Nostalgic re-release Age Of Empires: Definitive Edition will miss the franchise’s 20th anniversary as its studio opts for an early 2018 release so that the modernisation process may continue with “careful reverence”.
First released in October 1997, Age Of Empires successfully blended historical empire-building with battlefield strategy.
In that respect it merged elements from Civilization and Warcraft, with players taking care of domestic, agricultural and military affairs at the same time.
Revolutionary for its time, Microsoft Studios is clearly cognisant of the fact that memories are selective.
It had been 12 years since Age Of Empires III – a relatively short-lived Age Of Empires Online had shut down in 2014, two years after its introduction – and the franchise’s original studio Ensemble was closed in 2009.
“In a living, thriving genre, norms continually evolve, technology advances, and player expectations change,” read an Oct 13 update on development progress. “The challenge is to recreate the experience not as it actually was but as we all remember it.”
It’s a concession that could be taken as a reference to Age Of Empires II HD, the 2013 re-release that was criticised upon reception for failing to extend its remit beyond an increase in graphical resolution.
“How can we modernise the game while preserving the fun, discovery and magic of that first experience?” the Definitive Edition team asks.
Those privy to an expanded beta test phase will be able to find out, as the DE team plans on “inviting thousands more players from the community into our closed beta between now and launch”.
In this way, developmental focus will be brought to bear upon the “single player campaign, multiplayer balance, fine-tuning the (multiplayer) lobby”, and other matters.
By targeting an early 2018 launch, Age Of Empires: Definitive Edition avoids a collision with the free Fall 2017 update for strategy genre leviathan Civilization VI, and could well find itself rubbing shoulders with Frostpunk and a Pillars Of Eternity II expansion in the eyes of its prospective players.
The first is a snowy town-building and citizen-management game from 11 Bit Studios, a team well respected for the inventive real-time strategy series Anomaly, as well as conflict survival story This War Of Mine.
By contrast, Frostpunk approaches the empire-raising genre from a societal perspective, asking players to factor in the human cost or value of their leadership decisions, inverting standard power-fantasy tropes.
And while Pillars Of Eternity II: Deadfire occupies an entirely different genre as a combat-oriented, narrative-driven role-playing game, as a spiritual successor of the iconic Baldur’s Gate series its roots lie in the same nostalgia-tickling late-1990s period as the Age Of Empires franchise; both are likewise expected early 2018.