Retro Game Wednesday #11 – Age of Empires III

Every week, Retro Game Wednesday reviews a well-aged game available for digital download on Steam. – Title:  Age of Empires III: Complete Collection Genre:  Real Time Strategy Developer: Ensemble Studios Release Date: 15 […]

Every week, Retro Game Wednesday reviews a well-aged game available for digital download on Steam.

Title:  Age of Empires III: Complete Collection
Genre:  Real Time Strategy
Developer: Ensemble Studios
Release Date: 15 September 2009  (Original game: 22 September 2005)
Price (at time of review): $39.99

Everybody assumes that if they ever got the chance to actually try leading an army, they would prove to be great at it and lead their men to unquestioned victory. This is, at least nominally, the niche that real time strategy games fill. Obviously they don’t do so very accurately or Koreans would rule the world instead of just the internet. But in a market saturated with derivative first person shooters, it can be good to go about a more intellectual and strategic game every once in a while.

Unfortunately my editor says that I’m not allowed to review Solitaire, so I opened Steam’s list of RTS games, threw a dart at my monitor, bought a new monitor, and reviewed Age of Empires III.

SUMMARY

You’re one of the great colonial powers, out to cut out your own slice of the New World, exploit its resources, and make sure the godless Dutch don’t get their hands on what’s yours (unless, for some reason, you choose a civilization that is not the Dutch as your opponent). As a colonial power, choose from the British, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Russians, Germans, and Ottomans. Or, because the version on Steam comes with all the expansion packs, you can take the role of the Iroquois, Lakota, or Aztecs (The War Chiefs expansion) or Japan, China or India (The Asian Dynasties expansion). If you really want, you can be the Dutch.

THE GOOD

  • Choose from thirteen civilized nations, as well as the wily Dutch, who hail from the grim and unforgiving Nether Lands.
  • The game spans a vaguely historical period from around 1492 to approximately 1876, represented in several technological ‘ages’ that you move through in gameplay.
  • Command infantry, artillery and naval units in battle against your various foes.
  • Receive support from the capital of your home nation – you can order all kinds of care packages if you earn them.
  • Your home nation is permanent between games and levels up as you play, granting you more and better bonuses as you go.
  • Incredibly scenic world graphics that still hold up quite well – kick it up to maximum settings and enjoy the unspoilt landscape.
  • If you’re the kind of person who plays the campaign in RTS games, this one’s not too bad.

THE BAD

  • The units look a little lower quality than the world around them and their movements are a bit unnatural.
  • Some of the civilizations have significantly better advantages and unique units than the others.
  • The AI cheats, but I can’t prove it.
  • Crazy?
  • I’m not crazy. I’m the only one who’s not crazy.

THE VERDICT

It’s not as good as Age of Empires II, but you can’t get Age of Empires II on Steam, and anyway this one looks far, far prettier and the game is still more or less solid. $40 for the game and both of its expansions isn’t quite worth it unless you really like RTS games, but if you catch this one on sale you should grab it because the game’s still worth a completely arbitrary score of 8/10

THE IN-DEPTH

I played Age of Empires II when I was a lot younger than I am now, and it was my first and most favourite RTS game. So it was only logical that at some point I should play and be disappointed by the sequel. And I was disappointed, but not fatally, not as badly as I could have been.

Because Age of Empires III is not a bad game – I just don’t think it’s as good of a game as Age of Empires II was. Is that nostalgia? Maybe. This game is definitely prettier – cranked up to max settings on my modern gaming rig it manages to be very nice looking, and the sound is good too. It does a good job of making you feel like you’re really making your own claim on your own piece of the New World. All of the nations are fun to play and they do a better job at being distinct from each other than the civilizations of its predecessor.

But I have to say, while it’s fun and all, I didn’t really enjoy the ‘Home City’ system, by which you unlock new bonuses and support packages and ‘politicians’ (one time bonuses granted on age-advancement). While it adds a new and interesting element to keep you coming back, it makes the game a little bit unbalanced and harder to jump straight into and play. Age of Empires 2 gave you everything you were going to have access to right from the get-go.

As a final note, the game’s campaign is actually quite entertaining, covering the quest of a knight and his descendants across three different historical periods. It’s not particularly outstanding, but if you like to play the single player of your RTS games, there have been far worse ones.

TECHNICAL NOTES

This game is recent enough that I didn’t run into any issues trying to run it. If you do, let me know.

 

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