Age of Empires III
The Age Of Empires series has been a bit like a friendly uncle to strategy gamers. One of those who wasn't actually related to you, but who'd turn up at Christmas and fill you full of sweets until you vibrated on the spot In short, it's always been a solid, dependable favourite.
Contrary to popular belief, Age of Mythology wasn't Age Of Empires III, and was never meant to be. It was more of a short-side diversion to try out some new ideas in preparation for the game that was to follow, focusing on the discovery of the New World. And here it is. Pretty isn't it? In fact graphically, Age Of Empires III is almost unrecognisable from its predecessors. It's only when you observe the game in motion and see all the little gatherers chopping, mining and farming that familiarity filters through. It's not only things like water, smoke and fog effects that have been added. No, Ensemble has also used the Havok engine to bring ragdoll physics to AOE3. Yes, when you shoot troops with a cannonball they actually do fly through the air and bounce off things.
Perhaps even more impressive is how buildings break down during battles. Again this is through physics rather than animation. When you attack buildings like windmills, even the movement physics of the sails change as they're blown apart. Marvellous stuff.
But the feature Ensemble believes to be the biggest innovation in AOE3 is a cardbased improvement system, which sounds a bit complex to us. Basically, each civilisation (there are eight in total) has its own home-city screen. As they accumulate experience points through building, gathering and fighting, they earn shipment points from their main city. Then all you need to do is flick to your home-city screen and cash in your points for shipment cards such as troops, technologies and resource packages.
There are many different cards available as you go through the five ages. Unfortunately, you can only use 20 in a game, but you can create different decks of cards for varying situations: naval battle, cavalry-focused, economy-focused and so on.
Your home-city itself is like a giant role-playing character, in that it levels up as you progress through your games, independently of how you level up ages within a single game. Then, as your city evolves, new cards with technologies, buildings and other goodies open up.
This suggests some very intriguing multiplayer battles, as when you go online, you're not just evolving your own gameplay experience but also that of your own city, from a cooing baby township to a sprawling metropolis. Complicated? Probably. Intriguing? Most definitely.
Download Age of Empires III
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Age Of Empires III is a triple-A RTS, that exudes quality and polish. It's what happens when some of the finest minds that defined the genre decide they're going to spend a few years doing what they do best. If you've played any of Ensemble Studios' previous titles, then you'll be on familiar ground here. There are settlements to be built, resources collected, armies recruited and enemies to be defeated.
This time around we're in the New World, with players assuming the roles of conquistadors, colonists and explorers, scouring unspoiled lands for wealth and power. Well in the skirmish mode, at least. The mood of the single-player campaign is a little more altruistic, spanning a few hundred years and putting you in the shoes (or fetching suede moccasins, at one point) of three members of a family as they move around the Americas, striving to keep the secret of eternal life out of the hands of a wicked secret society.
Thankfully, the setting isn't the only thing that's new. As you'll no doubt have guessed, this game has of Native Americans. If it were a historical simulation, you'd probably be selling these poor folks diseased blankets, turfing them out of their homes and calling it 'manifest destiny', but Ensemble has wisely chosen to sidestep most of this unpleasantness, allowing you to'ally yourself with the tribes instead. Construct a trading post by a native settlement and you can recruit their soldiers and medicine men.
With the addition of the 'home city' and its upgradeable card system (see 'Decks And The City!', opposite), you can now have shipments of supplies (the main resources are wood, food and money), troops or other goodies sent to your new colony. When you kill hostile units, destroy enemy buildings and set up trade routes you'll be rewarded with experience points. Once your experience level has filled up a meter, you'll be eligible for a shipment. Keep filling it up and you'll be receiving more freebies than the office. It's a well thought out system, adding something a little different to what is otherwise a straightforward RTS.
The combat mechanics, unfortunately, are pretty much what we've come to expect from the genre. There's a scissors-paper-stones style hierarchy with the units - pikemen beat cavalry, cavalry beat ranged infantry, while light infantry beat pikemen - so there aren't many times when you find yourself thinking about battle tactics and strategy. The game instead pressures you toward recruiting more units, or simply more powerful ones than the enemy in order to win. Click on the baddies, sit back and wait. It's more Sun reader than Sun Tzu.
It's simplistic and we were honestly expecting more this time round. Still, it's slightly more fun than beating Jamie Sefton at Pro Evolution Soccer 5 on your first go (quite the feat as it happens). And why? It's all about the presentation.
Let's Get Physical
A good physics engine plus cannons is a recipe for sheer coolness. Add a generous helping of excellent sound design and you've got one tasty treat on your plate. Smoke and sparks fly as cannonballs skip over the ground. When they smash into buildings or ships the effects are really convincing. Shards of wood spin through the air, dust clouds billow out and masonry crumbles. It doesn't take a genius to work out what happens when the artillery is turned on your enemy's infantry. Let's just say that you'll soon grow accustomed to watching unfortunate fellows cartwheeling around the beautifully realised levels.
Call it style over substance if you will, but it works for us. The game's real substance lies in the mechanic of building up and improving your colony, exploring the map, recruiting an army and so on. It's deceptively easy to get into and maddeningly addictive once you start.
Simple on the surface, but satisfyingly complex underneath - that's the Age Of Empires series all over. This latest instalment is an evolution of the successful formula rather than the revolution that some of us might have been hoping for, but we can't really blame Ensemble Studios for that. After all, gamers have lapped up all the previous Age games with relish and that isn't about to change with this one. It's surely the best-looking traditional real time strategy game out there at the moment, and more importantly it's a real blast to play. Boom!
Anytime a game hits its third full iteration, I expect a remarkable and enticing gameplay for starters. Having three chances to balance and polish the game should yield a robust experience for most of the game's aspects. Looking back at the Age of Empire series, there is a definite trend toward significant gameplay improvement and Age of Empires III keeps things moving in the same direction. Although the basic RTS gameplay elements are still represented, there are plenty new elements that make this a worthy addition to the Age of Empires series.
So, what's changed? First the time period. Now we're talking about the period of European expansion to the Americas up through the Industrial Age. New functions like the home city, which is your actual home city overseas, has been added to further integrate the time period. It allows shipments of materials or weapons to be sent periodically, infusing supplies into your struggling settlement. Not a bad addition as it keeps you from getting limited by a specific resource and allows the game to move forward. Another addition is the trade route that can be controlled for constant income. Personally, I'm not a fan of resource collecting in the least so these additions that help to reduce the need for micromanaging your cities are much appreciated. In addition, you can still build farms and other buildings that keep your peons busy without constantly telling them what to do.
There are many other improvements as well but two of the most noticeable are the AI and graphics. There is definitely more strategy used by the AI this time including more focused attacks instead of sending a few straggling units into hopeless battles. The graphics update is appreciated as well with more detailed and varied environments and unit animations.
Age of Empires III isn't revolutionizing the RTS genre, so keep that in mind. However, it does continue with its past success and offers new gameplay elements that compliment the primary ones. The graphical facelift doesn't hurt either and gives it a fresh, crisp feel. With 24 campaign missions and endless replaying online, unless you have an aversion to RTS games you'll want to give it a try.