Age Of Empires II: Return of Rome Honest Review

I’ve been a big fan of these semi-yearly expansions that we have been getting for Age Of Empires II: Definitive Edition – offering sub 20$ price and usually around ~30h of campaign maps to enjoy and Return Of Rome isn’t deviating too much from that format, except this is indeed quite a special DLC expansion for AoE2 given the fact that it’s based on a mod that imported AoE1 civilizations to AoE2 engine essentially.

Now I remember playing the original Age of Empires on PC as a kid, but revisiting it on the AoE1: Definitive Edition clearly showed how the AI and other aspects didn’t age well. I didn’t like the campaigns because they didn’t really have narration or multi-option maps that were fun, also animations weren’t as clean as they were in Age of Empires II. So if you aren’t a fan of the original Age Of Empires game you aren’t necessarily going to be a big fan of Return Of Rome Expansion, which so far has gotten quite mixed results.

Separate Civilizations & Campaign

So you get to play as all the original civilizations from the original AoE1 game, but these cannot play against AoE2 civilizations meaning they are separate experiences altogether. This kinda defeats the purpose of having new factions to play with on the main game and kinda serves as shoot alternative way to play AoE1 the issue obviously here is that it’s splitting the queue times and fractioning the community.

If we are looking at this purely from a Singleplayer Campaign experience it isn’t too bad. Then again it would’ve been fun to have both units from each game to play around with in the campaign, but that’s just not possible and many features are indeed missing that I loved about AoE2. It seems to me that even though the game has been built on top of AoE2’s engine the game feels like it’s using the AI from the first game, which is a big negative for me. Here is a quote from one Steam review:

The worst aspect of the AI is that its hard to tell what is due to the AoE1 implementation and what was already there seeing as the recent patches for the main game have also made the pathfinding/AI significantly worse, with many players frustrated with basic movement commands bugging out that have worked fine for the bulk of AoE2DE’s existence.

While I’ve been enjoying the campaigns, there is a kinda odd feel to this expansion because it just feels like a mod more than an official release, I can’t put my finger on it, maybe it’s the icons or the model’s something that feels slightly off or different. There were also a lot of outcries that the original campaigns from AoE1 weren’t added, I believe the reason for that was to drive sales for the Definitive edition version, or… it was too big of a task to do perhaps (I’m not sure myself) but as I stated earlier the campaigns of the first game weren’t amazing and I also hold that opinion for Age Of Empires IV campaigns too.

There are 3 campaigns that are introduced in this expansion which are as follows;

Sargon of Akkad — In the ancient city-states of Mesopotamia, an unexpected figure emerges as a powerful leader. Sargon, a humble cupbearer to the king, finds his life transformed when he begins receiving prophetic dreams featuring the war goddess Ishtar. Guided by her divine influence, Sargon unites the warring Sumerians, ushering them into a remarkable era of change. However, the seductive allure of authority presents a dilemma, as Sargon must ultimately decide between fulfilling his sacred destiny or succumbing to personal ambition. Embark on this captivating campaign and assume the role of the Sumerians, navigating their path through history.

Pyrrhus of Epirus — During the tumultuous Wars of the Diadochi, a period marked by the Greek world’s descent into chaos following the demise of Alexander the Great, Pyrrhus of Epirus emerges as a seemingly insignificant figure amidst the powerful contenders. The question arises: will he rise to the level of acclaim bestowed upon him by the esteemed Hannibal Barca, a renowned general of the era? Or will Pyrrhus’ relentless uphill battle ultimately prove insurmountable? Step into the shoes of the Macedonians in this captivating campaign and witness the unfolding of Pyrrhus’ journey.

Trajan — In the era of Emperor Domitian’s tyrannical rule, Marcus Ulpius Trajanus steadily ascended the ranks of the legions, witnessing the tarnishing of the Roman Empire’s once-glorious reputation. However, fate intervenes, thrusting him onto the throne as Emperor Trajan, with a realm teetering on the edge of catastrophe. Can his resourcefulness, virtuous character, and military prowess salvage Rome and guide it toward its peak of historical splendor? Or will the empire succumb prematurely, collapsing four centuries ahead of its time? Embark on this campaign, assuming the role of the Romans, and determine the fate of an empire at the crossroads.

On a personal level, I would say the Sargon Of Akkad campaign is probably the more interesting one out of the three and perhaps Pyrrhus is also being weakest link especially the first map which I would not recommend starting with when jumping into the Campaigns.

Not everything looked good as I remembered

Playing this expansion was also refreshing since I remembered how dumb some of the buildings did look like in the first game separating town hall from the rest of the buildings wasn’t clear cut as in AoE2 like it being the same size as the military buildings was a bamboozle of its own. Another thing I got a refreshment of was the audio clips of the units, which was not something I was very fond of and I feel like they could have maybe tried to use AoE2 sounds here honestly, but that wouldn’t be super realistic in all cases.

The music though was all good and I don’t have much complaining about that to be made. Then there is this factor of the UI, which just looks quite odd with its icons like they don’t fit the rest of the art design in my opinion with the general AoE2 User interface. Maybe they could have used the building icons from AoE2 instead of trying to bridge over absolutely everything from AoE1 instead.

The Final Word

The community is lowkey pissed and there doesn’t seem to be a major consensus of people loving or hating this DLC. But in my honest opinion, this is the weakest one so far, African Kingdom and Rise of the Rajas for example were great DLCs with cool campaigns, but I just didn’t enjoy this design choice, and that ultimately swifts my opinion for the negative.

It also doesn’t help that people were thinking they would the OG campaigns from AoE1 so the sentiment is somewhat earned. I do hope that there would be at least one future DLC in store for us AoE2, which wouldn’t be anything like this forever because i simply don’t think this is the right approach to go with. It’s still a really good bang for the buck though all things considered, especially for people like me who pre-ordered this.