While looking through my Steam library and the Steam store, I noticed Age of Empires which led me to recollect about the time in my youth spent playing Age of Empires II. With a fondness in my heart, I decided to boot up the HD remaster of the old game.
For anyone unfamiliar with Age of Empires (AoE), the franchise is a historically-based rts (real-time strategy) game. The ultimate goal is to build your civilization out of the dark ages and to overtake your enemies. Players can compete online or play through custom scenarios or single-player campaigns that involve thirteen different civilizations such as the Britons and Celts.
I started off by playing through the tutorial Scottish campaign before moving on to the Franks and Joan of Arc. I was actually surprised that the graphics did not bother me at all. Something about the simplistic graphics is still appealing and that does not kill my eyes. Keep in mind that AoEII originally released in 1999. Also, while I do appreciate amazing graphics, graphics have never been the most important element of any game for me. Having said that, I think that the graphics of AoEII are endearing in part because it fits so well with the content of the game. After all, AoEII is not about modern warfare so maybe that plays into why I am accepting of the graphics.
More important than graphics is the fact that the game is still functional, still playable. You can play AoEII casually or more competitively with friends or randoms online. Either way the game still functions as a solid rts should. I consider myself to be a very casual gamer when it comes to strategy games but so far I have found replaying the campaigns to be enjoyable. I even had an itch to play a custom game last night. The most outdated element of the game does seem to be its graphics but again I am not complaining about that.
I find it incredible that a game over fifteen years old is still popular enough today that an expansion was released just this past November. I cannot speak to the quality of The African Kingdoms expansion since I have not played it yet, but its mere existence is telling.
I am unsure if I have adequately answered what makes a game timeless, but I might gain some clarity through an example. I love Tomb Raider. It is one of my favorite franchises and Lara Croft is my girl. However, it would pain me to go back and play the original games. I find it much more enjoyable to replay Tomb Raider from 2013. Sometimes newer is better. Older games often suffer from poor mechanics, graphics, and difficulty of access for both console and PC gamers. But that does not mean they should end up in the trash and forgotten. After all, those games have shaped the industry and built player expectations. Some of those games are timeless and some include timeless characters like Lara. In the case of AoEII, I have to say that the game is timeless so far. Perhaps I will revisit the game in another fifteen years to see if my opinion still stands.
In conclusion, if the game was not functional it would not be popular and no amount of nostalgia would keep the AoE community going as actively as it has. You can even find a few streamers on Twitch.tv playing the Age of Empires franchise, and plenty of let’s play YouTube videos were created in the past month. It is fascinating to me that a franchise which set many standards for rts games is still playable and popular. If that does not equate to “timeless” I am not sure what does.