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Age of Empires III Review

Age of Empires 3 Box art
Developer:Ensemble Studios
Publisher:Microsoft
Genre:RTS
Platform:PC
Official Site:http://www.ageofempires3.com/
Release Date:November 4th (UK)
Reviewer:Ben Atkinson (Jammin)
Buy now at Amazon.co.uk

The Age of Empires series of games have always been amongst my favourite RTS titles, the first one stood out like a shining beacon in a stagnant market full of similar games. Age of Kings then broke even further ground in my opinion and now after what has seemed like an age in itself, Ensemble Studios' latest creation is upon us and promises all the fun of conquering the Americas whilst boasting many new features and enhancements. This baby has big boots to fill.

Graphics

It's immediatly apparent that Age of Empires III is a massive graphical advancement over it's older siblings, and well it might be given the amount of time between the games to be honest. It is however a better looking game than many other modern RTS offerings, to be perfectly honest it looks great. Lot's of bleeding edge shader effects are employed to good effect, water glistens in the sun, shadows look great though occasionally shaky. Animation is also impressive, it's great fun to watch artillery bowl over a group of troops, especially if they are your enemies, they just fly about in such a great looking and amusing way.

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Cannon balls and mortar shells also send bits of building flying while bombarding towns and settlements this too looks great. I would however have expected a bit more facial detail on your characters when zoomed all the way in, on my 6600GT they are just blurry blocks of skin coloured texture when up close. Perhaps that's being a bit nit picky, the game does looks great without doubt.

Sound

Sound doesn't tend to be all that prominent in Real time strategy games, you can usually see that much on screen that if everything had sound effects thing would get very confusing very quickly. That said, the sound effects in Age of Empires 3 are clean, crisp and actually quite familiar at times.

All the voice overs are reasonably well acted, but for some pauses between words and sentences now and again, that could be a performance issue with my PC however. In skirmish games your opponent will occasionally abuse you in an amusing way and your allies can also scream for help at times of course it's always in an accent that makes it easy to know who's saying it and even those accents seem fine. I have no complaints regarding sound at all.

Gameplay

The set up of Age of Empires 3 is quite familiar to it's predecessors and I, and I imagine a lot of other games will appreciate that. It doesn't take long to get back up to speed and start thinking about the new features. The first new twist, is the setting, in Age of Empire 3 you'll will play the role of one developed European nation fighting all the rest over North America, you’re not fighting for the survival of your great nation, but for as big a piece as possible of the new world.

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This brings with it a few interesting features to the game, let's start with Home cities, basically they are what it says on the tin, your Home City wherever that may be, from Boston to Lisbon. You gain experience in game from discovering things, doing secondary objectives and of course, killing things. Your increased experience then allows you to unlock pretty things to place in your home city, like hookers and tramps for example, if you want to be boring, maybe even a musician. Your home city is also of course the base of your colonialisation efforts and as such is where you can expect things like supplies and reinforcements from, this is also where the next new features enters the fray, Cards.

Cards are played in much the same way you might play a joker in some types of card games, each card will give you something in a shipment from your home city, that may be things like extra settlers, resources, troops and even some buildings. Again, cards are unlocked with increasing experience. To be honest I have mixed feelings about cards, they can add a nice tactical feeling to proceedings but can also feel quite limiting at times. A lot of the first cards can be sent an unlimited amount of times, however most are one time send only, for certain things like Forts. You have to be very careful because if you lose your fort wagon, you have nothing left. Sometimes waiting for that vital shipment can be frustrating and you wish you could just turn it off the whole cards system and build what you want where you want.

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American Tribes are another new feature, this time one I liked a lot, allying yourself with local tribes will enable you to get warriors from other sources on the map and getting some nice little upgrades to boost your army or gathering powers. Trade routes are also a lovely addition to the game, basically giving you free resources every so often and if you upgrade them, almost constantly. The only problem is everyone wants them and makes for some fun and interesting play, usually the computer will have a bloody good go at making sure you don’t keep them for long.

Which brings me onto the A.I., Now while the opposition A.I. most of the time is fairly tactically sound. Your own is not. There have been countless times where I have sent a group of 30+ soldiers to kill off a few enemy stragglers and it takes ages, and sometimes I lose more men than I should have, but why? Well it's simple, they all shoot at the same target. It's amazingly annoying and really has taken the shine off the game for me, although I still enjoy it. I have wondered what it would be like if they just made a few minor modifications to the A.I. Sometimes your units will chase settlers around while getting shot and completely ignore the troops throwing chunks of lead in their faces. There are a few other “bugs” that irritate me somewhat. For instance grouping several units of “grouped” units i.e. Ctrl-1, well if you group select them all, they all merge into one group and you can’t select them separately, quite annoying you may think, but it gets better! Your units will always move at the speed of the slowest unit, so when you accidentally do it, having your mounted troops crawling along at the speed of a heavy cannon isn't much use.

Formations don’t really seem to affect troops much either. Trying to set your troops to "Avoid Long range attacks" seems to not really have much of an impact, so they march towards artillery to their doom. It would be quite nice to have individual troop formations, or perhaps even custom made ones, rather than the few stock ones you are given that don’t seem to do much. Skirmishes are now a lot easier thanks to the fact you can tell your computer allies exactly what your doing, and what you want them to do, although I wouldn’t always count on them listening to you, they can be quite fickle.

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Summary

I'm both happy and disappointed with AoE3, happy I've had my fix of my favourite RTS series but slightly disappointed by the whole experience. While the game is still fun and annoyingly addictive, there are a number of tiresome bugs which pissed this reviewer off no end. It's hard to explain, the fact that I like to game in general so much just makes the irksome and silly bugs all the more annoying. I'm very optimistic that the more obvious flaws will be fixed in upcoming patches however, so don't be put off, it's still very good. For RTS fans or indeed Age of Empires fans like myself, this is a worthwhile purchase, it just won't be joining it's predecessors in the halls of fame until after a patch or two at least.

Good stuff

  • Impressive graphically
  • Great animations
  • Mostly fun and addictive to play
  • Lots of good new features

Not so good stuff

  • Doesn’t quite feel like previous games
  • Too many bugs for my liking
  • Annoying squad A.I.


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