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Platform

PC

 

Genre

Real-time Strategy

 

Publisher

Microsoft

 

Developer

Ensemble Studios

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

October 18, 2005

 

 

- Strategic core is different

- Resource gathering streamlined

- Improvements on a proven formula

 

 

- Strategic core is not revolutionary

- Tech tree upgrades not noticeable

- Home city visual upgrades pointless

 

 

Review: Act of War: Direct Action (PC)

Review: Empire Earth II (PC)

Review: Darwinia (PC)

 

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Age of Empires III

Score: 8.0 / 10

 

I was never the hugest Age of Empires II fan, but my sister could play that game until her mouse finger bled. I can understand the appeal as the game was and is a fairly solid representation of what a standard real time strategy game should be without too many real glaring faults. In the same way, I've found Age of Empires III to be the same in terms of my impressions. It has a solid design that will make for enjoyable game play, but at the same time there are no real risks taken. This is in a way an added compliment to the game as there are some new core strategic elements that have been introduced. These elements still do not serve to detract from the game but rather their implementation is fairly seamless and well integrated so as to seem intuitive.

 

age of empires iii          age of empires iii

 

Age of Empires III takes place in the colonial age where European explorers were crossing the ocean to the new world of America. Instead of siege weapon favorites like the trebuchet and battering ram, you have available to you canons and mortars. This gives the game a fresh new flavor and look and is a logical progression to the series.  The core gameplay of Age of Empires III (AOE3) plays like most every other real time strategy game. You have peasants that build buildings and gather resources. Buildings provide access to technology upgrades which increase the efficiency of your peasants and provide upgrades to your combat units. The goal in most game types, including most of the single player campaign is to wipe out the enemy by destroying all of their buildings and units. There is a little bit more to the game of course, but this basic breakdown of gameplay still applies to it. Given the reputation of its predecessor of being a solid RTS game without redefining the genre, I'm not sure why I expected this AOE3 to make the leap to create a genre redefining game, however, I did, and I was a little disappointed that I didnít' get it. On the other hand what is offered is virtually without fault so it must be commended for offering that.

 

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The differences summarized by the press releases as well as advertising for the game are basically the main differences with regard to how the game plays. The biggest new feature to be implemented is the Home City concept. The home city can be visited at any point in the game. When you click on the button that takes you to your home city, you are taken to a screen where you cannot manipulate the populace or buildings. Instead, while there, you can select from a menu of cards available to you to send shipments to 

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your colony in the game world. While playing the game, you will accumulate experience for performing certain actions. Destroying different enemy unit types and buildings each yield a given amount of experience points. Only after accumulating a given amount of experience points will you be able to select a card and send the shipment of your choosing. This experience is continually gained as you play the game or match. The availability of shipments are dependent on your accumulation of experience as you play the game. As such, only after accumulating the required amount of points will you be able to select one card. These points can later be used to upgrade your home city as well as to choose cards to put in your deck while in between matches or games.

 

Your home city continues to accumulate experience for each game you play in each different game type. For instance when playing the offline skirmish mode, your city will gain experience and level-up based on this accumulated experience after each match you play. Leveling up provides access to new cards that you can unlock as well as providing you with a providing you with a point that can be used towards selecting a new card available to you during gameplay. Leveling up can also provide you with the ability to unlock visual upgrades to your home city. In my opinion this is one aspect where the concept of the home city seems somewhat stilted. The visual upgrades serve little purpose as your ability to view your home city is restricted to a picture frame view. You do not have 3D access to view and rotate the view, nor are you able to really manipulate the home city. While strategic elements of the home city are well implemented within the primary game play, it would have been nice to see a greater implementation of the home city in between the game missions or matches. For instance, maybe it would have been nice to initiate technology research at the home city that would take a number of matches to complete but that would be available at the start of matches. Maybe it would also have been nice to manipulate things like taxation at the home city which would in turn affect the resources available at the beginning of matches. This would likely have changed the face of the game somewhat; however the visual upgrade options for the home city only serve to leave the gamer wanting for more.

 

The game actually forces the player to rely quite heavily on their cards and shipments. The technology tree available to the buyer is actually quite difficult to progress in and early in the game, the player with the better deck of cards available to them will have a decided advantage. Resource gathering is fairly slow and you will need a lot of peasants to increase your production rate. This is offset by the fact that spending resources on increasing production rate of your resources through either upgrading your peasant abilities or by increasing the number of peasants can quickly eat up your resources and leave you with few military units to defend your colony, let alone attack your opponent. This is where a fully stacked deck of cards with shipments of fresh troops or available technologies can prove invaluable. By spending your resources wisely with respect to your available deck of cards, you can still maintain a balance of play where you can be successful against your opponent. Also, some of the more powerful units available to you can only be accessed through city shipments. Mercenary units like black riders are incredibly powerful, but depending on your civilization type you won't be able to build them, however you can have them shipped to you from the home city.

 

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One complaint that I do have for the game is that the technology upgrades provide little visual or perceived real impact on the gameplay. By outfitting your units with better weapons or armor, you should have a graphical and perceivable gameplay difference. I found neither when progressing through the technology upgrades. Perhaps this was due to the game difficulty or opponent increasing there technology at the same rate, however, I found the advantages of upgrading combat units and collection rates for peasants somewhat unperceivable. Considering how long these upgrades can take to progress through, I would have expected to have a more noticeable improvement. While progressing through the Ages does provide a graphical change, the units you use still look the same. In addition, the differences between the eight different civilization types is similarly muted. There are many common units between civilizations that are both graphically and functionally the same. While this no doubt serves to maintain a balanced gameplay environment, this leaves the differences in playing a unique civilization underwhelming.

 

Other new additions to the formula are the addition of Hero units. These units can only be incapacitated and not killed. There are also Native American civilizations that you can ally with. These civilizations provide you with unique combat units and can be handy in rounding out your attack. Peasants now do not need to drop off resources. Rather, they simply stay at their collection station and your resources gather without requiring your peasants to drop off what they have gathered. Resources can also be accumulated through trade routes set up through set trading posts. You can also manufacture resources later in the game with the addition of a factory. These tweaks definitely help to balance out the game in the later stages of a match.

 

Age of Empires III has a lot packed into it. There is of course the lengthy single player campaign. There is also an offline skirmish mode, and of course the online mode. The online mode can be played in ranked matches as well unranked games and skirmishes. There is also a scenario editor. This is sure to provide a lot for most gamers to chew on. The graphics and sound are about on par for today's games, and is about the expected progression from the previous entry in the series. AOE3 should be judged on its own merits and with this mind, we have a virtually flawless representation of the genre. However, with the previous entry into the series, this achievement was already realized.

 

With some improvements, and some new ideas, we have a fresh game that feels new, but still accomplishes the same goal of excellence within the predefined genre. I was hoping for a revolution, but instead, I found an excellent evolution. Depending on what you expect, you may or may not be disappointed with what you find. However, there can be no arguments made on whether or not Age of Empires 3 is successful in providing an entertaining real-time strategy experience.

 

- Mark Leung

(November 25, 2005)

 

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