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Age of Empires 3 Review - Please Rate
I wrote this for a gaming site a while back and when I sent this to Chi, he commented on how much he liked it. I'm posting it here to see what others think. If it were suitable for the site, I could obviously edit the bits that are not applicable to GameCritics.
High: Realizing that I was returning to my beloved Age of Empires series.
Low: Realizing that this was an ill-fated return to my beloved Age of Empires series.
Wtf: The utterly mundane nature of the game defies belief at times.
True story: Cain’s been waiting for this review for weeks. Every now and then he’d give me a cheerful reminder that my Age of Empires III review should be done soon. If this didn’t work, he’d pipe in with a: “So, how’s that AOE III review coming along?” Recently, however, GamerWithin’s esteemed editor had reached a point where he didn’t even need to refer to the game. His discontentment was palpable. It was just the “review”, and the “review” needed to be finished. Unbeknown to him, I was quietly wondering why I didn’t find Age of Empires III outlandishly absorbing, or just as downright brilliant as its predecessor. And this, my friends, is the reason for this review being so late.
It could be that I’m simply lazy and a terrible procrastinator, but I think that I simply didn’t want to begin writing until I had formulated the basics behind what I was going to say. Those being:
1) Age of Empires 3 is excellent looking.
2) It’s not as good as it could be.
3) It’s not as good as we all thought it would be.
4) It’s not as good as its predecessor.
5) Did I mention it’s a sight for sore eyes?
With my five pointers neatly sketched into my “reviewer’s notebook”, I sipped a whimsical brand of tea and continued my pondering.
The idea that Age of Empires 3 is “not as good as it could be, and not as good as we all thought it would be” stems from the fact that prior to review copies, and barring a little demo, we really didn’t know how this game would play. And the fact that the flaws inherent to this game are deeply rooted in the sands or RTSness means that we never could have guessed -- without extended time with Ensemble’s labour of love – that it was all going to be disappointing.
But let’s head in a positive direction first, shall we?
It’s safe to say that AOEIII sticks rather resolutely to some stapled RTS conventions. So, if you’ve spent the last couple of years with any number of successful examples of the genre, you’ll find your feet in accustomed water. And of course, depending on how highly déjà vu ranks in your priority lists, you may be pleased. For instance, your success will be determined by the speed at which you can collect wood, food and gold, subsequently building up an army of mercenaries and defeating the opposing side. So yeah, satisfyingly old-school in some departments, but hardly a leap forward we were expecting then. We’re entering negative water...
Ok, rewind a little. AOEIII’s plot is largely made from the grains that form Gibraltar. In short, it’s an interesting and absorbing yarn. The tale begins in 1500 and extends its hand gracefully, encompassing the 1600’s, 1700’s and reaching its resting place at 1850. A resting place that will doubtlessly act as the starting point for a sequel. But I sense my cynicism taking over. Deep breath…Ok, I’m ready to continue. The game follows the expansion into the New World as eight European nations vie for ultimate supremacy. I’ll shy from spoiling any individual plot elements, but it’s safe to say that each new colony is equipped with a hero, who’s been born from the realms of undead, it seems, for this noble slayer is unable to die.
Your heroes act as the driving force behind the singelplayer story, but since they’re not overly powerful and easily conquerable (perhaps a decision adapted by Ensemble to make the game seem a little more realistic; but since when do humans have the ability to stay alive eternally anyway?) you’ll often find your noble one lying defeated, his face in the ground. Yet, he’s quickly reborn at the spot of his death, ready to return to the fight. Though, if severely outnumbered (and you’re lacking the military forces to aid your hero) you’ll find he dies over and over and over. Ad nauseam.
But removed from the frustrations of ineptly-implemented features is the home city system that sits a fingertip away from your stumpy paws. In essence, the kills you rack up during your singleplayer endeavours, and the buildings you erect, provide XP points that can be used to order goods from your home city (these shipment choices are referred to as “cards”) and have them transported across the Atlantic to your port-of-stay. And yes, this actually all works, since the more you play, the more shipment choices are open to you (your cities level-up). It may be too cumbersome and fiddly for some, but dieheards of the genre will enjoy this RPG-tainted feature immensely.
But the rest of the game is sadly standard-fare. Despite the attraction of your cities constantly improving, and despite the fairly interesting plot, plodding through the methodical campaign is tantamount to difficult at times. Not in terms of the challenge presented, but rather the lack of it. It’s straight-up warfare, where the biggest army wins, and if monotony doesn’t eventually set in, your ability to writhe free of the damned feeling is applaudable.
Suffice to say, I found the whole experience rather tiring. And although the excellent, gleaming visuals are just enough to save my sanity, and the voicework is agreeably solid, the rest of the game is disappointing and cumbersome enough to mean that I’ll be ageing significantly quicker than is anatomically supposed. The bulky HUD, slow-moving units and general banality of the entire experience does me no favours.
Multiplayer is a far cry from a saving grace too, with Supremacy acting as the lone multiplayer component. It entails that you kill every last opponent and was responsible for many an annoyed hour. Really, it’s not worth bothering with.
I should probably apologize for the lateness of the review. It’s just that, finally, I’ve come to terms with the tragedy that is Age of Empires 3. It’s hardly the romantic reunion fans were expecting to have with another staple in their beloved series, and it’s not even a good RTS when looked at in the grand scheme of things.
Disclaimer: Age of Empires 3 was played on the PC for ten to eleven hours.
Parents: Considering you're conducting the game from a top-down perspective, the depiction of violence is not altogether realistic: Therefore, anyone twelve years and older is suitable.
Deaf and Hard of Hearing: Being an RTS, the sound is not vital. Subtitles can be enabled, too.