Age of Empires III
AMD Athlon 64 X2 2.0 GHz
AMD Radeon X1300
Age of Empires III is the latest instalment in the wildly popular RTS series, portraying the period of European colonisation of the Americas. Age of Empires III is polished and refined, Ensemble Studios creation has a lot to live up to, does it bear the Age of Empires name well?
Age of Empires III innovates a lot into the series and is a huge leap forward from its predecessor. The concept of ‘Home Cities’ plays a big part here, they serve as a permanent location which you level up through both campaign missions and online play, and provide you with resources and other such help during games. You also start each game with an explorer unit, who can scout the map in the early stages of play and find resources and other treasures. This helps to keep the early stage interesting while you are waiting for your villagers to gather resources so you can focus on building units.
Age of Empires, where soldiers are almost as tall as the towers they stand beside.
One major difference to Age of Empires II is that the third instalment sees the action shift time frame to approximately 1492 – 1850. This is a big jump from the massively popular Age of Empires II, which was set in the middle ages. Some players will feel let down that their nostalgia hasn’t been satisfied in this regard. It can feel like the gunpowder and colonisation of this latest instalment don’t live up to the Samurai’s and War Elephants of Age of Empires II. The time period is just not as interesting here, there is a distinct lack of progression through the ages, whereas in Age of Empires II each new age was clear, fresh and brought something new to the table.
The eight civilizations of Age of Empires III consist of Spain, Britain, France, Portugal, the Netherlands, Russia, Germany and the Ottoman Empire. This is less than Age of Empires II, which provided thirteen, but Ensemble Studios have retained the unique feel and distinction given to each civilization. As each one possesses different abilities, this can make for more varied gameplay. Russia, for example, trains units in groups, thus speeding up production and overwhelming other players. Britain is able to build manor houses, which provide a bonus settler on completion, helping out their economy early on. As well as these abilities, civilizations also receive unique units, from the British Longbowman to the French Cuirassier. Each civilization provides its own quirks and a moderate amount of difference, but don’t expect anything too complex and drastic in the variety here.
One of the appeals of Age of Empires II was its focus on history. You could fight actual historical battles and play as historical figures, even the civilizations and tech trees showed that Ensemble Studios know their stuff. Age of Empires III breaks that trend, which is a questionable decision as a large part of Age of Empires II’s popularity was in its historical accuracy. Now, in the third game, you fight mainly fictional battles between the European powers, the campaign is especially silly and grounded in no realism whatsoever. This change doesn’t exactly work to the games advantage; the campaign falls flat and fails to satisfy. This is due to bad voice acting and sub par cut scenes, which detract from the otherwise great presentation. The main campaign is broken up into long chapters, there is at least plenty of content here and the objectives and gameplay is varied enough to keep you interested.
Ah, red vs blue, the age old struggle.
Thankfully the gameplay does retain that classic Age of Empires feel. You build your economy as usual, albeit in a more simplified manner. There are three resources – food, wood and coin. Stone is missing from Age of Empires II and you no longer have to build resource drop off points like lumber mills, you simply assign settlers to gather the resource. Thankfully this streamlining means that later on in the game, you are free to concentrate on battles rather than managing an economy to support your armies. This degree of self supporting automation succeeds in bringing the strategy and battles to the forefront.
These battles are spectacular, it is the same formula – build an economy and army and attack the enemy town, but it is the improvements to the gameplay which make this all the more satisfying. The interface is improved and makes it easier than ever to manage armies and your civilization, the rock paper scissors combat is back here and to great effect. For all the changes in this instalment fans will be pleased to know that the combat is as good as ever.
Vast improvements have been made to the engine and the graphics of Age of Empires III. Buildings hit with cannons now have chunks flying off of them and water animates beautifully as ships sail across. The effects of battle are the best improvements here, cannon and musket fire all animate with smoke and sparks, there is always something flying across the screen. The animations are improved as well, your units will cheer at victory and windmills turn in the wind. There are a large variety in environments as well, from desert islands to tropical beaches and icy tundras, Age of Empires III gets to impress with its wide range of locations.
Defend the boxes of fruit with your lives!
The games musical score is impressive and it is clear that a lot of work went into it, it fits each civilization well and sounds great, complimenting the overall feel of the game. The sound effects match the visual prowess of the action, producing cannon and musket fire which sounds brilliant. The settlers and units still make their trademark RTS grunts upon being ordered to do something, even spoken in their respective languages.
Age of Empires III does things differently from its predecessor, but this ultimately works in its favour. There is a lot of content here in the form of a long campaign and random maps, and the graphical and sound improvements bring the action to life. Age of Empires III is still the series you know and love on the inside, if you can adjust to the new units and setting, the gameplay will be as fun as it always was in Age of Empires II.
- New and fresh: Innovations to the series bring it up to date.
- Refined and polished: Gameplay is refined and the entire package is polished to perfection.
- Looking good: The graphics and sound have received an overhaul, this is a pretty game.
- Love it or hate it campaign: The campaign may not satisfy history buffs, but then again it is long and fun to play.
- Less faction choice: The civilizations feel different and play uniquely, but there are less of them.
- Story woes: Bad voice acting and awkward cutscenes detract from the campaign.