Age of Empire II is very special to me. The game came to me by accident at the age of 16 and it has remained a great gaming love of mine ever since. I played Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition on Xbox to see if I could rekindle my love for this PC game on console after all these years, and it feels like love in the beginning again wololo.
Playing a complex real-time strategy game is a daunting prospect Age of Empires without the finely tuned controls of a keyboard. There are cards and submenus to click through and units to select and move and control. Still, the developers of World’s Edge designed a thoughtful controller interface that, after a few hiccups, worked as seamlessly as I remember with a mouse and keyboard.
You can double tap the A button to select units of the same time. You hold the button and move the left thumbstick to select units within a specific area. There are also a handful of shortcuts that make ordering your little minions a lot easier. The game tells you if you have any idle villagers and lets you select those lazy slobs by pressing up on the D-pad. If there’s an enemy that needs a wololo-ing, select your monks directly on the D-pad. My favorite shortcut was the left on the D-pad, which selects all of your military units and brings them under your control at the same time. If you’re one of those “numbers go up” sickos like me, there’s no greater joy than seeing your UI light up with the number of units you’re about to send to ruin a Carthaginian day.
There are also some useful automation features built in AOE II that makes management a bit easier. With a click of the right stick you can automate how villagers collect resources depending on your objectives. You can have a balanced approach or set it to a feature that prioritizes food and gold if you’re going for a big army. The next time you generate a villager, it will automatically do your bidding without you having to send them manually. However, I am too precise for such settings. Part of the fun is the micromanagement, so I left that attitude.
Not sure if this is new either AOE II: DE or something that has been implemented before, but I really like that the game is smart enough to prompt my villagers to automatically start digging for nearby gold or stone when I have them build a mining camp. I like it when minions intuitively know what their goddess demands. (I also have way too much fun killing villagers erratically when I need to free up my population for other units. I should probably talk to someone about that.)
Part of the fun is the micromanagement
That being said, Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition Electric Console Boogalo is not 100 percent elegant in its control scheme. If there’s a way to click directly on the map, I haven’t found it, forcing me to hold the thumbstick until I get to the area I want to investigate. That makes it very difficult to take a quick look at what happens when you are attacked. I hear the telltale horn blow, letting me know a battle is in progress, and by the time my eyes are on the action, it’s over, and units I might have been able to pull back had I been faster, are dead.
One of the bigger issues I had, which resulted in some frustrating game overs, was the fact that the game’s UI so much going on because it’s distilled from a PC experience to a console experience, making it easy to miss crucial information. I had to build a siege workshop. I clicked on my builder and pressed the left trigger. I was immediately shown a wheel of the buildings it can build, but none of them were siege workshops. I went berserk looking up tutorials and wikis, convinced I hadn’t upgraded enough to allow my civilization to access the Siege Workshop. Turns out buildings are separated by function, with commercial buildings (mills, markets and monasteries, oh my!) on one wheel and military buildings on the other. A quick press of the Y button pulled up the military wheel and there was the siege workshop I was desperately looking for. In an embarrassing way, the game actually tells you to press Y to bring up the military buildings, but I missed it because it got lost in the noise of the informational UI.
Once I got over those initial hangups, AOE II: DE played exactly as I remembered. All the nostalgia of spending hours with this game came back and the experience is no less when you play on a console.
I had no access to computer games growing up. My family got our first home computer when I was 16, and it was an educational/working tool, which is why buying games for it was banned. That didn’t stop me from playing pinball while listening to the one issue that came pre-installed on Windows XP machines —David Byrne’s “Like people do— on repeat every day after school.
That all changed when, somehow, and for some unknown reason, my mother’s friend gave me a stack of CD-Rs. Most were blank, one was a copy of Tom Raider IIand another was a bootleg copy of Age of Empires II: Rise of Rome.
No one told me what this game was. It wasn’t a gift or anything, but something that got stuck on a stack of CDs and forgotten. But I devoured that game. It was unlike anything I had ever seen. I had no idea about games like Starcraft or Mystery whether any of the other fundamental PC games existed.
Age of Empires, quite literally, changed my gaming life. Instead of spending hours trying to raise my pinball multiplier, I would spend hours like Augustus beating Antony and Cleopatra. My abiding love of Roman history – complete with several college courses taken and several listens to the phenomenal podcast The History of Rome – came about because of this game.
I’m actually kind of sad that those campaigns aren’t available in this version of AOE: IIbut I do know it’s coming soon. I can not wait.