transparent before we begin, I never played the original AoE 2 in my youth. Instead, I played Age of Empires 3 and Age of Mythology rather obsessively, and that's the standard I'm afraid I have to rate Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition from. 

Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition Review — Classic Strategy for a Modern Palette

First off, there are four new civilizations in the Definitive Edition: the Tatars, the Lithuanians, the Bulgarians, and the Cumans. As expected, each civilization has advantages and disadvantages, often suited to a unique style of play.

For example, the Tatars' Keshik cavalry make enemies drop gold when killed. Meanwhile, the Bulgarians' Konnik cavalry spawn Unmounted Konnik foot soldiers when downed.

There are three new full campaigns, one replacement campaign, and a new Sun Tzu's The Art of War-themed challenge mode in Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition. The latter is quite useful for helping new players get accustomed to the flow of gameplay.

It's also a great training tool for classic RTS noobs such as I, who are used to new-school RTS mechanics like spamming foot soldiers to break down enemy walls.

As in the original Age of Empires 2, you can't do that here, and I appreciate the added depth garnered by a need to build, manage, and escort fragile siege engines.

Age of Empires 2 veterans will be pleased to find that things are largely as old-school as ever, forcing you to think through your invasion strategy, if and when you choose to go on the offensive at all. I liked this change of pace, reminding me that RTS titles can be deep and enjoyable without making you revert to frantic unit spamming or cut-and-dry build orders.

That said, the new campaigns, categorized under "The Last Khans," are also reasonably paced and beatable without much pressure from the AI on Standard mode. Each campaign covers a different section of Northeastern Europe or Northwestern Asia, and you get to explore the perspective of historical figures like Tamerlane and Kotyan Khan.

Though I'm no history buff, these stories are thorough and surprisingly well-told through voiced briefs and debriefs between missions.

Quality of life improvements over the original also mark an upgrade in the Definitive Edition. Keybindings and worker automation in Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition all make sense and feel silky smooth in action. These allowed me to keep my economic and technological engines running without diverting too much focus from my military units.

The inclusion of automatic crop reseeding and assignable unit groups made my workflow much easier across the board. Though, I would have preferred the Scout Cavalry to have an auto-explore command, much like scout units in modern Civilization titles.

Finally, the downloadable 4K texture pack makes everything look fantastic in Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition, all without losing the style of the original. Even on a 1080p monitor, the difference between the standard graphics and the updated ones is stunning, giving the impression that Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition is a retro-styled isometric RTS from the present year, rather than a retrofit from 20 years ago.

Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition — The Bottom Line


  • Improves upon the sensibilities of the original, making it accessible without losing depth
  • Tons of variation in content with more campaigns and factions than you can shake a stick at
  • 4K graphics look great and thoroughly improve the original's look


  • Slow pace can sometimes make victory hard to feel out
  • Some crashes and multiplayer performance issues

Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition reintroduces classic strategy to a new generation, subtly improving upon what made the original so great. Players are treated to a boatload of campaigns and civilizations, each of which introduces its unique strategic approaches to victory. Further, it's an easy game to kick back and play without much stress.

Some of the details and nuances of classic strategy are reintroduced here  like a fortification system that can only be breached by legitimate siege engines  that can result in pacing that makes skirmishes last upwards of an hour or more.

While this is a pro for many who enjoy a more thoughtful pace, this can also make Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition feel slow or sluggish, especially when you're strapped for time. Combined with jittery multiplayer performance, this can make it difficult to find an online game that lasts from start to finish.

Our Rating
Improved visuals, modern quality of life features, and brand new content upholster a classic RTS in the Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition.
Reviewed On: PC
Published Dec. 3rd 2019

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