Age Of Empires 2: Definitive Edition Review - Screenshot 1 of 4

Where do you start with Age of Empires 2? It’s arguably the greatest RTS (and perhaps one of the best games) of all time. When it made its debut back on Microsoft Windows in 1999, it received absolutely huge levels of praise for not only taking the series to the next level, but also bettering the genre in general with its rich gameplay and history. This brings us to Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition – a 2019 Windows remaster of Ensemble Studios’ original classic with improvements to visuals, resolution, sound and UI, and packed with all of the past expansions as well as some new content. Jump to 2023 and it’s now officially made its Xbox debut on Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S and Xbox One as part of Xbox Game Pass.

Until recently, console gamers had been mostly deprived of full-fledged RTS experiences over the years. From time to time there have been some gems like the Halo Wars series, but they’re few and far between. The Definitive Edition of the Age of Empires 2 on Xbox is for the most part the full package. Unlike certain other past real-time strategy games on previous-generation systems, what you’re getting here goes above and beyond to be as accommodating as possible to players with a controller in hand.

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If you’re somehow not familiar with the Age of Empires 2, it’s self-described as one of the most “beloved” strategy games of all time, and if you have been playing it for the past few decades, you'll know it’s not making this up. Your task is to evolve a civilization – covering the Franks, Celts, Vikings and more – and then work your way up from the Dark Age to the Imperial Age to create a powerful empire and crush your opponent. There are multiple ways to achieve this from building an army to focusing on trade, diplomacy, technology or toppling a king. It can be seriously addictive and even somewhat educational, as you lead heroes of the time like Joan of Arc and Genghis Khan into historical battles, and lose many hours engrossed in the skirmish and multiplayer components.

Packed in with all of this history are some sizable campaigns (taking you through each civilization across multiple continents), co-op campaigns and as already mentioned the multiplayer mode – made up of ranked, quick play and custom games, with a number of custom settings to choose from as well as cross-play support. The Definitive Edition further bolsters this, offering “1,000 years of human history”, 35 different civilizations, modern online play and 4K Ultra HD graphics – with fully remastered audio and all the additional graphical settings including toggles for anti-aliasing, map lighting, particle details and many other options.

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You also have access to a small selection of mods such as "no snow" and "small trees", but overall we only got access to a limited number of these at the time of review. And unfortunately, if you loved map making in the earlier versions of AoE 2, we’re sorry to say there is no scenario or campaign editor in the Xbox version – so you won’t be able to craft your own creations, making the PC version the truly ‘definitive edition’ in that regard. Fingers crossed the developers one day find a way to make it work in the console version – or maybe just make it compatible with keyboard and mouse inputs, if controller support is for some reason too complex to incorporate.

On Xbox, players can also look forward to a brand-new control system designed just for console play. The tutorial has also been changed for Xbox. Instead of mouse and keyboard button presses, a lot of unit and building options are contained within circular menus accessed by holding down the right trigger. When you click on a building or unit, you’ll be presented with a series of options – from construction to attack modes. Shortcuts like highlighting units and buildings are assigned to the D-Pad, double pressing the A button will highlight multiple units, and then there’s the ability to highlight units in your immediate vicinity with a circular marquee by holding down the A button, while other buttons give you even more options for each unit along with building tools. You can also press in the right analog stick to access priority presets (assigning units to automatic tasks such as farming and food) and various other handy options to make it easier to command units on console and build your empire.

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If you have been playing Age of Empires 2 for a lifetime, this admittedly isn’t easy to get your head around right away and it might even be overwhelming to some newcomers, but there is a point when it all clicks. And if the new controller option really isn’t doing it for you, there’s always keyboard and mouse support for Xbox – allowing you to swap back to the old ways.

Apart from controller support, the Xbox version comes with various graphical options (like on PC). Load times are also relatively quick in this version and the performance was fine during our own sessions. One other noticeable difference between Xbox and PC. however, is how far you can zoom into a map. On console, it doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as close as in the PC version. It also might be hard for some players to sit on a couch and properly play this game on their large television set if they’re a few metres away from the screen. Up close and personal is still likely to be the best option, so upright at a monitor in a computer chair might be the way to go here, especially if you’re into competitive play – and again you can always plug in a keyboard and mouse. Speaking of accessibility, there are extra options such as UI changes to make health bars easier to read, HUD and text scaling, voice chat to text, and much more to help make this console version as approachable as possible.


Age of Empires 2 might be showing its age a little, even with the Definitive makeover, but it is still – and always will be – a timeless classic in the history book of video games, and remains as addictive as ever. It’s amazing to see Microsoft giving Xbox users some much-needed RTS love and going the extra mile with full controller support, despite the fact a few extra things are missing. This release does seem to be just the start of Microsoft’s plans – with Age of Empires IV up next for Xbox. Here’s to the return of the king!