Age of Empires 2: HD Review
Writing a review on an HD remake of a game is a tricky thing. Do I review the game itself, or do I judge the merits of it’s HD port from a technical level? In a way, I hope I can do a bit of both.
Porting a 14 year old game isn’t without it’s challenges. There have been advances to internet technologies, the widespread adoption of widescreen monitors, and numerous other technological advances in computer processing. So why is it that this game feels, well, stuck in 1999?
The game itself is, yes, in HD. That is, it scales to my monitors 2560 x 1440 resolution with fairly apparent ease, a feat the original game could not accomplish. This however is a no frills affair. While I suppose it is convenient that the game automatically detects my monitor’s resolution, it would be optimal if there were the ability to choose a favored resolution. The option was available in the original release, but is nowhere to be now seen.
In fact, there are no graphic options to speak of at all, other than toggling between a full screen and windowed mode. While yes, the game does boast low required specs, the option to toggle between “high, medium, and low” graphics settings, as in the original release, would be a welcome feature. The game does after-all boast the ability to increase the amount of troops you can place in the skirmish mode, which can be processor intensive. Those will lower-specced PC’s may have appreciate the tradeoff of graphic fidelity/resolution in favour of placing more troops.
The game also advertises multi monitor support, though the feature seems to be hidden from sight. Through some Steam group digging, it appears that the official method is to press “alt-shift-enter” all at once, to toggle this multi monitor mode. This seems an odd choice from a development standpoint, as adding a toggle in the graphics settings would be a relatively simple feat.
This leads to the issue that the certain graphic elements do not stretch across dual monitors properly. Any in-game menu, or post-game result screen, seems to create a black box around the now-centered UI. While I understand the menu is an object of limited set dimensions, as opposed to the expanse of a level, this implementation just seems solidify my opinion that this is a lazy case of multi-monitor support. In fact, when pressing “alt-shift-enter” for the first time, I thought the solution was broken.
That said, there have been many great additions to the game. Quick Match multiplayer has been added, featuring a system that pits you against player of a similar skill set. Steam Workshop support is also fully integrated, so all your favourite mods should be there eventually, and many new ones have already sprung up. There is also the inclusion of achievements, to appeal to those of you who like to show off to friends.
The game itself remains fairly unchanged from it’s initial release. All your favourite units are there, as are the base mechanics that make up the series. This isn’t a reinvention or directors cut; it’s simply the original game re-bundled in an “HD” moniker. And that’s not a bad thing.
This update however seems to suffer from a bad case of lag. I was hoping this was a pre-release issue that would be patched out before the game went live, but it seems to persist for some user. If you wander over to the Steam Group, you’re sure to find many an angry purchaser. Throughout the playing of the game, frame rates seem to dip randomly, regardless of what’s on screen. Sometimes I thought it was because I had too many units on the screen, and sometimes simply because a bird was flying overhead.
This issue doesn’t seem to be affecting all users, and the developers are apparently working on a fix. But for a game that is being re-released, this isn’t the best thing to be faced with as a consumer. It doesn’t seem to be a lack of CPU power that’s causing the issue, as I’m running far above the required specs, but perhaps some sort of driver implementation issue. But we’ll have to wait for a patch and see what the problem was. Again, this issue does not seem to be affecting all users, but it has certainly affected me.
In the end I can’t deny the game is fun. It’s the same game you all love and remember, and is everything that made it a hit 14 years ago. I just can’t be sure if it’s worth a $19.99 purchase, and for a player relatively new to the series, this experience left me with a bitter taste in my mouth.