Ensemble studios is back on the history track with its
long-awaited third game in the Age of Empires series. Age of Empires III (AOE3), a real-time strategy game, turns to modern history, letting players lead a variety of European nations. Eight nations battle across a variety of terrains — from the swampy Florida to the snowy, rocky mountains.
The 24-mission campaign is well designed. Divided into three acts, it tells the story of three generations of the Black family. The range of missions is varied. Players need to protect a structure or a town from the enemy, destroy enemy structures, rescue captured settlers, seize trading posts, liberate native American settlements and more.
With a solid multiplayer interface — Ensemble’s online matchmaking service — the starting games are remarkably easy and there’s a wide variety of options to choose from. Different starting eras and resource levels let players start as advanced a game as is desired. The AI is designed to (sort of) imitate a human player.
The range of technologies and units is relatively broad. In the early ages, players have troops very similar to the set from AOE2. But soon they have to handle countless musketeers and bombarding towers. AOE3 introduces some new elements — home cities, native tribes, trade routes etc. Since there are no resource dropsites, it’s hard for players to keep track of their settlers.
The graphics are of the highest standards. Wonderfully detailed buildings, units in colourful uniforms, gun fire, cannon balls splashing in the water — all these effects go into the making of a credible visual presentation. The water and lighting effects look very natural. The explosions too are good but the destruction of buildings seems somewhat repetitive.
The units move and fight spontaneously. So does the cannon crew which goes through, reloading and firing each shot. You can’t spend too much time appreciating these finer points in a battle but it’s still worth checking out. Though the individual missions are introduced by cutscenes, there are movies at both ends of each act.
The sound is impressive. However, the only complaint about the sound is that there aren’t enough vocal cues. You must keep constant track of your units because they won’t warn you of, say, an attack by wolves. But that unpredictability is part of the fun.
AOE3 is a balanced and polished game. The whole presentation is rock solid. While the graphics are definitely the first thing you’ll notice, the real appeal lies in the gameplay. The range of opportunities in both the single player and multiplayer missions will definitely have you working out innovative strategies.
Minimum system requirements: Operating system: Windows XP, processor: 1.4 GHz or higher, RAM: 256 MB or higher, free hard disk space: 2 GB or higher, modem: 56 KB or higher (multiplayer), video card: 64 MB or higher, sound card