Nearly a decade ago, I took the most important decision of my gaming life. With my first salary, I went ahead and bought myself a console instead of investing in a brand-new PC. And I haven’t really looked back since. I got to play pretty much all the games I wanted to… save for one particular genre.
I loved playing Real Time Strategy (RTS) games. I have spent countless hours playing Command and Conquer, Warcraft (before it became an MMORPG), Empire Earth, StarCraft and of course, Age of Empires. However, once I made the switch to consoles, I had to ditch the genre as a whole. It’s not like there were no console RTS games on consoles. It’s just that I didn’t find the controller to be as good as an input as compared to a mouse and keyboard.
Well, now we have one of the greatest RTS games of all time making its way to the ring. Age of Empires 2: Definitive Editon was released for PC back in 2019, and now the game is available for console. Can one of the most-loved RTS titles of all time succeed on the Xbox? Let’s find out by first answering the biggest question you will have.
This is the big one. Can you really play Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition using a controller? Yes, you can! By some miracle, the developers of the game, Forgotten Empires, have managed to make the game playable on a controller. This is possibly the first time I have managed to play an RTS game on a controller without feeling the need to chuck the controller straight through my TV.
What Forgotten Empires did was sheer genius. It completely overhauled the Age of Empires UI. The old toolbar that showed the unit details, the map and the commands is gone. Now commands are contextual and issued via the analogue stick via a selection wheel. Common shortcuts are assigned to the D-Pad. I could spend quite a bit of time explaining the nuances of the controls, but in the interest of time, let’s move on.
The new controls can look very convoluted at first glance, but the controls are easy to get the hang of once you know how everything works. As such, the tutorial campaign of Willam Wallace is now a must. Even if you’ve played the game on the PC before. The addition of the ‘Art of War’ challenges might even help veteran players.
While all this is good, it isn’t without its drawbacks. The controller isn’t as precise as a mouse, so picking individual units in a group can be difficult. The cursor also snaps to the nearest unit, which sounds helpful, but when in a crowd, it can get frustrating to choose particular units. This can be turned off in Settings, but it is still quite annoying.
Then, someone at Forgotten Empires had the bright idea of mapping the ‘A’ button as the selection and the move command. So every time I select a unit and try to move it close to another unit or a building, I sometimes end up selecting the other unit instead.
Another issue is that you can’t simply click on the map and jump to a location. You’d have the scroll all the way there. This means that it’s very easy to miss events such as sneak attacks when you are in the midst of a battle or attacks on far-off villagers/trade carts.
Not only that but chat, diplomacy and the tech tree are relegated to the main menu. This makes it annoying to send/receive tribute or even access the tech tree to quickie get a glance at your civilization’s strengths and weaknesses.
The graphics of Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edtion are on par with the PC version. If you’ve played the game before, then you would feel right at home. The overall design of the units and buildings remains the same. With the Definitive Edition, everything gets a new lick of paint in the form of higher resolutions and better environmental effects such as fog and water.
The most notable difference in Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition is the addition of better destruction physics. In the original, when you destroyed a building, it would immediately become a pile of rubble. Now, the buildings collapse with the ‘POWER OF PHYSICS!!’ Each brick or structure collapses very realistically. This is best seen on larger structures such as castles or wonders.
The overall gameplay mechanics of Age of Empires remains the same. The rock>scissors>paper>rock system with cavalry>archers>infanry>cavalry. Of course, then there are some units that change things around, but the idea remains the same. If you’ve played Age of Empires before, you would know what the deal is while new plays should get the hang of things quickly.
Of course, this wouldn’t be an Age of Empires game without lots of civilisations to choose from. The game offers users the choice of European, African, East Asian, South Asian and American civilizations. Each civilization has one or two unique units and technologies as well as unique bonuses. Finding the right civilization that matches your playstyle and the map is the fun part.
We also see the option of auto-scout on the first scout unit players get at the start of the game. While this is a very handy option for new players, the AI isn’t that great when it comes to this feature. I also noted that unit pathfinding in general was problematic with units sometimes taking a long way to reach a location instead of heading directly towards it.
As mentioned above, the controller just isn’t as precise as a mouse. As such, the speed at which you play is slowed down quite considerably. This can be quite an issue when playing on higher difficulty levels or even in multiplayer as micromanaging becomes extremely difficult. And anyone who has played an RTS game knows that micromanaging is key. However, players can connect a mouse and keyboard to their Xbox and use that to play the game. The game will detect the same and change controls to match it. I would say that if you plan to play the game in multiplayer, you should definitely use a keyboard and mouse. This is especially true since the developers note that the game is cross-play compatible with the Xbox PC app and Steam. As if that wasn’t enough, you also have the option of playing co-op campaigns with a friend.
Age of Empires 2: Definitive Editon for Xbox is a great way to play this classic game on your couch. It’s pretty much the same game you know and love and is possibly the best RTS I have played on a console. This mostly boils down to the fact that the controls have been tweaked so well for the console. That being said, it’s still not as good as a keyboard and mouse combo. That being said, if you plan on scratching that nostalgia or RTS itch, then Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition on Xbox is a great option. Especially if you plan on taking the game nice and slow.
However, if you want to play multiplayer or on higher difficulty levels, then the limitations of the controller will become quite evident. For such players, the option to use a keyboard and mouse is quite handy. Overall, it’s the same game you know and love, but on the console.
Rating: 4 / 5
- Well tweaked for the controller
- Tried and tested gameplay
- Lots of civilizations to choose from
- Option to use keyboard and mouse
- Limitations of the controller are evident at times
- Unit pathfinding can be wonky
Developer: Forgotten Empires
Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Platforms: Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One and PC
Reviewed on: Xbox Series X