I’ll give them this: Hidden Path Studios is doing a service to those who remember the Golden Era of PC gaming by doing their best to bring back a truly classic real-time strategy game. If it were perfect, I’d say go buy it right friggin’ now, but I don’t know if I can do that. Not yet, anyway.
Let me put it to you this way: I’m no fan of RTS games. My early incursions with these types of games were met with less-than-stellar results. I’m not a strategist – at least not on any grand scale – I’d prefer to hunker-down, lie low, and take my time to strike, rather than command armies. That being said, I can understand that RTS games were something that many people had an unconditional love for in those halcyon days of PC gaming, back when it was more than just a sidenote to the console-helmed zeitgeist. The RTS helped build an empire of high-quality graphics and incredible network gameplay you couldn’t find anywhere else.
Well, it seems many still hold a tight grip on the world of PC gaming – I would be one of them, to a lesser extent. These people sometimes tend to create groups, collectives of like-minded individuals who loved what PC gaming was, and can still be, given the right variables. Sometimes these people tend to band together to try to recreate classics, starving on the current generation of games and hungering for those nostalgic titles that made them love gaming to begin with.
Today, the RTSs most lauded installment, Age of Empires II, returns remastered by Hidden Path Entertainment. It’s one of the few RTS games I actually like and feel like I have a chance to learn the in-and-outs of without dying constantly because I was poor at resource management or at building a competent military. Sure, I’m not a Korean whiz-kid, not that you need to be Korean to be great at these games (You get what I mean, right?), I’m still a novice to some degree.
The entirety of the package offered on Steam includes The Conquerors expansion pack, as well as a beefed up graphics engine, making the Fog of War look less grainy and the water effects are a little shinier than I remember. The single-player campaign works well enough and they’ve updated the multiplayer to a lobby-based system where you can browse at your leisure, enter a random Quick Match, or load up previous sessions with your friends.
This release is… well, not without some major hiccups, of course.
First off: the lag. Oh God the lag. It’s strange seeing such an old game run poorly during larger incursions. At you start, you’re fine. You have very few villagers, a bare-bones army and a few buildings cobbled together to form a village. But the more and more you build and create, the worse the performance gets. Given how odd this is, you can imagine the kind of teeth-grinding frustration you’ll encounter when trying to play this game on-line with friends. I’ve sat there and watched an army move no more than twenty feet over a period of around ten minutes. It’s that bad. If you plan on waging massive battles in this game, you’re better off waiting for Hidden Path to patch the game up a bit.
Another issue came when we discovered that the settings for public or private matches don’t seem to work either. In both instances we tried to create a private game, both my friend and I had random players join our game out of the blue. The solution was to simply cancel the game, and re-create it – since there is no real ability to kick unwanted players, from what I’ve gathered – but if you have a group of people jumping into your session, you’ll have some issues.
There also seemed to be a problem when our connection timed out, and we were kicked from the game, creating separate instances of the games. This might be a rare thing between us, but trying to connect back into my game, my friend could not join at all, so I saved the game state and tried to join his, receiving the same results.
There are some highly noticeable flaws here that need to be addressed before this game can truly be enjoyed, and so my recommendation hinges on how much of the multiplayer you’ll be attempting. It’s a great release otherwise and gives me the chance to replay a classic that refused outright to run on my current rig. I imagine further patches will stabilize this release, making it a solid purchase. I’ll forgo the scoring system this time for the reason that this game is both quite old and seen its fair share of reviews. At twenty bucks on Steam, Age of Empires II: HD Edition is a polished RTS classic that holds up well by today’s standards, even if bugs hamper the multiplayer experience.