One summer holiday in my pre-teen days, I was spending the weekend at a friend’s house when his dad surprised him with a new PC game. With my friend being a keen history buff, his dad bought him Age of Empires II to educate and entertain. Now, neither of us had played an RTS in any capacity at this point, but we were keen to give it a try.
Although, we didn’t exactly play it the intended way.
We were far more interested in seeing our villages and towns evolve over the course of the day, whilst we went outside and played in the sunshine. Arguably, we played it more like a city-sim rather than an RTS, but it was tremendous fun regardless.
Being unable to run any sort of games on my PC, I consigned myself to only ever playing Age of Empires II when at my friend’s house.
That was until a couple of years later when perusing the second-hand games at my local Gamestation when I happened upon a copy of Age of Empires II. This one I could definitely play however, as it was for the PlayStation 2.
That’s right, in Europe and Asia at least, Age of Empires II got a console release, and it was published by Konami. Weirdly though, it was only for the PlayStation 2, and this was at the time when the first Xbox was releasing across the world. The main menu is plastered with Microsoft and Ensemble Studios logos and yet, it is on the PlayStation 2.
Needless to say, I picked up the copy and rushed straight home.
The PS2 version of Age of Empires II did support other peripherals such as a mouse and keyboard, but at this stage of my gaming career – and probably an amount of naivety – I played it with the DualShock 2 controller. And you know what, it wasn’t half bad. And that’s why with the upcoming release of Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition on consoles, the prospect of playing it all again with a controller is something I am looking forward to.
The PS2 version didn’t skimp on content either. It was the full game, right from the William Wallace training campaign through to Joan of Arc, Barbarossa and Saladin. Sadly, The Conquerors expansion was not included, but truth be told, it is a wonder it ever worked on there in the first place.
As well as the campaigns, you could set up LAN matches of all shapes and sizes. It really was the complete Age of Empires II on consoles.
Ok, so it wasn’t perfect, and nothing can match a keyboard and mouse combo like the Razer Turret for Xbox for an RTS game. But I am confident the PS2 version walked so the Xbox version could run. And we have seen recently that games traditionally designed for keyboard and mouse can make a successful jump over. Cities: Skyline, Port Royale and the upcoming Anno 1800 have all proven that it can be done without skimping on the quality.
Of course, some improvements will need to be made over the PS2 version. You controlled a cursor with the left thumb stick, but there was no input for the right one. That meant, to move the map around, you had to push the cursor to the edge and do it that way or hold the square button down whilst moving the cursor. There was a mini-map you could click on, but with a fog of war for many game modes, this was pretty redundant until you found something.
Then we get to the actual size of the action on-screen. Firstly, there was no zoom in or out, and I would wager around 50% of the real estate on-screen was taken up by the resource indicator at the top and the status area underneath. This left a little slither in the middle of the actual ‘game’. It wasn’t ideal, but it was still playable.
And that is why playing the upcoming Age of Empires II Definitive Edition with a controller doesn’t faze me in the slightest. I’ve done it before – albeit not against an online opponent – and that was with an inferior setup. The version for Xbox consoles will undoubtedly have an improved controller input – one that hopefully utilises the second thumbstick – a far better resolution and most importantly, over twenty years of knowledge on how to port an RTS over to consoles. Aside from this and Command & Conquer, I would struggle to name many other RTS games that made it to consoles in the late ‘90s/early ‘00s.
And now we’re getting one of the greatest RTS games of all-time on consoles. Again, but this time significantly improved. The Age of Empires series once again feels like a jewel in the Microsoft roster, but there is a particular reason that the original game has been skipped for consoles and why Age of Empires II has been selected.
But don’t worry if you don’t have a keyboard and mouse to hand – you won’t need them for Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition on Xbox Series X|S. The humble controller will more than do the job you need it to. Whether that be foraging, building, chopping, Wondering, collecting relics or summoning Shelby Cobras to fight for you, a controller will more than do the job.
Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition is coming to Xbox Series X|S and Game Pass (via the Xbox Store) on January 31st 2023.