Age of Empires 3

Review

posted 12/1/2005 by Tyler Sager
other articles by Tyler Sager
One Page Platforms: PC
Probably the most interesting aspect of Age of Empires III is the Home City.  Here is where deck-building meets real-time strategy.  A new resource, Experience, is introduced into the Age of Empires franchise.  Experience is gained for just about everything in the game.  Building structures, defeating enemy units, and collecting various treasures all build up experience.  During the single-player campaign, experience is also gained for completing various objectives.  In skirmish mode, experience points are gathered for a host of different events, but winning a particular map nets the biggest chunk.  During a given scenario, Shipments from home will be awarded as enough experience is gained.  To gain a shipment, players need simply to travel to the Home City screen, and then pick a shipment card from their Home City deck.  These shipments can be simple, unlimited-use deliveries of small amounts of food or settlers, or they can be incredibly powerful, one-use technology advances or shipments of military units.  Home City shipments can quickly turn the tide in battle, as a sudden influx in military might or much-needed resources arrives. 

Experience gathered during play also increases the level of the Home City, and these advancements are carried from game to game.  Each Empire has different Shipment Cards available for purchase as the city levels up.  After reaching high enough level, more cards are available than can be carried into a given skirmish, so some deck customization is necessary.  In a resource-poor map, more supply cards can be included.  Water-rich maps require cards increasing strength and numbers of naval forces.  I personally like stacking my decks with artillery and economic cards, allowing me to turtle up and blaze through the Ages, until I build up enough to become an unstoppable force. 

Age of Empires III looks and sounds incredible.  The graphics are great, with each unit very well animated.  I never had my usual RTS trouble of distinguishing unit types at a glance.  The terrain is fully destructible and highly detailed, and is just a pleasure to look at.  The game also sounds great, from the music to sound effects and even the voice acting.  I often find myself cringing when the characters begin talking, but this time around I was quite pleased.  I found the interface to be a little less than optimal, which surprised me.  While many things were hot-keyed, there were quite a few actions that weren’t, and I found myself fumbling occasionally during the heat of battle. 

The single-player campaign is surprisingly well done for an RTS game, chronicling the adventures of one Morgan Black and his descendants.  The campaign itself showcases nicely just about every map type.  The skirmish maps are also well done, and it shows that a great deal of care went into each design.

While everything is very well done, Age of Empires III just doesn’t do enough new or innovative to truly captivate me.  I thoroughly enjoyed the game, and very much enjoyed the Home City deck-building aspect.  At its heart, though, AoE3 is still “just” another Age of Empires game.  Fans of the series will be well pleased, and RTS fans will have an enjoyable time.  However, Age of Empires III is not the “next big thing” in RTS, so those looking for total innovation or reinvention of the genre will be somewhat disappointed. 



B-
Age of Empires III is a very well-polished old-school RTS, with enough new concepts to freshen the series up a bit. Fans of the Age of Empires franchise will be well pleased, but those looking for the Next Big Thing in real-time strategy will need to look elsewhere.


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