Steam recently released a high definition version of a classic game, Age of Empires II: Age of Kings. AOE II was originally released in 1999, and it is one of the most influential titles in one of real-time strategy’s (RTS) most celebrated franchises. It holds a special place within gaming history as a solid, meat-and-potatoes RTS generously drizzled with rich historical toppings. The timing and reasons for an HD re-release says much about the current state of the gaming industry. After the demise of series creator Ensemble Studios in 2009, competition from fan editions prompted Microsoft to seize the reins. Enter Hidden Path, the fledgling developer somewhat mysteriously entrusted with the redesign of the most commercially successful mod of all time, Counter-Strike. After the achievements of Counter Strike: Global Offensive, the newest in the CS franchise, the studio established a reputation as a responsible landlord of valuable gaming properties.
Age of Empires II: HD’s main changes are updates to the graphics engine, allowing the game to be compatible with modern machines. The game has been overhauled to allow players to take advantage of HD displays and have the game running on multiple monitors at once. The new textures added to water, fire, and earth add a nice new look to the terrain. It is subtle, but the overall impression is refined. The terrain itself has been one of the biggest changes, with a mesh system now used to give a more even natural landscape. In addition, gone are the 256 color elements, and the icons have been updated to a more rustic feel to go with the softer 32-bit color scheme.
However, what this re-release is being most noted for is the soundtrack, which has been amazingly remixed. The music now evokes a more sophisticated mood than it did previously, and it is something that adds greatly to the feel of the game.
The most positive change which people feel will justify the $18 price tag for most players, is multiplayer. Although alternative matchmaking services have done much to keep interest in the online game alive over the years since the demise of Microsoft’s clunky Gaming Zone, Steam integration puts players back onto a universal ladder system. The platform’s social features and existing framework also mean players can come to the game with their own networks firmly in place.
Steam has come along and is now selling a game that many gamers already own in some form. The changes are subtle, but well-intentioned and admirably executed, as well as the great update to multiplayer. Those of us who loved Age of Empires II should happily indulge in some reminiscence with this HD face lift.