Age of Empires III

by MaxPower

Will the Sun ever set on the Age franchise?

The newest instalment of the Age of Empires franchise is pitched as such: Age of Empires III (AoEIII) places players in the time period of roughly 1500–1850, picking up where Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings left off. As players work to establish their empire, they will take on the role of a European power (one of eight) struggling to explore, colonize and conquer North and South America.

Age of Empires III introduces exciting new game play elements, including the all-new Home City and an incredible combat system. Players also will find stunning graphics as a result of a revolutionary graphics engine that pushes the limits of PC graphics technology in an entirely new way.

That is a good summary and in this month’s game review here on R4NT I had the chance to test drive AoEIII as well as interview Ryan from Microsoft, the publisher of the game.

So the pitch here is that you get to play in a different era, with different powers, using different game play elements complimented by different graphics. The game should be different right? Well yes… and no.

Basically, the game play is what you have come to expect from a real-time strategy game. The guts of the game are the same as Age of Empires II which was launched six years ago and that is a bit disappointing, I guess there isn’t really much to improve upon once you got past the first generation of RTS games. One nice touch is that later in the game you can “manufacture” most of your resources so you don’t need to micromanage peasants when you have a big army. For example to can get coin by having a bunch of workers at a plantation which will leave you free to coordinate attacks. Bottom line, however, is that rather than having guys with swords you get guys with muskets. That being said, as much as I like swordsmen, having rows upon rows of British Redcoats (“Ready….. FIRE”) is pretty cool. Plus cannons and big ships, lots and lots of big ships. So the colonial setting and the ability to fight over North and South America makes for interesting situations, but the fact that they just kind of lumped Canada in with the greater U.S. areas like “The Rockies” kind of miffed me.

Anyway, the major new twist in game play here is the development of the “home city”. It makes sense really, you are some general who is off trying to secure new lands for glory and the King and you have a base city back in the old country that is supporting your campaigns. Practically, in the game as you gain experience you collect “cards” which allow you to tell your home city to send you various goods during the battle. Everyone starts off with the same cards (i.e. you can ask for 200 food or 200 gold to be sent) and then after a little wait, the goods arrive at your town hall. As you gain experience and play more games (as well as advance levels in each battle) you can start getting better cards such as sending 6 musketeers or two cannons to your encampment. You need to manage these goods like you manage your town resources. Do you request your 6 musketeers to bulk up an attacking force or use them to protect yourself against a sneak attack by the Dutch? It is a nice addition to the game, but beyond the strategizing required in the first few uses you get to know which cards are better quite quickly. One game play qualm I have is that some units seemed very superior – I was playing the British and if you upgrade their musketeers to the top level and make 20 or 30 of them, they’ll cut through most of what your computer opponents throw at you. That type of balance doesn’t show up as much in online games, but, again, is something that I thought a “3rd generation RTS game” could have fixed.

Other than new game play, the new feature described in the game’s pitch above is “stunning graphics as a result of a revolutionary graphics engine that pushes the limits of PC graphics technology”, which translates into “this game is a monster, speed hogging machine”. Yes, I expect to need a high end gaming computer to play non-laggy FPS online, but a RTS game? I expected to need something less than the absolute minimum requirements of 256MB of RAM a 1.4GHz processor and a 64MB vid card – and that is just to get in the door, let alone to coax high end visuals out of the game. Readers of R4NT may not think those stats are too high, but undoubtedly the “casual gamer” will find their system stretched to the limit. The graphics are superb (see all the great screen shots) but you need a very fast system to get anywhere near those levels. That being said, the broadside firing of a frigate or 30 Redcoats firing into a line of Cossack cavalry is something to see. Just a warning to those wanting to play online, if you don’t have the high end graphics card you’ll find that your opponent will have the upper hand just by being able to click faster.

All in all, this game is worth it if you like real time strategy games with a historical bend and want absolutely spectacular graphics but don’t need any revolutionary advances in game play. A solid 4/5.

  • Age of Empires III
  • by MaxPower
  • Published on November 1st, 2005
Publisher:
Ensemble Studios / Microsoft Game Studios
Rating:
4 / 5

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