A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this game.
The historical nature of the campaigns could spark within players an interest in military strategy, geography, or history in general. Information on units, figures, and political issues of the time is provided, but in the manner of narrative rather than as a formal lesson. But note that liberties have been taken in terms of the technologies available to some empires and whether specific armies actually won certain battles.
Play encourages and rewards forward thinking and long-term planning. Multiplayer modes foster teamwork, friendship, and competitive spirit.
Positive Role Models
Historical figures -- such as William Wallace, Atilla, and Nobunaga Odo -- exhibit traits that historians believe they had in real life, including bravery, loyalty, aggression, and zealotry. Most tend towards violence rather than peaceful resolutions, though many have noble motivations, such as freeing their people from oppressive rule.
Civilizations from around the world -- including Ethiopians, Chinese, Persians, Aztecs, and others -- include units with skin tones representative of their countries/regions.
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Ease of Play
Extensive tutorials coach players through all of the game's nuances, and further instructions can be accessed through the menu. Players new to strategy games will face a bit of a learning curve over the first few hours, but the very easy "story" difficulty level helps rookies find success even while making plenty of mistakes.
Violence & Scariness
Battles are viewed from a raised, overhead perspective alongside the sounds of clanging of metal and yelps of pain. Bloodstains appear occasionally in narrative sequences, but not during play.
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Occasional mild profanity is heard in spoken dialogue, including the word "bastard."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition is a downloadable real-time strategy game focused on famous historical military campaigns for Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, and Windows PCs. Players take command of various armies within dozens of empires, ranging from the Vikings and Incas to the Turks and Vietnamese. Along the way, kids will likely learn a little bit about famous figures within these civilizations -- such as Joan of Arc, Saladin, and Montezuma -- as well as their politics and military tactics, which could spark an interest in learning more outside the game. The action is focused largely on combat, but battles are viewed from a raised perspective and feature no blood or gore, just clanging metal and yelps of pain. Units simply disappear from the map once defeated. This version of the game was designed for gamepads (rather than keyboards and mice), which should make it easier to learn for players new to the genre. Plenty of tutorials cover all key control elements, and multiple difficulty levels allow players to set their own challenge.
Is It Any Good?
Anyone skeptical of the idea that real-time strategy games can be fun on consoles needs to give this one a try. The Xbox release of Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition is designed to create an intuitive gamepad experience, and while it still has a bit of a learning curve, the results are terrific. Players are provided a variety of simple tap or tap-and-hold shortcuts for things like selecting all military units or units of a specific type, and army AI is smart enough to do things like attack enemies in range while traveling rather than simply ignore them. Radial menus, meanwhile, make it easy to see what options are available for units and buildings, then quickly select them. And the stress of village management is eased by behavior presets that allow players to speedily set priorities for villagers harvesting resources. Indeed, this may be the best gamepad control scheme yet devised for a real-time strategy game.
As for the game itself, it continues to age extremely well. The tried-and-true military tactics remain both logical and challenging, with campaign missions designed to force players to experiment with and take advantage of specific types of units in order to succeed, cleverly mimicking how military commanders through the ages needed to gradually adapt as technology evolved. And with most campaigns composed of just a handful of missions, it's almost impossible to get bored before it's time to move on to a new civilization with its own set of unique cultural bonuses, technologies, and units to learn and master. The developers occasionally play a little fast and loose with history, favoring fun over factual accuracy, but that's forgivable in a game designed first and foremost to entertain. Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition for Xbox consoles is about as much fun as you can have playing real-time strategy from the comfort of your couch.
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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.