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Mark Marrow
14 Nov, 2005

Age of Empires III Review

PC Review | It’s finally here, but not without mixed results.
Believe it or not, but it has been six years since Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings had made its groundbreaking influence onto the RTS genre. In many respects, the game didn’t particularly present anything new to the genre, however, the innovation presented and the style it poised assured for one of the most defining moments in RTS history. In what seems to be an iconic RTS franchise now, Ensemble Studios has carried off the success of it’s previous titles and began work on the third entry into the now notorious franchise. Now gone are the medieval themes, being substituted with a land full of vibrant environments, and an all new world focusing on wartime during the colonial era. Age of Empires III maintains many gameplay aspects that made the previous titles so enjoyable, while presenting it’s own improvements, but not without a cost.

In some regards, gamers may be upset to hear that the series has progressed too far ahead of its time, kissing goodbye to the catapults and castles, and saying hello to cannons and trains. Set in the 15th century up until the Industrial Revolution, the third title in the series sees gamers fighting to gain supremacy of the New World (North & South America) with any of the European empires (Russians, French, Germans, Portuguese, Ottomans, English, Dutch and Spanish). Like the typical Age of Empires sequence, gamers will progress through the five different ages, while collecting resources to power your overwhelming forces.

The third entry offers an extremely lengthy single-player campaign in which gamers will follow a long interconnected story where gamers try to gain conquest of the New World. Each level presents an intriguing take on the RTS genre having gamers winning on various conditions – destroy all enemy forces, capture a certain amount of items, or even by impressing an allied force with your skills. The game also includes a fully customisable skirmish mode, where gamers can choose from a long range of settings against computer opponents; and there’s the ability to play online, where you can compete against similarly ranked players and interact with others via the incredibly seamless interface of the ESOnline service. To say the least, Age of Empires III offers one heck of a beefy experience, jammed packed with a lot of features that’ll keep fans at ease.

Straight off the bat, Age of Empires III plays a lot like Age of Empires II. Similar gameplay mechanics are retained, while also presenting some fascinating new features that broadens the game’s appeal. Gamers will need to build their colony by issuing out orders to workers to gather resources: food, wood and gold. Stone is no longer a factor in the game, as is building resource building for workers to drop off their supplies. This time round, gamers needn't worry about spending precious time having their workers travelling back to drop off resources. The same fundamentals of development are retained; a marketplace for economic upgrades, mills and plantations can be built for resource gathering, as well as barracks and stables that create infantry and cavalry units, respectively. Houses need to be built to house the every growing population of your army. In theory, Age of Empires III never breaks too far away from the fundamentals of the Age of Empires series, making sure that previous fans can adjust to the new world with little or no trouble at all.

Just a day in the life of some western folks.

Just a day in the life of some western folks.
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Some of the game’s new features not only expands on the strategy side of the game, but also irons a few issues found in the previous titles. One of the most significant changes is the concept of ‘home cities’. Essentially, every civilisation has its own home city, represented by the nation’s capital city held in Europe. The idea is that gamers will be able to issue orders out of their home cities allowing for reinforcements, resources or even technological upgrades to be called down, depending on how well you’re doing over on the battlefield. Gamers will be able to build their own customisable home city by producing new upgrades and buildings depending on their success throughout the game. No longer is Age of Empires III focused on the RTS elements of gameplay, but now begins to feel much like a RPG title as gamers will be able to build their main city as they desire, and even gain experience points depending on how much of the land they discover, your progression through ages and the amount of enemies you destroy. You can unlock new cards every time your home city gains an experience level, more-powerful cards will be unlocked as you progress. Certain cards have prerequisites, making the system similar to your normal RPG skill trees. These cards are what gamers can call-down during battle from their main city, with 20 cards being the limit for each battle.

Each empire has different cards available to them, and gamers can choose the appropriate deck for each battle depending on the surround environment or your playing style. Unfortunately, the one major side effect of this feature is that when you select an empire for your skirmish matches it can only be used as either a death match or supremacy empire. Therefore forcing you to make two separate main towns: one being for supremacy and the other for death match. This isn’t particularly a bad thing; it does however ruin the motivational factor of experimenting with other forces or matches since you’d rather reach the highest level for your colony then wasting precious experience points into another. And these same issues come into effect online, which can often become a disadvantage.

In addition, Age of Empires III makes several other less drastic changes to the game’s gameplay. For instance, each battle begins with gamers having an explorer, who is an unkillable unit whom is used to reveal the fog of war, earning you experience points early on. There is now the ability to overrun bandit camps, making them one of your own allowing you to build native units. A lot of the maps in the game also feature trade routes. If you build a trading post in these locations you’ll be part of the trade route and will receive resources every time the trading cart goes past your trading post. These are usually essential locations that can be acquired by your explorer early on, and can often be helpful in receiving resources in the later moments of matches.

Duck Hunt?

Duck Hunt?
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Naturally, the game can’t be without it’s problems, and there are quite a few of them. No longer are there various methods of winning matches, but rather Age of Empires III only has a conquest option, meaning that the game isn’t over until all enemy units are destroyed. No longer can you win by building a world wonder first, or other deciding factors. This can become a huge problem, since most games can often drag on for hours depending on your level of skill. If you aren’t particularly good at RTS titles this may become a problem as you and your enemy may be at a stalemate for ages, and the only way to win is to continue pulling resources and flooding the enemy’s territory. This can often become a problem during online matches also. Gamers who are clearly losing can hide their units making matches drag on, or even leave unexpectedly during matches.

Another blistering issue is the game’s AI. The computer players are extremely brain-dead; making winning large skirmish matches an issue in completing. Say for instance it’s a 4vs4 match. Your army is ready to strike an opponent’s base, but considering that your allies do little to help you in the cause you usually are left to die and feeling that you just wasted all your resources. In my experiences, your allied computers very rarely make their own attacks on opposing bases, which became an issue more often than not. And this is an unfortunately area of Age of Empires III. The game feels much suited for a multiplayer focused title, since the AI in the campaign and skirmish matches can often make the game too easy or far too hard to proceed.

Age of Empires III did very little to fix some of it’s smaller problems as well. When wielding larger armies it can become an issue to operate them efficiently. For instances, if your selected units consists of cannons, cavalry and infantry, then the entire force we move at an incredibly slow pace to suit your infantry’s pace. This can become an issue when your base is under attack and you want to send your troops back to assist. Even during the heat of battle, when the enemy is right in front of you, your troops still maintain their slow speeds until they are touching the enemy, completely ignoring any advantages of having mounted units.

Everyone’s given their last prayer before they venture off into battle.

Everyone’s given their last prayer before they venture off into battle.
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While the game struts it’s visual flair throughout the game, this all comes at a cost. The game tends to always suffer from a framerate issue no matter how good your computer is. For the most part though, Age of Empires III is a brilliantly looking title, and shows off some fantastic visual effects. For instances, your cannons will blast buildings, leaving chunks of debris falling off the buildings. It’s fantastic to watch and it certainly adds to the atmosphere and intensity of it all. Smaller details such as the game’s water swaying your ships around. It would be unfair of us to not commend the efforts from Ensemble Studios and the detail put into the game’s visuals.

The music in the game does a good job at creating a certain sense of tension during battles, which recreates the perfect atmosphere for the game. Battles are dramatic and are continuously intense, partly thanks to the decent sound effects. However, the game’s sound can become an issue since there’s this incredibly frustrating ‘ding’ noise every time any of your units are under attack. Sure, it creates awareness, but it's gut wrenching to hear during battles.

Age of Empires II was one of my most played games back in the day, and held top place as my favourite RTS title for ages. However, Age of Empires III doesn’t quite fill those shoes. Age of Empires II's success was mainly due to the RTS genre’s lack of competitiveness, but now with fantastic RTS games popping up all the time, a lot of what is presented in Age of Empires III is outdated and doesn’t fair too well against others in the market. For what is there though, the game is jammed packed with a mix of emotions. A lot of the new features are spectacular for the series, and really opens up some fascinating new opportunities, but there are still a number of issues that hurt this game greatly. Limitations in gameplay and the computer controlled AI are always deciding factors for any RTS game, and unfortunately, these are the two areas that hurt Age of Empires III from being the best yet. Regardless, the title still holds enough flair that warrants a purchase from any RTS fan looking for a fulfilling experience on and offline, just don’t expect it to be as good as Age of Empires II.
The Score
Six years is a long time for fans to wait, and Age of Empires III doesn’t meet the expectations. The game does a good job at fixing a lot of the previous problems with the Age of Empires formula, but there are still some issues that hurt the game greatly. There’s certainly enough depth to be found for RTS fans, but once again, it falls a tad sort of our expectations. 8
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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3 Comments
8 years ago
Good review. I personally would've given it a lower score, but that's just me.

And I don't know about the graphics, they only look good to me in screenshots, in motion it looks pretty rough imo.

I was hugely disappointed with this game overall. Good review once again, it's not fanboyed or overly-critical, it's just right icon_smile.gif
8 years ago
I was very tempted to give the game a 7.5, but I thought the multiplayer aspects did make the game that much more appealing. But I agree, the game was a major let down after such a long wait.

Just a note though, if I could've, it would be a 7.8 rather than an 8.
8 years ago
Did they fix the models up? In my demo, the native american units were just floating axes and the priest was belly up and looking shocking. Also the demo didn't suffer any framerate drops on my PC and it's nowhere near beefy.

Great review, I was looking forward to this game, but after the demo and witnessing the A.I. I guess I'm sticking with DoW:WA.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  Out Now
European Release Date:
  Out Now
Publisher:
  Microsoft Game Studios
Developer:
  Ensemble Studios

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