Age of Empires 3: Definitive Edition – War Is Not The Only Path
Age of Empires 3 was something of a different beast for Microsoft when it released in 2005. It wasn’t ever as revered as AoE2: Age of Kings and there seems to be this feeling that perhaps in attempting to keep it fresh, Ensemble created an unbalanced game. Despite that though, it was still a fantastic RTS experience in its own right and one that dared to shake up the established formula. Fast forward to 2020 and that daring approach may just mean that this title holds up in modern times better than than the other entries in the franchise.
For me, AoE3 was actually the game in the franchise I played the most. This was primarily due to the fantastic campaigns that featured in both the main game and two hefty expansions. At this time, telling a good story in an RTS was still something of a novelty, Blizzard had some success with Starcraft and Warcraft 3, but otherwise, everything was cheesy and hamfisted (I am looking at you Command and Conquer.) This still holds true today and these rollicking tales of discovery and destruction are just as entertaining. What immediately impressed me however is the fact that as I booted up the game I was greeted with a screen explaining that the developers had gone back over the story, with help from indigenous peoples, and changed offensive depictions, improving accurate representation and overall making the game more historically accurate. In my mind this is something truly wonderful, it would have been easy for the developers to simply shrug their shoulders and brush it off as a product of its time, so this extra effort should be congratulated.
For those that never played AoE3 the gameplay, while very similar to the previous entries, has had some interesting tweaks that you will either love or hate. The first is the addition of an extra resource, experience. This experience can be used to purchase shipments from a custom made list at your home base. These shipments may be something simple like crates of food, a new cannon or a couple of villagers, but it could also be something like improving mining speed or increasing food production. This addition can throw out the flow of some matches though as often a match can be won based on the shipments sent, without the need to build up any sort of army in a traditional RTS manner. I feel like, while I adore the metagame of unlocking and creating the perfect list of shipments to help me in my conquest, others may find it a little tedious or unbalanced. The second major addition to gameplay is trading posts and trade routes. Trading posts can be built on set locations on the map and will give the player access to a native people’s units or allow players to collect resources from a trade route. This is a nice addition and creates some interesting tactics in the race to claim these prized locations.
Graphically the game has had a nice bump. Sure there is no confusing it for a modern title, but the higher resolutions (up to 4K if your rig can handle it) and the addition of advanced anti-aliasing have given the game a much-needed facelift. There is nothing here that stands out as ugly or hard on the eyes at all despite the game’s age. If I could have asked for one thing, it would have been the ability to zoom out further. I felt a little restricted with my view and after all, monitors have gotten a lot bigger since this game came out so it would have been nice to be able you use that space a bit better. I am guessing that was just too far out of scope for this sort of re-release.
Content-wise, everything you expect is here. The main game and both expansions are present along with a rock-solid skirmish/multiplayer mode and a brand new Historical Battles mode which recreates great battles from the past and finally the “Art of War” mode which present players with short battles that come with a set of pre-defined conditions designed to test player’s skill. Under the hood, the game has also received numerous tweaks, like a spectator mode for multiplayer, a massively improved UI and advanced AI (which is immediately noticeable to someone who has played the original release.) In all, it is a nice collection of quality of life updates and gameplay tweaks that make the title extremely playable in the year 2020.
AoE3 has always been a little bit of a black sheep in the franchise and that still holds true. Some of the additions to the gameplay split opinion upon its original release, but I feel it is those very additions are the things that make this game hold up so well. I adore the metagame, the addition of trading and, of course, the traditional Age of Empires gameplay and can see myself getting addicted all over again. AoE 3 will never be remembered as the all-time classic that AoE 2 is, but it still deserves to be remembered as an upper-tier RTS title that dared to try something new. With the release of this definitive edition, AoE 3 may just reach the classic status that I think it deserves, but even if it doesn’t, I am glad to have it back.