My Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition review warmly applauded the revival of a game I'd been playing for the last 20 years, and since its (second) release, the game has only grown in terms of the player base and overall popularity. Now, about a year and a couple of months after the Definitive Edition's release, the triple-team development squad — including Forgotten Empires, Tantalus Media, and Wicked Witch — have delivered a "Lords of the West" paid expansion pack.
It brings two completely new civilizations complete with new unique units, techs, and architecture, as well as three new campaigns full of content. I've been playing through the campaigns and testing the new civs since the release of the expansion to see how well they fit in with the established meta, as well as whether or not the new content is worth the rather reasonable $10 price tag.
Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition — Lords of the West
Bottom line: If you're a fan of Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition, Lords of the West is a must buy. Whether you get it now and ride out the balance issues or get it later when there's a bit more equilibrium, the $10 asking price is well worth the extra content.
- Three new campaigns with more than 15 hours of content
- Two new civilizations
- New units, techs, and architecture
- Only $10
- All players can still play together
- Balancing issues
- New bugs introduced
Enter Burgundians and Sicilians
What I like about Lords of the West
Expansions, DLCs, or add-ons — whatever you want to call them — will usually either break for the better or for the worse. The tale of The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion's $2.50 DLC horse armor from 2006 still hasn't been forgotten, and since then the practices of plenty of major game publishers have made this grift seem quite minor. It's no surprise that gamers are cautious regarding extra content for games they adore. And in the case of Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition, laying down another $10 on a game that's either included in Xbox Game Pass for PC or $20 on its own might seem like a big ask.
So, what does it have to offer? Adding Lords of the West to your game brings two new civilizations: Burgundians and Sicilians. Each civilization has a collection of unique units, techs, and architectures for certain buildings. It's impressive that the developers were able to cram two more civs into a game already boasting 35 and keep things feeling fresh, though we'll get to some of the balance issues. The competitive meta-game, which influences how most mid- or high-level matches play out, has certainly been shaken up, and will likely remain so even after a wave of balances goes out.
Drilling down into the Burgundians and Sicilians, there are some interesting tidbits to discover. The full extent of their abilities will play out over the next few months as people exploit any strengths and weaknesses, but a few matches, a run through campaign missions, and a look at the tech tree give us early impressions. Burgundians have a strong Stable despite lacking Bloodlines, with tech costing 50% less across the board. And while economical upgrades are available an entire age earlier (Dark Age double-bit axe?), the Cavalier upgrade is also available in the Castle Age. That means you can get the Paladin upgrade for 50% less as soon as you hit Imperial Age.
The Burgundian unique Coustillier unit benefits from cavalry upgrades and has a charged attack that does massive damage before needing a cooldown. I had great success with this unit using it to raid and retreat while the attack charged back up. The speed and strength combine to be quite powerful. Burgundians also have a Flemish Revolution unique tech that turns all villagers into a heavy infantry unit with bonus attack against cavalry. Burgundians can also turn all food into gold one time at a 2:1 ratio, with all farms slowly creating gold thereafter. Relics will generate food and gold as a team bonus. And with a bonus 25% attack for gunpowder units, Burgundians should be quite powerful in the Imperial Age.
Sicilians are a civ with a focus on infantry, though they also have a solid Archery Range and full Blacksmith upgrades save Ring Archer Armor. The combination of Town Centers and Castles being built 100% faster and farms putting out 100% more food before expiring for each farm upgrade means a serious economic boom should be a potent strategy. And Sicilians are not defenseless thanks to Serjeant and Donjon uniques. The Serjeant is an infantry unit with good pierce armor, while the Donjon is a mix between tower and Krepost that will fire upon enemies (with more firepower when units are garrisoned inside).
The Donjon can be built starting in the Feudal Age by villagers, and it can produce Serjeants. Once you have a Serjeant (or many), they can go and build their own Donjons, which can in turn build more Serjeants. Castles can also produce Serjeants, but for Feudal Age there should be some interesting rush strategies that come out of these two units working together. I used a pre-expansion Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition Tower Rush strategy guide but replaced towers with Donjons and snowballed my infantry army quickly. Effective though hardly developed. And I didn't even take into account the unique bonus of all land military units receiving 50% less bonus damage.
Once that army has snowballed into a massive force, the unique tech Scutage (once researched) will pay each team member 15 gold per military unit on the field. And if you need a quick defense at home while you're booming, the unique tech First Crusade can be researched to immediately deliver 10 Serjeants to each Town Center you have built (up to five separate Town Centers).
For anyone who wants to learn the history of these civilizations, the three new campaigns should be what you're after. Each includes multiple missions with voice-acted narration throughout, altogether totaling more than 15 hours of extra gameplay. Age of Empires 2 sparked my interest in history 20 years ago, and it continues to do so today. I don't doubt there are some errors in the storytelling, but playing through these missions has me opening new browser tabs and digging to get the full story. Edward Longshanks was nicked by the poisoned blade of an assassin who he managed to fend off and kill? I probably would have never gone down this research avenue if not for Age.
Lords of the West's three new campaigns are no half-hearted effort. Voice acting and careful design fit them in well with the existing content.
Each mission opens with the main objective and multiple side missions that can be completed for extra score (and a better final grade). There are also hints to help you with an easier win, and there is a scouting report that lets you know a bit of what to expect. Missions generally have multiple ways you can go about them, whether you're defending, attacking, or sitting somewhere in between. The side missions will often make wrapping up the main mission easier, but you can simply focus on one objective.
Map design is fantastic, and one of my favorites came early in the Longshanks campaign where I was tasked with defending the port city of Tripoli from water and land attacks during the Eastern Crusade. Not all missions will have you establishing a base and building up strength, and for the most part, the gameplay remains fresh across missions. The addition of heroes that can be leveled up adds another layer to your strategy, and it also means you're not just going to keep them hidden away somewhere safe.
If you're a fan of the series and love playing through the campaigns, you're going to get fresh entertainment at less than a dollar per hour. The missions aren't particularly difficult, and anyone familiar with the game should be able to power through on the Hard setting. There are some further caveats that might make you hold off on a purchase for now.
Exit balance and meta strategy
What I dislike about Lords of the West
A game with as many moving parts as Age of Empires 2 is going to have its balance and strategy mixed up to some extent when new players and units are added. If you don't play competitively and instead have fun offline against AI or just in the campaign missions, this expansion is an easy buy right now. But, if you play for rank online, you might want to wait for a rebalance and bug quash before jumping in.
It's great that the devs added some truly intriguing new units and techs, and I doubt they were purposefully made to be overpowered to sell the expansion. Like many times before, the online community will find and exploit certain strategies and their highlighting will get them nerfed. Burgundians are an immediate favorite online, and many people are getting smashed by the unique Coustillier unit and its charged attack. There's also the interesting team bonus from Sicilians that practically makes transport ships impenetrable thanks to +10 armor, setting the balance of something like Team Islands way off.
You might want to wait for a wave of balances if you play competitively online.
Then there are the potentially game-breaking bugs introduced with the patch that coincided with the expansion's release. These are a more serious issue, though they should be easier to take care of. Lithuanian cavalry, which usually gets +1 attack for each Relic held in a Monastery, can now get infinite bonus attack by removing and placing relics back inside Monasteries. Then there's the new wall-gate bug, which pulls down enemy walls just by placing your own gate overtop. This seems to only work on Arena, but it is certainly broken. These bugs are no doubt going to be fixed promptly, but the aforementioned balance changes will take longer.
Should you buy Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition — Lords of the West?
If you don't play the campaigns, dropping $10 might seem a bit steep just for access to two new civilizations. Rest assured, you can still play with people who own the expansion even if you do not. If you are interested in the expansion and solely play competitively, you can either ignore it completely, wait for a patch, or jump in and enjoy the unbalanced mayhem while it lasts.
If you enjoy the campaign missions and also like to play competitively, you can always grab the expansion and enjoy the offline content while you wait for balance changes. That $10 isn't a whole lot if you play through everything the expansion has to offer, and it should help budge the developers on more additional content in the future. Hopefully, the bug patch comes very soon and the balance patch comes not long after to get the competitive scene back on track.
Those who want to check out the game but don't have the hardware to run it, be sure to have a look at our collection of the best laptops for playing Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition.
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