Age of Empires III Review

Age of Empires 2. Now that’s a tough act to follow. Not only is the game one of the classics of real-time strategy gaming, it’s still going strong. You can fire up the game today and find opponents online without too much trouble. Now the game that keeps on going has a sequel in the form of Age of Empires III and it’s got some big shoes to fill. Let’s hope that it’s got some big feet…

The first thing going in Age of Empires III’s favor is that it doesn’t just take Age of Empires 2, slap a 3D engine on it, and call it a day. That’s not to say that it radically alters the gameplay that made its predecessor so enjoyable. Instead it takes what was good, tweaks what was not so good, and adds some interesting new gameplay aspects that make it a worthy entry in the Age of Empires series.

The original Age of Empires was set in Ancient Times and Age of Empires 2 was set in the Middle Ages. Age of Empires III continues this progression and is set during the age of colonization as eight European nations vie for control of the riches of the New World: Spain, Portugal, England, France, Holland, Germany, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire. Each of these nations has its own set of bonuses, such as England’s bonus of receiving free peasants each time a new house is constructed. The move to the Colonial Age brings with it certain new aspects of gameplay. The first of these is the inclusion of a Home City for each nation. This represents the production and supply base provided by the homeland back across the sea and the Home City is a source of units and resources during gameplay. These supply shipments can be purchased for experience points gained by the progress you make in the New World by collecting the local resources, building structures, and, of course, killing enemy units. Collect enough experience and you can even upgrade your Home City, making new types of shipments available to your New World bases. This allows you to customize your city to your style of play – do you want your Home Coty to provide you with the means to quickly conquer your neighbors with military might or to supply your economic powerhouse?

Another new gameplay feature new to Age of Empires III is that the maps include indigenous peoples. While this does mean that you’ll be subject to raids or to have your ships cross paths with war canoes, there’s more to it than that. Maps will have native villages and trading posts that can be captured and developed by players. The villages are sources of military units and technology upgrades and the trading posts are sources of experience points and resources. As you can probably guess, locating and capturing these sites early in the game is key to victory.


The other aspects of gameplay will be familiar to those who played the Age of Empires games before. Your bases are centered on the Town Center which produces the peasants that perform construction and resource gathering duties for you. Around your Town Center you can build various production and resource buildings which you use to build and upgrade your army. It’s all similar enough that you Age of Empires veterans can pretty easily jump right in, begin playing, and be pretty successful at it. Sure there are various tweaks to the gameplay here and there such as farms that do not have to be continually replanted and the elimination of the need for resource drop points, but there aren’t any significant departures from the Age of Empires model here. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing as Age of Empires III is every bit as much fun to play as its predecessors.

While the gameplay has not gone through a major overhaul, the graphics certainly have. Age of Empires III is a 3D game and it takes full advantage of its new graphics engine. The game is gorgeous and packed with details such as waves that realistically roll across the water while buoying ships up and down. The battle effects include pieces of roof and masonry falling from buildings under fire and units sent flying from the impact of a cannon shell. You can also now zoom the camera in and out, although you’ll probably just leave the camera pulled back as far as possible most of the time as zooming in any closer than that makes it difficult to manage your forces.

The game comes with a three part campaign that follows three generations of a family and their adventures in the New World. The first act follows the adventures of a knight leading an expedition to the New World, the second takes place on the frontiers of a young America, and the last takes place in the American West with some jungle adventure in the Amazon thrown in for good measure. In a welcome touch your main characters can be temporarily put out of commission but they will never die during a mission. You won’t be faced with the need to replay a long mission that you were on the verge of winning simply because you goofed and offed your main character as is the case in many RTS games. Overall the campaign is pretty enjoyable and provides missions with a variety of objectives and gameplay. It is also lengthier than most campaigns that ship with RTS games and will keep you happily occupied for a good deal of time. All of the cutscenes are rendered in-engine and show off the power of the game’s new 3D model.

Of course you can always play the game in skirmish mode, setting game parameters and the number of computer opponents you’ll face. One point of interest is that the multiple victory conditions of the prior Age of Empires games are gone. There is only one way to win games in Age of Empires III and that’s through conquest – my apologies to you wonder builders out there. The maps provide a good variety of terrain, from the frozen tundra of the Yukon to the jungles of the Amazon, and from the islands of the Caribbean to the grasslands of the Great Plains, and they are randomized for each game. You can select the level of the AI of your computer opponents to one of five levels; the lowest making the computer a pushover and the highest providing a serious challenge to the best strategy gamers.