Age of Empires II is easily the most loved entry in the popular “Age of” series. Fans of the game were thrilled when an updated version of the game featuring remastered graphics and support for modern systems was released as Age of Empires II HD earlier this year. The HD edition included both the base game, Age of Kings, as well as the Age of Conquerors expansion pack. Despite having released all available content for Age of Empires II, there was still more to come. Microsoft Game Studios, in association with Skybox Labs, has done something I’ve never seen before; release an official expansion for game more than 10 years after it’s original release. How’s that for long term support?
Age of Empires II HD: Forgotten Empires (PC)
Developed by Skybox Labs – Published by Microsoft Game Studios
The original Age of Empires II came out in September of 1999, just over 14 years ago. In April of this year, a remastered edition, the so-called “HD” edition of the game, dropped on Steam. While the game was fundamentally the same, it featured reworked network play, remastered visuals and Steam Workshop support. This new expansion (a foreign concept in the age of DLC) originated as a mod for the original game. The Forgotten (formerly known as Forgotten Empires) introduces a host of new gameplay elements and features, as well as 4 additional singleplayer campaigns.
The newly introduced civilizations include the Italians, Indians, Slavs, Magyars and Incas. As with those in the original game, these new civilizations each feature their own unique unit and, in the case of the Italians and Slavs, their own unique building aesthetic. Additionally, some of the original civilizations have been tweaked to offer more balanced gameplay overall.
There are also four new singleplayer campaigns featuring the new civilizations. The first is that of Alaric I, in which you control the powerful Goth warrior and lead him and his armies in the destruction of the Roman Empire. Then there is Sforza, an Italian mercenary who fights for the highest bidder as he rises to his own position of prominence. Bari, a port city of the Byzantines, makes up the 3rd campaign with this mixed bag of scenarios featuring a score of Byzantine soldiers rather than a singular hero. Finally there is the Dracula campaign which chronicles the rise of the bloodthirsty Wallachian monarch. Of these four campaigns, Alaric’s and Dracula’s were the most interesting to follow whilst the others offered diverse gameplay but a lackluster campaign overall.
In addition to these singeplayer offerings, Skybox has also expanded upon the multiplayer options as well. The game now features native Twitch.tv integration, including the use of Twitch chat in-game. While I didn’t extensively test this feature, it did work surprisingly well for the brief period I did use it. The game also now allows you to spectate matches in-game, rather than having to rely on a delayed Twitch stream. Having a spectator does take up a player slot in a match, so plan your matches accordingly.
There are also two new game modes to try, Treaty and Capture the Relic. Treaty is essentially a no-rush mode in which a ceasefire in effect for however long you dictate it to be. This allows for more build-up time before initiating battle. Personally I found that mode to be a bit boring, though those who prefer lengthy sessions might enjoy it. Capture the Relic is essentially a CTF mode, with the relic being neutral and requiring one side or the other to capture it for a certain amount of time.
There are also several new random map layouts (including the hilariously titled “Hamburger” map) as well as an expanded map size, dubbed “Ludicrous” size. The population cap has also been raised to 1000, from the previous maximum of 500. There is also a swath of new technologies and units that are available to all civilizations, not only the new ones.
The maximum resolution cap has also been raised, from 1920×1080 to 2560×1440, though the game still runs at native resolution with no option to change it in-game.
Age of Empires II will always be a timeless classic, but this much appreciated expansion breathes new life into an aging game in a way that sprucing up the graphics simply couldn’t. It does all an expansion should do, adding new gameplay elements and more content. This expansion definitely warrants trying out Age of Empires II, whether you’re a weathered veteran of the series or a newcomer.
Final Score 8.0 /10