Reviewed: November 14, 2006
Released: October 18, 2005
There is something about a well-worn clichť. Itís useful as an expression of the idea youíre trying to communicate. Sometimes theyíre even snappy lines. Problem is that theyíre clichťs. Been there. Done that. See, your too-hip eyes are already rolling at me.
Age of Empires III has the same problem. It does what it does perfectly. Unfortunately, thatís the same thing that Age of Empires II did. So itís a great execution of something weíve seen before.
Content wise, Age of Empires III has a story that spans from roughly the end of the Crusades until roughly the Civil War era in the single player campaign. Multi-player or single player skirmish mode gives you access to eight playable civilizations with their own little quirks and unique home cities.
Have you ever played an RTS game before? Then this game will come as little shock to you. All the usual resource gathering, city building, upgrade researching, and troop-building processes are there. The real innovation to be had in the game is the addition of home cities to the process. As you progress through the single player campaign you gain experience for everything you do, from collecting resources to building troops and buildings, to destroying enemy units and fortifications. This experience not only builds up to allow you to improve your home city between missions, but also periodically allows you to receive shipments from the home city to help you toward victory in the field.
While at first this sounds interesting, it boils down to little more than boosts to the already existing game play. Be that by additions of free troops or resources; or upgrades to structures, troops, or heroes; or discounts to purchasing technologies. It doesnít really add any new strategy to be considered, itís just one more resource to be tapped.
What is bothersome about Age of Empires III is that it has the same failing of most ďnext genĒ titles that are being released. They are some of the most gorgeous things youíve seen, but they play just like the game that came out last year.
Obviously, there is only so much you can do with strategic games. There are probably no more convenient ways to control a large number of troops easily, or quickly switch from building to building, or even just to look around. However, the game play on Age of Empires III is just simple exercises of resource control.
Can you gather enough materiel to generate the required amount of military equipment? Sometimes thatís within a time limit, sometimes itís just limited by the resources available. The truly frustrating part about it was when the game designers decided to get whimsical. On this mission you canít produce workers, or on this mission you donít get support from your home city.
Worse, however, is that the AI cheats. I donít mind playing against an opponent who is particularly good at using the rules against me, and honestly a computer is going to be able to handle city production, resource gathering, and troop deployment all at the same time better than I ever could. Itís when my opponent doesnít have to play by the same set of rules that I do that grates. Limitless resources would be one thing, but when your opponent can produce ships without having a shipyard, or similar shenanigans, then itís just being lazy.
I will admit that despite all of this, and a story line thatÖ letís just say itís painful and move on, the game is enjoyable. That is, if you like the resource gathering, attention spread to ten different places across the map style of RTS game.
Any game that uses the Havok engine so you can blow buildings to bits has its heart in the right place. As you might expect this makes artillery a blast to use as you watch your cannon tear holes into enemy walls and take chunks out of buildings. Not only is this a nice touch, but it also lends a nice hint of realism to the game.
In fact all of the physics in the game is excellent, from cannon balls bouncing after their initial impact to bodies being thrown about from the explosions to ships disintegrating under an enemy broadside. Which isnít something you would expect to be saying about an RTS game, but there it is.
The characters in the game are about what you would expect from the genre. They are surprisingly detailed, and the camera lets you get fairly close to them, but they have a fairly limited animation range. That isnít too bad, until you get to watch the cut scenes done in game graphics. Then you have what looks like puppeteering when Geppetto has been on the sauce. Special effects are good, though limited. Aside from the aforementioned explosions there really arenít any.
Why is it that games with terrible stories insist on accompanying them with bad voice acting? I canít say they didnít try, as they got Michael Bell in there, so they had a budget of some kind. However the character they had him voice was completely wrong. Think like Matthew Broderick doing the Terminator. Everyone else is just bad, especially the guy who did the ďScottishĒ accent of the first main character.
Musically the game is passable. As with many RTS games there is appropriately military flavoring to the background music, but it remains forgettable enough that playing the game for a couple of hours per mission doesnít get annoying.
Sound effects are cut from the same cloth. Explosions and impacts thunder across the battle field, as snares rattle off you latest advancement in Age and trumpets alert you to an assault on your expeditionary force.
Like so many PC games, this gameís value is entirely dependant upon how much time you want to play it. The single player missions will take you 20 or 30 hours to get through, depending on the difficulty setting and your own skill. With single player skirmish modes and online play capability you can get as much value out of this as you can stand.
If you were a big fan of Age of Empires II then you will probably enjoy this title. Though you could just save yourself the money and play Age of Empires II. The additions to the game donít alter the basic strategy that much. So while this is a solid RTS title, it certainly isnít breaking any new ground.