Product Type: Microsoft PC games
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Age of Empires III (PC)
Member Name: Mauri
Age of Empires III (PC)
Advantages: Clever gameplay and great graphics
Disadvantages: A little difficult for new players
Age of Empires 3 (AOE3) is the third instalment in the ‘Age of Empires’ franchise, actually the fourth if you include the spin off ‘Age of Mythology’ (and Titans expansion) from the sequence. The premise of the original game was to create a real time strategy game to rival the excellent turn based Civilisation series concentrating more on battles and rather less of on economic and cultural affairs. The game itself has always been far less complex to play than Civ, which has meant it has been a lot more popular with younger gamers and those more used to simple shoot ‘em ups rather than strategy based games.
THE IDEA BEHIND THE GAME
AOE3 is no different from its previous incarnations in this regard though in look and feel it has more in common with Age of Mythology/Age of Titans than any of the earlier Age of Empires. The gameplay picks up from where the last expansion set for AOE 2 (the Conquerors) left off namely the discovery of the new world. Just as in ‘Age of Mythology’ there is a strong narrative to the campaign menu that allows you to follow the story of the Morgan Black clan over three generations in 24 separate scenarios from the earliest settler in the New World to the industrialisation of the West. To add a little mystery to the story we are introduced to the order of the Knights of Malta and their nemesis the Circle of Ossus a secret organisation hell bent on discovering the eternal Fountain of Youth found somewhere in the newly discovered Americas. The campaign menu including the short tutorial is the best way for total newcomers and for those more used to the original AOE games to get used to the new features included in this latest instalment. The campaign is split into distinct stories each following the exploits of one of the Black family members.
DETAILS OF GAMEPLAY
Just as in previous games of this time (Warcraft, Civilisation as well as previous AOE) the idea of the game is to build up an empire from meagre beginnings. You usually start off with simply settlers that can gather resources wood (from cutting down forests), gold/silver (from mining) and food (from hunting, gathering or farming), which are essential to build military units and buildings in varying quantities depending what you are researching. One slight difference from previous AOE is that settlers cannot builds a town centre, you require a wagon to do this and one is usually provided as the start of each campaign. Once you have built up a few buildings all very familiar if you have played any of the other games before, Barracks, church, stables etc then you can start building an army to conquer the other opponents or complete the objectives of the campaign and progress in the story.
In order to progress and build more advanced units and buildings you have to store up a certain amount of resources and then exchange them in order to upgrade to a new age so from the fortress age for instance you go into the industrial age etc.
The units are obviously different from previous games since the timeline has moved on, archers are still around but the invention of gunpowder has made them and cavalry less useful so musketeers and cannons are the order of the day. This will affect the gameplay quite a bit and the use of infantry without ranged weapon is drastically reduced.
There are other small differences that should be noted, although it’s still a good idea to surround yourself with big thick walls to protect yourself from attack beware that the use of artillery earlier in the game make these less of a winning tactic also the settler don’t have the ability to repair buildings or walls, which again makes the usefulness of the structures more limited, military units can still be healed by priests and medics and the newly introduced filed hospitals.
The introduction of ‘sub-civilizations’(not in a derogatory way) is also new. These come in the form of Native American tribes that you can interact with and get help from if you set up a trading post with them. Different tribes are available on different scenarios depending on the location for instance in the Great American plains you’ll find the Comanche whereas in South America you’ll find the Aztecs. These provide an extra dimension to the scenario playing.
The other major change to the game from previous versions is the existence of a ‘Home’ city that your colonists are attached to. The city itself is not directly in the game but it exists as a separate screen you can click onto in order to send various resources and units is and when you need them. The availability of these resources will vary depending on which time period you are playing in and on your experience points total, another new feature. In this game everything you do will count toward your experience total, killing a opposing military unit, performing one of the minor objectives in the main campaign, discovering treasure, will all add to you points total. As this total mounts you will unlock more resources or ability cards from your home city that can be sent to you during the game and these are essential in order to complete the campaign scenarios.
In the ‘Random Map’ mode you have a choice of civilisation to start out as including, British, German, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, Russian, Ottoman and French each has advantages and disadvantages as well as unique special units. You have a choice of terrain, map size, opponents, difficulty levels (for AOE experienced player Moderate or Hard should be fine) and Age to start in before you play the game. You can also play set scenarios pre-prepared by the game.
Despite the changes to the gameplay and the introduction of the new components the game felt familiar to me and I soon found that my usual ‘winning’ tactics from previous AOE incarnations (quick resource gathering, aggressive expansion and building walls where possible) also served me well in this version. The changes did add a different dimension to the game but not so much as to make it a completely new learning experience. I stress again that for those of you new to this type of game the tutorial is essential but after this the gameplay is such that you will easily pick up the basics to a level where you will enjoy the experience even early on. Developing the right tactics to win on the harder level will come in time after a trial and error.
GRAPHICS & SOUND
The 3D graphics and accompanying sounds are excellent especially during the sea battles where you can see the cannon ball fly across the ships punching holes in the sails or splintering sections of hull or mast in the water all this to the sound or creaking and smashing wood and the explosion of the cannons firing. The detail of the map has been improved since the last outing and you even have the option of zooming in to the action during play. The use the DX9, Shader 3.0 compliant engine makes this one of the most graphically advanced PC game yet (notice the mist and fog of war floating across the scene during battles the realist light and shade of the terrain and the reflections in the water and foaming of the sea near the shore).
In short although the look of the game is the same as before every thing looks better and sounds better in this version.
This is still a fine game and deserves to be a bestseller, however it does lack a little of the charm of the previous versions. Since all the action is based in the colonies what is missing is the thrill of having your army of say Teutonic knight come up against Japanese Samurai warriors or the Aztec Jaguar warriors against Persian War elephants encounters that never occurred in History but could be played out in the game. The introduction of gunpowder and artillery also makes the battles less glamorous, gone is the clash of cold steel against cold steel so common in the medieval ages to be replaced by the sound of mortar and cannon shots, that’s progress I suppose. The game play is still great though and the introduction of the proper story line as in the mythology series is an improvement couple this with the great graphics and the variability of the scenarios and random maps and this game is destined to ‘last the test of time’ and have a high re-playability rating just like its previous incarnations. Multiplayer option is also available but I don’t usually try this out the efficiency and playability of these games rest very much on the speed of your processor and the speed or internet connection so performance will vary greatly, details of the multiplayer option are best found at the manufacturer main website.
Windows XP required
PEGI rating: 12 years
System: 1.4 GHz equivalent or higher processor or equivalent
RAM: 256 MB
Video Memory: 64 MB
Hard Drive Space: 2000 MB
Other: Sound card, speakers, or headphones required for audio- 56.6kbps or better modem for online play MB
I suspect that an expansion set (Napoleonic Wars maybe?) will soon come out!
© Mauri 2006
Summary: Latest addition to the Age of Empires real time strategy games