Let’s all take a moment to lớn appreciate the existence of Rise of the Rajas. That Microsoft would still be releasing official expansion packs for a 17-year-old game with a passionate but relatively small fanbase is astonishing. That the juggernaut company would trust Forgotten Empires, a tiny group of AoE2 modders, with this responsibility is incredible. And the fact that Forgotten Empires is managing khổng lồ produce really good nội dung every single year, without any of the new expansions feeling like tacked-on excuses to grab cash…well, that might just be the most welcome surprise of all.

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Rise of the Rajas is the fourth official expansion for Age of Empires II & the third created for the HD Edition that was released in 2013 (you’ll need a Steam tài khoản lớn play, though that’s likely not an issue for most of our readers.) It adds four civilizations, each with a new chiến dịch, along with a host of technical improvements, new environmental textures, new maps, and more.

Although it’s a relatively minor portion of the many additions the expansion comes with, I’d lượt thích to lớn start by lauding those technical improvements. I lượt thích the HD Edition of the game and it remains my favorite way khổng lồ play, but I can’t deny that, especially at launch, it’s had more than its fair cốt truyện of bugs và technical issues. Patch 5.0, released in tandem with Rise of the Rajas và available to anyone who owns even the base game, finally fixes the vast majority of these issues. No longer is multiplayer a roulette game of “Will it desync?”, và in the week I’ve sầu been playing the expansion I haven’t experienced any lag at all. Even more excitingly, it’s finally possible khổng lồ save and restore multiplayer games, which is great if you’re playing with friends và find yourself called away. While there’s still no LAN (và the developers have sầu made it clear there’s never going to lớn be because of how difficult it is lớn decouple the multiplayer from Steam), I think it’s safe to say that the new multiplayer is improved to lớn the point that you won’t miss it.

Also, this should go without saying at this point, but the game is gorgeous. The use of sprites rather than 3D models has given the art of AoE2 a timeless quality when compared lớn the bricky polygons of something lượt thích Dawn of War, or even Age of Empires III. The HD Edition made these sprites much more richly detailed than their original counterparts, và with Forgotten Empires’ track record with the last two expansions it’s no surprise that the new textures và building sprites added in Rise of the Rajas are an absolute feast for the eyes.


But enough about the presentation. RTS expansion packs are made or broken on one thing: the new civilizations. Rise of the Rajas adds four: the Khmer, the Malay, the Vietnamese, and the Burmese. At first glance, I thought all of these were going lớn be ridiculously overpowered, and certainly they’ve got some pretty incredible bonuses. The Malay, for example, age up twice as fast, & the Khmer don’t require any prerequisite buildings either to advance khổng lồ the next age or khổng lồ build other buildings. The Malay’s fish traps also never run out of food, giving AoE2 its first permanent food source và allowing them lớn save sầu wood for their mighty navy. What’s more, all of the new civilizations get access to lớn a unit called the Battle Elephant, a ridiculously good unit that’s half as expensive sầu as the Persian War Elephant (whose high price always made it not very competitively viable), but more than half as good, especially with civilization-specific bonuses that make them faster or stronger. The Battle Elephant is a nigh-invincible cavalry unit in large numbers, và it’s definitely going khổng lồ shake up the meta in a big way (that is, if competitive players weren’t all doing Hun mirrors on Arabia in Voobly).

But despite the apparent strengths of these new civs, they really are very competitively balanced. Certainly moreso than the Ethiopians, a civilization introduced in the last expansion that Patch 5.0 also gives a much-needed nerfing. The Malay have a lot of crazy-good bonuses but none of their units are particularly strong on their own, and they can be easily countered in the lategame. The Khmer can be built either inkhổng lồ a rush or turtle up inkhổng lồ a lategame powerhouse but will struggle with pressure during the midgame. The Burmese have a nice variety of useful options (including really good cavalry) but also have the worst archers in the entire game, making their armies easy lớn counter with spearmen. And conversely, the Vietnamese have sầu incredible archers (including the Imperial Skirmisher, sure lớn be a popular tăng cấp to AoE2’s most popular unit) but not much else going for them. I truly don’t think I would Gọi any of these civilizations “OP”, at least not lớn a catastrophic degree, although I could still see the Malay getting nerfed sometime in the future as players learn how to exploit their chất lượng bonuses.

I really enjoy how different all of the new maps và civs make everything feel. Oh, don’t get me wrong – this is still the Age of Empires II you’ve sầu come lớn know và love sầu, but Forgotten Empires has really figured out how lớn inject life into what should be a fairly stagnant game. For example: one of my new favorite maps is Water Nomad, a variation on the classic maps where you start with no buildings but have villagers và fishing boats. Water Nomad is covered almost entirely in the new mangrove sầu shallows texture, a type of terrain that ground units, boats, and buildings can all exist on. This means that a viable (& endlessly entertaining) strategy on Water Nomad is simply to find a good place, turtle up, and sover out waves demolition ships to destroy enemy towns và worker lines. This is especially fun with the Malay và their endlessly-replenishing fish traps.

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Many of the new maps (và I’ve sầu yet to play a new map I didn’t like) feature the mangrove shallows, and it’s surprising how much something so small can change the game so much. That said, I bởi vì have sầu a nitpick: none of the new civilizations are allowed more powerful demolition ships in order to lớn weaken the strategy I just described. That’s all well và good, except that Heavy Demolition Ships already exist in the game. Unless they take them away from everybody toàn thân, it’s still not gonmãng cầu be balanced, & all this does is cripple the new civs on these maps. A minor complaint, và one which may very well be patched out.

Speaking of minor complaints, I am now obligated to tell you about the campaigns. At this point, I’m honestly not sure who these are for – Age of Empires II has never had good or interesting campaigns. The game’s just not built for things lượt thích, say, the excellent chiến dịch of StarCraft II. In AoE2, campaign levels are either gimmicky and annoying (like the beginning of the new Malay chiến dịch, which limits your population và makes you capture enemy towers lớn get more instead of building houses), or just straight games of Age of Empires II. And with the base game only getting better & more interesting, why would I go to the chiến dịch just to lớn play the game with slightly more annoying settings? If I want gimmicks that are actually fun I could play on the new Special Maps, or on MegaRandom, or try winning a game with only Battle Elephants.

Apparently somebody cares about the campaigns, because it seems there was a big push for them to lớn be fully voice acted. Well, you asked for voice acting, và for your sins they gave sầu it khổng lồ you, because it sucks. Lines spoken in the campaigns aren’t too bad (the “My lord! An enemy is at the gates!” sort of thing), but the narration at the beginning and over of each màn chơi is atrocious – whoever’s reading for the Khmer campaign genuinely sounds like a text-to-speech program, so emotionless is the delivery.

Beyond that, there’s not much interesting to lớn say. The four new campaigns play out almost exactly like the last twenty. So if you’re one of the people who finds enjoyment in them, you’ll probably like these, and if you’re not, it’s an inoffensive addition khổng lồ an otherwise excellent package.

I’m giving Rise of the Rajas a perfect score not because it’s a perfect game, but because it does what it sets out lớn vì perfectly. If you haven’t gotten inkhổng lồ Age of Empires II in the last 17 years, I doubt this will be what changes your mind. But if you’re a bạn lượt thích me, then Rajas is exactly what you want, no matter how you play the game. If you like to be competitive sầu, Rajas is far more balanced at launch than the previous expansion, & features civilizations that are sure khổng lồ expand the meta in new & interesting ways. If you, lượt thích me, prefer to lớn play with some of the more weird and exciting settings và are looking for new things lớn try, the new maps và game modes are sure to lớn please. Multiplayer fans finally have a stable way to play, và singleplayer fans have sầu both an improved AI và four new campaigns lớn try.

Rise of the Rajas is everything an expansion should be. In an age of ridiculous microtransactions và overpriced DLC, it’s surprising that Microsoft, of all companies, could get it so right.

Final Verdict: 5/5


Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Microsoft Studios; Developer: SkyBox Labs, Forgotten Empires; Players: 1-8; Released: December 19, năm nhâm thìn ; MSRP: $9.99

Full disclosure: This nhận xét is based on a copy of Age of Empires II: Rise of the Rajas purchased by the reviewer.