An enemy appears in my settlement in Age of Empires 2. It's not a foot soldier or a scout, it's a villager who's trying to build near my resources and start mining my plot of gold… The cheek of it! After swiftly getting rid of the invading villager, the enemy team isn't happy and their focus is now fixed on me. Before I know it, soldiers are appearing, and boats are attacking my fishing ports. At this point, I'm still building up my defenses and I'm not in the best position to be taking on enemy forces, but luckily, I'm not playing alone. An ally army comes to my aid controlled by none other than my dad, and together, we make quick work of the opposing team.
Age of Empires 2 was the first strategy I can remember playing as a kid, and with a love of history, it was a great gateway into the genre. I used to play it with my dad and sibling in the early '00s, and some of my fondest childhood memories come from afternoons playing the classic RTS. I would marvel at the small units hacking away at wood, mining for stone, or farming for food. It gave me a sense of satisfaction to see my buildings develop and grow as I advanced through each Age, and while I was still quite young and new to strategy, I can remember feeling so supported by my family. And that's really what I loved most about the experience – the way it brought the little Wald family unit together and encouraged us to work as a team. Fast forward to 2021, and I'm once again rediscovering Age of Empires 2 all over again.
Camaraderie through the ages
My dad has been playing video games since the late '70s, and his love of gaming had a great influence on me when I was young. Over the years, he's introduced me to so many titles and genres, and it's thanks to him that I first dived into real-time strategy experiences like Age of Empires and StarCraft. Like many others over the past year, I haven't been able to spend much time with my family in person. With distance and lockdown between us, my dad and I have been turning to online games to help us stay connected and spend some time together when we otherwise can't. So, when we recently realized that the definitive edition remaster of Age of Empires 2 is on Xbox Game Pass for PC, jumping back in together was a no-brainer.
Even though it's been many years since I returned to the world of Age of Empires 2, playing it feels very much like riding a bike; I can still remember how everything works. If you're not familiar with the game, you choose a civilization that you try to expand and develop throughout the ages, from the Dark Age with huts and wooden buildings, right up until the Imperial Age with advanced stone constructions. In order to advance, you have to meet set requirements such as having a certain amount of resources, or different buildings in your settlement.
While it's dependent on what game mode you choose, as a general rule, you can achieve victory in one of two ways: Either you destroy all of your opponents' constructions and wipe out their settlements, or you build a Wonder – the most advanced and resource-intensive building that you'll gain access to when you reach the final age. If you manage to build a Wonder and ensure it remains standing for 200 years, you'll win.
It took me a little moment to get back into the swing of things, but the minute I clicked on a villager and began building, I was transported right back to my childhood and a feeling of comforting nostalgia washed over me. It felt all the more special since I was revisiting the game with the very same family members I'd played it with way back when. Watching your very own little civilization develop and grow is still just as satisfying as it ever was, and when you're not being attacked or waging war on your enemies, Age of Empires 2 is actually a very relaxing game to play. Since you do spend a lot of time building up your civilization to take on the opposing enemies, there's plenty of downtime to talk to your teammates. In between managing my villager units to gather resources and developing my land, my dad and I would talk about anything and everything just as we would if I was visiting in person.
Returning to the game at an older age has also given me a newfound appreciation for the tactical side of Age of Empires 2. Since I was so young when I originally experienced the RTS, I was more reliant on my family to help me win. I never really got a firm grasp on how to be the most efficient at resource gathering, or work out a solid strategy to take on the enemy. Now that I can hold my own, we've been ramping up the difficulty on the opposing AI teams to give ourselves more of a challenge. It's been really rewarding to recapture the sense of teamwork and camaraderie I remember feeling all those years ago, and now I feel like I'm contributing to our victory.
It didn't take us long to get back into the groove of building up our settlements and rallying our forces together, and with every session, we keep getting better and better. From wiping out the enemy to building a Wonder and protecting it with our collective forces, everything started to flow like a well-oiled machine. We may have initially returned to Age of Empires 2 out of a sense of nostalgia, but it transformed into something much more meaningful. The historical strategy game has become a platform for me to hang out with my family, and it's amazing to think that after all these years, it's still bringing us together.