LOS ANGELES – The beautiful thing about history is that it often repeats itself. Take, for example, the Age of Empires series. This beloved real-time strategy franchise conquered hearts and minds throughout the late ‘90s and early 2000s. Now, it’s back, just in time for the original game’s 20th anniversary. Age of Empires: Definitive Edition is a top-to-bottom remake of the original Age of Empires, complete with 4K graphics, an orchestral soundtrack and rebalanced gameplay.
Microsoft announced the Age of Empires remaster at E3’s PC Gaming Show, and it was easily one of the most applauded presentations of the morning. The game is exactly what it sounds like: the original Age of Empires and its Rise of Rome expansion, but retuned for modern sensibilities and design aesthetics.
For those who have never experienced the original Age of Empires, it’s an RTS that takes humanity from its dawn in the Stone Age up through the rise of the earliest historical empires: Egypt, Greece, Babylon, Japan and beyond. Military might is a necessity to win, but building up a powerful economy and advancing agriculture, architecture and education are just as important.
I spoke with Adam Isgreen, Creative Director for Microsoft Studios Publishing to learn more about Age of Empires: Definitive Edition, and why it’s high time to dust the series off and put it back in gaming’s mainstream.
“Age of Empires has always been popular and beloved,” he said. “We thought it was about time to go back and really revisit the original, which hasn’t been touched in about 20 years.”
Easier said than done, though; the original Age of Empires was a marvel at the time, but by today’s standards, it was unbalanced and unnecessarily difficult.
“The metagame was really thin in the original [Age of Empires],” Isgreen said. “There were pretty much three dominant units, and two or three dominant factions out of 16. It’s not what we wanted in the game.” Age of Empires: Definitive Edition will soon have a multiplayer beta to help the developers iron out a more perfect game balance – something that was impossible when the game came out in 1997.
The campaign will remain intact, but with significant usability improvements. No longer will you have to hunt down every last enemy on the map, or unoptimized interfaces. Age of Empires: Definitive Edition will let you designate individual command groups, find idle villagers and respond immediately to big events on other parts of the map. (These features will be available in multiplayer as well, naturally.)
The game’s soundtrack, still hummable 20 years later, has also undergone a full re-recording with a 46-piece symphony orchestra. “Plans are in th works to make the soundtrack available,” Isgreen said. “We get barraged even within the studio, ‘Can I get the soundtrack?’”
Age of Empires: Definitive Edition will be out before the end of the year, and Microsoft aims to have more information on the game available at Gamescom in Cologne, Germany. Until then, start hitting those history books; they may come in handy.
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Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.