Age of Empires 3


posted 12/1/2005 by Tyler Sager
other articles by Tyler Sager
One Page Platforms: PC
The Age of Empires series has been, to me, the epitome of “old school” real-time strategy.  Past titles have been very well done, but at their core they are pure “build and conquer” type games, with very little extra fluff.  Units were never complicated or fancy, and each was balanced with strengths and weaknesses against other unit types.  Age of Empires did pure, almost bare-bones, RTS, and they did it extremely well.  But for me, after hordes of copycat RTS titles, I needed something more than just old-school fun from my RTS game.  I was looking for something to set the title apart from the rest of the pack.  When I heard that Age of Empires III was adding an extra deck-building element to their tried-and-true formula, I was intrigued.  After running AoE3 through its paces, I found myself a bit disappointed.  I was expecting greatness, and I received something less.  While the game is solid, beautifully done, and fun to play, it still just feels like an old-school RTS with a few extra bells and whistles. 

Age of Empires III takes place during the Age of Exploration, when European countries were sending forth brave souls to colonize and conquer the Americas.  Like previous Age of Empires titles, AoE3 spans various “Ages”, technological levels through which players progress during a given scenario.  Taking on the role of one of 8 European countries, players begin at the Age of Discovery and progress through to the Age of Imperialism, showcasing a wide range of technological advancement.  While there are several new features, AoE3 plays very much like its predecessors.  An initial colony is planted, after which Settler units begin gathering resources to fund the burgeoning economy.  An early rush tactic it a bit difficult in AoE3, as it’s almost impossible to raise a standing army during the Age of Discovery.  By the time the second Age roles around, there are generally enough defenses available to stave off an opportunistic early assault.  For a turtler like myself, this is a very welcome feature.

Age of Empires fans will notice quite a few changes from previous games.  First, Settlers are now drop points for resource gathering, meaning they no longer need to return their loads of resources to the town center.  In addition, the annoying Farm system has been removed.  Settlers can still gather Food from fruit bushes and wild game, but they no longer need to plant those time-limited Farms once the local food supply runs out.  While I honestly never had much of a need to use anything other than the local flora and fauna, for those that want a bit more permanent (if slower) food source, Mills are now available.  Mills are slow-but-steady food producing structures, each of which can field up to 10 Settlers.  Plantations, a gold-producing version of the Mill, are available when the precious mines run dry. 

Resources can also be obtained through Trading Posts, a new and interesting feature in AoE3.  Trading posts can be built on certain spots on most of the maps.  Once built, they begin trickling in Experience each time a delivery is made.  Upgrades allow players to increase the rate of deliveries, and they allow different shipments (of wood, food, or gold) to be made.  Since these locations quickly generate resources as needed, they are usually hotly contested points on the map.  Trading Posts can also be built in Native American villages, neutral, indestructible points much like the trade route lines.  Building a Trading Post at a Native American settlement allows players to gain technology advantages and military units from the Native Americans.  As an added bonus, Native American military units do not count against the population limit for a given Empire. 

The military units, and combat, is very much old-school Age of Empires fare.  Much of the “rock, scissors, paper” feel is in place, as each unit will have strengths against some unit types, weaknesses against others.  Fielding the correct combination of units is important, although players will quickly find that some units are a great deal more powerful than others.  In fact, in spite of the huge range of different units available to the various Empires, I was relying on about 3 or 4 unit types though most of my games.  Combat itself is quite straightforward, with very little advanced tactics available.  There are no formations, and very few alternate combat abilities for any of the units.  Most of the time, the best method of attack is “Get ‘em!”  Each Empire has a hero-type Explorer unit, a powerful military and exploratory character, but even they don’t often turn the tide of battle. 

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