Age of Empires III
Age of Empires III

Posted by SadExchange
12/5/2006
Released on: 10/18/2005
Developed by: Ensemble Studios
Published by: Microsoft Game Studios

Fans of the previous installments should enjoy this game but may feel some of the complexity is unneccessary in the end

Score

8.47

Coming off the huge success of Age of Empires II and its expansion, one would think that making anything follow it would be extremely hard with all the hype that any company or the fans themselves would have for the new installment. Does Ensemble Studios deliver? Well, in some respects yes, but in other parts, sadly no. Coming to store shelves on October 18th of 2005, fans were presented with a story driven single player campaign that covers the discovery of America, and along with the campaign, they were given a multiplayer component that was meant to rival the extremely entertaining success of the previous game. Could Ensemble Studios pull this off?

Unlike the previous "Age" games, AoE III has one long continuous campaign that spans from the discovery of the new world of the Americas to the settling of the entire country. There are three acts in total with a multitude of different chapters that tell the story of one particular family line. You'll soon learn there is an evil society known as The Circle who are trying to find the famed Fountain of Youth, which was thought to be a myth. Knowing that the New World would be a terrible place if The Circle were to find the fountain and have eternal life, one man, along with some help from the local natives sets out to find the fountain himself and ultimately destroy it before The Circle can get their hands on it. But that would only be part of the first act, the second and third act deal with descendants of the family who are also out to stop The Circle from finding any remnants of the famed Fountain and thus having eternal life. Also unlike its predecessors, AoE III has an in-depth story that will keep you focused on what's going on from mission to mission. Between each task, there is a movie which describes what's taking place that is easy to follow and really adds a lot to the entire campaign. These movies, between chapters are presented with in-game graphics while the story spots between actual 'acts' are presented in a more cinematic direction.

New to the AoE series is the idea of the 'home city.' This is a far stretch from what has been done with any real-time strategy game up to date. It definitely adds a little bit of strategy to the gameplay and does make a difference in the multiplayer component of the game. Between each chapter, you're presented with a screen of your 'home city' where you'll be able to pick out different cards. Cards consisting of different upgrades to your existing towns or cards that will give your civilization instant troops instead of always having to make them at the local barracks or stables. These cards can play a huge role in trying to defend off an opponent in a time of military defense. There are a multitude of cards for the different areas of the game including upgrades for different resource gathering, military upgrades, religious upgrades, and also as said before instant troops and artillery. There are also hero units throughout the different chapters, and through these 'home city' screens, you'll be able to enhance those hero units with more hitpoints and attack power. You'll only be able to pick cards out between chapters, but you'll be able to use these enhancements anytime while playing by pushing on the 'home city' button on the interface. The amount of enhancements you'll be able to play is considered by the amount of experience you gain while playing, because of killing, trading with the local Indians, and amassing resources. The experience and leveling system in the game is a nice touch, but it may seem to be too much micro-management for some who enjoy a faster paced real-time strategy game.

Many civilizations from the previous game are back consisting of the British, the French, the Spanish, and the Dutch while new additions to the civilizations include the Russians, the Portuguese, the Germans, and the Ottomans. Each civilization in the multiplayer are different and unique enough from the other where you won't see everyone playing the same one because it's 'the best.' Another new component to the AoE series during the single player campaign is the inclusion of secondary objectives in each map. These are little 'side quests' which you can complete for extra experience if you'd like. Some consist of discovering all the treasure on a map or killing different important members in the opposition's army. These secondary objectives are nice because they're not always listed from the start, so sometimes, you'll have to discover what they are by completing some of it and this provides a little extra fun in each map. And a great thing about the single player campaign is that not every chapter consists of you building up a base town and army from scratch and obliterating the enemy. Ensemble Studios mixes up the gameplay a little bit with different main objectives that not only keep the main storyline flowing, but also the main campaign fun and interesting.

The graphics in AoE III are some of the most realistic and most beautiful in any RTS game out to date. The ability to zoom in and out and to rotate the camera view in any way real adds quite a bit of depth to the 3D map and units. Gone are the days where you'll have to push and drag your mouse across a large expanse of land to see if any of your troops are hiding anywhere; now you'll be able to just rotate the camera around. There is quite a bit of detail with the different characters and units that you'll be able to control throughout your game and when attacking a building, you'll now be able to see it crumble apart and explode into pieces as your cannons blast large iron shots into their sides. While exploring the different, multilayered environments, you'll come across different inhabitants of the wildlife consisting of wild boars, mountain lions, deer, black and brown bear. During the single player campaign, their won't be a lot of battles on water and that's a little sad, because Ensemble Studios made the water look very beautiful, with the flowing waves splashing against the rocks and shoreline. The movies that progress the storyline through the different chapters and acts look fantastic and you can tell the developers spent quite a bit of time in planning out each sequence in not only the storytelling, but also in the different map layouts to make the games both fun and challenging. One of the main and only complaints with the graphics comes from the interface itself. It's quite large and what I mean by this is that it seems to almost take up one third of the playing screen and this can be annoying with dealing with a large battle or an expansive town where you'd like to keep track of a lot of things. Ensemble should have included a feature to make the interface smaller for the player if they'd wish. In a time where most developers have been trying to get rid of the interface completely, this seemed like a bold move by Ensemble.

The musical score is quite nice while playing through both the single player campaign and during the multiplayer skirmishes. And the voice acting for all the characters is superb. The voice actors really make the storyline shine. Usually in most games, voice acting is done in-house to save on costs and a game's voice acting can really make or break your experience through the campaign. An example for me would be Dungeon Siege II, the voice acting in that game was done very poorly and really took away from the whole experience of the game. In that respect, I could have done entirely without the voice acting and just gone along with reading the words on the screen, but with AoE III, you won't have to worry about that because Ensemble Studios really fleshed out their characters with not only the storyline, but also with the voice acting.

The multiplayer component in AoE III was done quite nicely and shows experience in the multiplayer aspect of gaming, but who can forget how awesome the multiplayer was in AoE II? One large detriment in AoE III multiplayer is the win option, where you're given only one and this is the 'last man standing,' where you have to completely decimate the enemy entirely to win the match and this can be quite frustrating if your opponent decides to take one of his peasants and hide in a corner of the map in beginning of the game, thus making you spend quite a bit of time searching for him just to end the game. Like the single player though, you're able to gain experience with online games where you'll be able to build up your 'home city' and be able to purchase enhancements to help you against your opponent. The experience and the â?home city' are different from your single player â?home city' so none of your experience will carry over from the campaign to multiplayer and this is meant to prevent people from cheating. But, if you're not one to play online, there are three different settings of difficulty for single player and they range from easy, to hard, to expert with easy being extremely easy and expert only providing a normal amount of challenge to most hardcore real-time strategy gamers.

In the end, Ensemble Studios did well with returning to the AoE series with amazing graphics, wonderful sound, and in-depth interesting and fun single player campaign. While the multiplayer component could have used more options, fans from the previous installments will generally be happy with this new game.
Gameplay8.00
Graphics9.00
Sound9.00
Story/Plot9.00
Replay Value8.00
Stability8.00
Multiplayer8.00
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