Fixing Age of Empires 2 graphics in Windows 7

Age of Empires 2 is one of my favourite games, especially multi-player. Age of Empires 3 was better in some ways, worse in others; somehow it is not as much fun. One of the problems with version three is that the scenarios are more constrained; and the introduction of home cities and colonies changes the game in a radical and not altogether welcome manner.

The good news is that Age of Empires 2, also known as Age of Kings or with the expansion pack Age of Conquerors, still runs on Windows 7 – impressive for a game that was released ten years ago. The bad news is that the graphics are messed up. Here is how it looks:


It’s playable, but that purple-stained sea and mottled grass is just not how it should be.

Fortunately there is a fix, and you can get Age of Empires 2 looking like this instead:


The fix? Terminate the Explorer process. Here’s what you do:

1. Run Age of Empires 2
2. Press Ctrl-Alt-Delete and click Start Task Manager
3. Click the Processes tab, find explorer.exe, select and click End Process
4. Switch back to Age of Empires 2 with Alt-Tab

Presto! the graphics now work.

Once you are done playing, exit Age of Empires. If Task Manager is no longer running, press Ctrl-Alt-Delete to get it back. Then click Applications, New Task, and type Explorer in the dialog. Click OK and your taskbar and desktop will return.

The only remaining question: why does this work?

Note: kudos to TechSmith Snagit which was able to capture the screens successfully; the first two capture utilities I tried could not do so. I had to set DirectX as the input type and use a timed capture.

10 thoughts on “Fixing Age of Empires 2 graphics in Windows 7”

  1. OMG. Thank you so much i have had this problem for so long and this finally fixed it. It was so simple and quick thanks again.

  2. There is a way to automate this. Therefore, create a batch file (e.g. aoe2.bat) with the following contents (the four commands betweeen the lines):

    taskkill /IM explorer.exe /F
    cd “C:Program Files (x86)Age Of Empires 2age2_x1”
    (Change the path to your AOE2 installation if needed.)

    Then run game using this batch script. It will quit the Explorer, launch AOE2, and re-launch Explorer when AOE2 has quit.

  3. There is an easier fix. Right click the exe file, select properties and chose Compatibility. Check the boxes ‘inactivate visual themes’ and ‘inactivate desktop composition(?)’. Sorry, my Windows has Swedish language settings so I don’t know the exact name of the latter setting in English. I don’t even understand what it means in Swedish, so it’s a bit awkward to translate. 🙂

    If you have the right settings, you will receive a warning upon running the file, that the windows desktop has (temporarily) reverted to the basic color scheme.

    Does anyone know if you can pimp the graphics, especially if there is a fix to play it in widescreen mode?

    1. Great fix, thanks!

      … except I can’t get it to work, I still had to terminate Explorer (Age of Empires The Conquerors).


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