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Age of Empires III

Score: 88%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Ensemble Studios
Media: CD/3
Players: 1 - 8 (Online)
Genre: Real-Time Strategy

Graphics & Sound:

Age of Empires III doesn’t just have a revamped graphics engine. This is the series’ first leap into the third dimension, but instead of simply adding another dimension, Ensemble has pushed the boundaries of what graphics can do in RTS games. First is the inclusion of the Havoc Physics Engine, and to my knowledge, this is the first commercial RTS that has attempted to do physics on this kind of level. Now, cannon shots will ricochet and knock infantry off their feet, or it will roll on the ground and trample people. The other addition is complementary to this, but the effect is huge. When buildings are being destroyed they crumble realistically, depending on where the shots are coming from. Add to all of this an incredible level of detail and Age of Empires III becomes one huge battlefield of eye candy.

The sound takes on more of a support role to the graphics than anything else. The powerful booms of the cannon and the crack of the rifle shot are great additions to the smoke and explosions that fill the field of battle. Your units respond to your commands with verbal reactions, but the number of retorts is limited and soon become redundant and old. Also, the music is quite low key, and your favorite battlefield moments will be recalled without much attention paid to what track was playing at the time.


Gameplay:

The theme for Age of Empires III is the discovery of America and the subsequent European countries that high-tailed it over there. The Single Player Campaign takes you down many generations of conquerors, explorers, and pirates in a tale that intertwines all of the major powers who were vying for power at the time. The Campaign is lengthy and offers a lot of different situations for the player to work through.

As is usual in the

Age of Empires games, Age of Empires III has a set of ‘Ages’ that you can upgrade to throughout the course of a game. Normally you start on the Discovery Age, and you have the ability to move up through four other ages as well. This is how you progress through your tech tree, as each Age offers new units and upgrades.

New to the

Age of Empires series is the Home City. Throughout the Campaign, you gain experience by completing goals and generally killing things. As your experience goes up, your city’s level goes up with it. What your city does for you is allow you access to various types of reinforcements depending on what Age you are currently on. The gimmick to all of this is that you can customize and unlock new reinforcements to use, as your city’s rank is persistent throughout the campaign.

Another new addition to the series is the explorers that each player starts out with. These "heroes" usually have some type of special ability, and are a little more durable than your average soldier. The explorer basically serves as a beginning game scout that can kill treasure guardians (treasures placed around the map can give you experience, money, etc.). In the campaign, they are usually a main character in the plot, but in Multiplayer they are strong, early tools that you can use to scout and gain an upper hand with.

In Age of Empires III, there are eight different countries that you can play as. Throughout most of the game, around 90 percent of the units on both sides will be the same. The differentiating factors for each country are a handful of unique units and some varying economic boons or banes. This is the same formula that the previous

Age of Empires games used, and as it wasn’t broken, the developers saw no need to fix it. It offers the same depth and dynamic playability here that it did in the previous titles.

While this is all good and well for the large Single Player Campaign, the real meat of the game lies in its Multiplayer capabilities and how players fight with and react to one another. Surprisingly, Age of Empires III seems like a "dumbed down" version of the previous games. Your need to increase experience for reinforcements, along with some old features being cut, and nigh impossible rushes gives multiplayer a much more sluggish pace than what we’re used to.


Difficulty:

Despite the lesser depth than its predecessors, Age of Empires III still has a fairly steep learning curve. This is due in most part to the large tech tree and the amount of customizability you can perform on your Home City. The instruction book is also fairly thick, but thankfully the tutorials are informative enough to get you started quickly. Expect to put a lot of time into the learning phase of this game.

Game Mechanics:

At first glance, Age of Empires III appears to be a solidly put together RTS. However, the interface is actually much less useful than in other games. It is large and clunky; it attempts to display too much information at once in an effort to rid the need of any type of navigation through sub menus. Instead of making things easier by compartmentalizing them, the player is bombarded with information on an interface menu that takes up almost a third of the screen.

Other indicators to the "dumbing down" of Age of Empires III are the lack of any unit stances and the useless group banners that appear at the top of your screen. All traces of unit stances have been removed from this game, so you are left to rely on the skittish AI when you get into tricky situations. This causes some units in groups to attack enemies while leaving their friends behind, and in the end forces the player to commit more unnecessary micromanagement. The inclusion of group banners at the top of the screen is another futile attempt to simplify the gameplay, as they are uninformative and awkward to refer to in the heat of battle.

Ensemble Studios Online, otherwise referred to as ESO, is the portal with which players can access online matches. ESO is more than just a way to find opponents, though. When you first access it, you create a profile and customize your Home City. This process allows you to alter the cards and reinforcements you will use in a game, right down to how the buildings look and who walks around on the street. Your city levels up as you play games and gather experience, and this is how you are ranked online and how you are matched with players of equal skill.

While the persistent Home City is a nice feature, it’s not the kind of replay value that most people are looking for in a RTS. Despite this new addition, the game feels more shallow than others of the same caliber, including its own prequels. The advancements in the graphics are wonderful, and the addition of the Home City is different and slightly innovative, but the game is actually more suited to newcomers to the genre. Age of Empires III is still a fun game to play, it just doesn’t provide the kind of deep gameplay experience that we have come to expect from this line of games.


-Snow Chainz, GameVortex Communications
AKA Andrew Horwitz

Minimum System Requirements:



Windows XP, 1.4 GHz Processor, 256 MB RAM, 2 GB Hard Disk Space, 64 MB Video Card
 

Test System:



Windows XP, 2.4 GHz Processor, 1GB RAM, 256 MB GeForce 6800 GT Video Card, 160 GB Hard Drive, Cable Modem Internet Connection

Windows 80 Days Windows Mall Tycoon 3

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated