Units are Difficult to Distinguish

Mentioned in pieces of other posts, but figured I’d consolidate.

I am simply not a fan of the new graphics. They make differentiating between units at a glance nearly impossible. The excess detail distracts from the mechanics of the game, forcing me to spend a lot more energy discerning unit attributes when I could be allocating those mental resources to my strategy and execution. The result is that I leave each game feeling frustrated and lacking a desire to play more (usually heading back to User Patch where it feels like home).

I 100% understand that you’re not going to bring new players to the game by rolling out visuals from 1999, so it’s fine that the game has new sprites and graphics available to players who might enjoy them, but I’d greatly appreciate the option not to partake in that change. I’d rather have the look and feel of the game I’ve been playing for the past 20 years. The same holds true for the sound effects.

Is there any chance you can give us a “classic” option?


While a classic option would be cool (though quite unnecessary since we have the HD Edition for just that) I really don’t get the problem with differentiating between units. Can I ask how long have you played DE for? Because sure, on your first try it will be hard to spot the differences as fast as you could in the original game but just with spending a bit more time with the game it will become second nature again.

Make sure to disable or tone down some of the special effects (mainly animate fog, bloom and depth of field) though to improve the game’s general readability because the default settings are pretty darn terrible.


Hi guys,

@Sance231 I was part of the original beta for DE back in June/July. I’ve logged about 40 hours of gameplay between the betas and the official launch. While my mind has adapted to an extent, the new graphics remain an element that adds strain and unhappiness to my experience with the game.

As for your suggestion that I simply play HD, that won’t work for me. I play the game at a fairly high level, so I’m kind of stuck playing wherever the competitive scene is (which was never HD; it’s always been Voobly). At the moment, the competitive scene is on DE because the top players have been enticed by lucrative Microsoft-sponsored tournaments and increased stream viewership opportunities. Given my discussions with multiple top 50 players, many would welcome the old graphics. Several of them, myself included, have simply curtailed our playing because DE isn’t much fun, and our thoughts on the new graphics are a part of that.

Of all the improvements long-time players have hoped for over the years, enhanced graphics was never one of them. The new visuals are simply a means to get new players through the door. An option for players who don’t want those distractions would be most welcome, and if offered, I’d be willing to wager that a majority of the top 50 would switch over to them.

I don’t really see what the drawback to offering a classic graphics option would be. The sprites already exist, so I can’t imagine it’d be a massive change. I’ve inquired on the mod forums if this is something feasable for the community (rather than the developers) to accomplish, and was told that modders are presently not allowed to make changes to the unit visuals. Is that true? Can you shed some light on the reasoning behind this?


@csaArmistead Usually the reasons behind that are the less pro player friendly ones I’d assume: basically the same “marketing” reasons that come up with most competitive games.

Naturally pro players are “kept around” by companies because they have promotional value through tournaments, streams and whatnot. In those it’s important for the publisher for the game to be represented in the way they want it to be represented. As you’ve said graphics are an important factor in getting people interested in buying a game so the game should look the best it can in tournaments and on streams = pro players can’t “dumb down” the looks for the sake of functionality.

Personally I don’t think there’s much problem with that since a middle ground is usually achievable and well: of course there are reasons why getting back the classic look would be hard on the development side. We don’t know how much the engine was altered and the Genie engine was always affected by the resolution of the assets so some serious scaling work would certainly have to be done (and as a result the original assets may look terrible in this modified engine). On top of that the gameplay was changed for the DE so some units don’t even exist in the old game, for example the kipchaks or the steppe lancers, some wonders etc…

The way I see it if there are visibility issues then those should be addressed by the developers but bringing back the original graphics is a legacy feature that frankly not that many people are interested in since the original game exists and it’s still very playable either through the HD Edition or the Userpatch. I know that high level players usually have this tendency of wanting to dictate how things should be but overall it’s the casual / avarage players who decide if a game is successful or not = they are simply more important than the pro scene in this regard.

Like you know, even though the competitive scene quit HD Edition that game still constantly brought in 3 times the player numbers of what you see on Voobly so this may sound harsh but overall the numbers decide what is preferable for the larger community.


I also do get your point csa, however, I dont really see the urgency either. I expect most people being happy with the graphics (Viper e.g., as a pro, said he likes them, on the other hand, most casual playing friends I have really prefer the new version as well). There are several issues with just implementing the old graphics like units which did not exist before as Sance said or Enginge issues (Viper constantly complains that while buildings collapse, you cannot build a new building there while being able to walk over it. This is obviously a hint of changed Engine issues afaik, since it was possible in HD/voobly).

So… It would probably need a LOT of time. Developing time, for which I (and I expect most people to agree here) would have other preferences like

  • bug fixes (feels like HD at times atm),
  • balancing (best eco, best cost effective cavalry and maybe best cav archer all in 1 civ),
  • matchmaking (yeeeeeeey 40 games so far and arabia… once for me o.O),
  • RAM issues (see other threads for that),
  • campaign issues (too hard? too easy? Shouldnt there be BETTER options to make it either one? See other thread for that) etcc…

I think we know there are more issues, and I am afraid, since it took 'em 2 years to fix AOE1 DE, every developer minute should be invested into things that maintain the community as a whole - and I am not sure how many people really have an issue with (better) graphics…

Hi @csaArmistead, Let’s keep this topic centered around discussion on remaining issues with distinguishing between units. As you know there was discussion during the beta on being able to easily distinguish units from one another. Would you please post specific examples, including screenshots, of units which still are not easily distinguishable? This will be helpful to the developers.

If you would like to offer additional feedback on audio in the game please comment here for feedback on the sound effects. There is discussion for modding the game with original music and sound in this topic as well.

@Sance231 and @eisfuer1euro I couldn’t agree with you more about the type of user driving the community and development. You’re both right, and Sance you bring up a good point about how modding the visuals might be more difficult than it seems and that Microsoft might not want to make a classic mod for fear that streamers would in fact use it. It’s a sad reality for me I guess. At its core, DE is trying to be a step forward for AoE II, but my personal opinion is that it robs the game of many of the qualities that made it so enjoyable for the past 20 years. I’d liken it to being an avid league bowler and being told by the bowling alley, “From now on, we’re only going to do glow-bowling because the kids really like it.” I understand it from a monetary standpoint, it’s just not what I’d hoped would happen. I hate being the guy actively rooting for DE to fail in the eyes of the competitive community, but I guess that’s the situation…

@eisfuer1euro I’d take anything the successful streamers say about DE with a grain of salt. They have a vested interest in the success/popularity of the game, and I’m quite sure they’ve been briefed on what they should and should not criticize - this is why you’ll find them complaining about balance issues and building foundation problems, but they tiptoe around the fact that the game doesn’t feel that good (or they’ll always refer to how it’ll be fine in later releases). Heck, mbl has disconnected in like 30% of his games and he seems to just calmly take it despite the fact that he generally cares about points and has a fiery personality.

@anon63664082 thanks for the response. I’ll compile some this evening and report back.


Honestly give it some time you get used to it. I at first had difficulty telling difference between Cavalier and Paladin now I don’t even need to look twice.


I used to feel the same way but later on i got used to it. But fair enough soon when the modding tools for smx and smp are out we can bring those old graphic looks back through separate mods or a mod pack.

I don’t find the game easy to “read” either. Though I’m sure, this is also due to being able to zoom out so much and preferring a more zoomed out perspective for the overview, but just not having the experience with distinguishing from “on high” in general.
I’d prefer to have an “old version”-mod for each unit line or building, so I can slowly get used to it. But at the moment it feels like I’m playing worse than before in many situations, simply because of the visual overwhelm.
Perhaps I should play a few games, where I restrict myself to low zoom settings to learn to deal with one challenge at a time. Also I found it much more difficult to play with Flux on, than before.

I hope though, that I’ll get used to it all. I don’t think it’s impossible, but it will be awkward for a couple more months/a hundred more games, whatever comes first.

I haven’t been playing this game intensely at any point, but I’ve known those units since I was a kid. Growing up with the old look, having childhood memories of it, makes this especially challenging for many players, I believe.

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Taken from the Tariq ibn Ziyad campaign. Even with the picture zoomed out super far I can still make out the different units in the HD screenshot. The DE version is just a mash of brown, black, and yellow. The differentiation from one unit to the next is minimal, the shading is way too similar, and it takes a ton of focus to know what’s what.

I didn’t grab the screenshots, but archer/xbow are tricky as well, as are a number of other units.


It feels like they removed the percentage of the unit that’s colored?

In HD you can’t really see the weapons and the riders nearly as well. Now we can see them and are wondering who the ■■■■ those people are.
I’m still confused even about the exact fact why I’m so confused. But I am.
Might be due to “shading” as you say, but I don’t know what that means.

It might actually be that the unit shadows have gotten more realistic. I don’t exactly know what my brain does to figure out what a unit in less than 5ms, just that it’s not very happy right now :frowning:


Speak for yourself. In your comparison picture, it’s much harder to differentiate between the three types of cavalry in the middle formation in the HD version than in DE.

This is all purely a matter of habit. You are used to the old sprites so you can pick them out more easily, that’s all there’s to it. If the new graphics - the main selling point of DE - bother you, just play HD.


I’ve already explained above why HD isn’t an option for me.

Besides, I’m not petitioning the developers to take away your precious graphics; I’m asking for the option to not have to endure them myself without having to abandon the competitive scene by switching to HD.

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@csaArmistead From your screenshots and the way you describe it (a mash of colours) guess it may be that what’s confusing you is the general lack of strong contrasts in the DE. Guess all of that could be helped by simply bumping up the contrast so that everything would just jump out more but currently the game has no color options to do that.

The Freestyle feature of Geforce Experience (a filtering app that lets you change the colours among other things) is also not supported for the game yet which is sad because if it was then I guess we could quickly find out what’s bothering you exactly. With that said I don’t think you want the old graphics back but rather the old contrast level.

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Not sure how you cannot identify units, since that this is not the case for me at all. The new graphics make everything crystal clear. Sounds like nostalgia issue tbh

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Thanks Sance. I do like the old graphics, but I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with the contrast part. I’m sure that’s a big component of my frustration. If they can spend time on bloom, hopefully they can put some thought into unit contrast as well.

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I also prefer the old graphics. There is something about the limited 256color pallette and the pixelated look makes them stand out more. The new graphics are more “round” and “smooth”, also DE has these soft gradient shadows. It’s full of smoke and particle efx, useless bushes ect. In DE on the best graphical settings it still feels like there is still a fog layer present across the whole map. This can easily be spotted from the 2 example pictures above, HD terrains ect feel very ‘in your face’ while DE feels rather unclear in comparison. In HD the map is more evenly lit, in DE there are harsh bright spots on the bottom right side of hills. This is particulary annoying and tough on the eyes on desert maps.

People that say ‘you have to get used to it’, offcourse the brain can adapt. What do you expect? But does that make the new graphics equal or easier to spot?

And it’s not just visibility, many old units look a lot cooler eg; the conquistador. Many buildings I now consider ‘faded’ and lacking in the depth and variety of colors they had before. (Try comparing castles, look at the color of the horses in stables ect). Now often I find a whole building set to be rather ‘red’ or ‘grey’ tinted across the whole town.

I remain of the opinion that preserving the old look should have been part of the DE process.
Definitive Edition implies ‘last edition’, it feels like a slap in the face that they permanently removed what has made the game great for 20 years.

You people are so ungrateful, it’s pathetic to see. They have worked their ■■■ off for new AI, updated 2019 and amazing looking 2D graphics, personality and you are all stuck in the 90s. If you don’t like DE, go play the previous versions. DE is a remake, HD is a remaster. You got what you are whining for. People like Viper and several other top players in competitive who micromanage more than you combined have praised DE graphics despite the performance issues. If they can identify units while manage everything, you can to. You just don’t want to.


U wot m8? A lot of that and/or similar stuff and/or even better stuff already existed before AoE2 got rebranded into re-release and then a re-re-release. Noone is ungrateful and noone asked for the game either. People wanted MS to finally make AoE4.