Review by Yoh_of_Izumo

"A Superb Game, but Lacks Historical Value"

So, some of us have grown up playing the real-time strategy games, from Warcraft to Starcraft to Rise of Nations and even the original Age of Empires to this Age of Empires III game. In these past years that have traversed over a decade in real-time strategy innovations and classics, there have been great leaps and bounds to improve the overall gameplay and turn its simplicity into that of a person picking up a chess piece and placing it in the desired square. I give to you Age of Empires III with the best gameplay and graphics I have ever found in a real-time strategy game. It is just unfortunate that the history that surrounds the storyline of this game is so childish and even possibly fabricated.

Nevertheless, if the lack of historical content can be forgotten about, I can say that this is currently the greatest real-time strategy game of the contemporary gaming world. It takes place around the age of Imperialism from the start of the Renaissance until about the middle of the Industrial revolution. Basically, if you wanted to place in reference, just squeeze it a few decades before the turn of the twentieth century and a few decades into the sixteenth century when the exploration of the world was starting to become the fad of those old times.

It is a real-time strategy game, and unlike most games, the world carries on whether you decide to attack or defend. For a person who wants to understand how the battlefield works, just take the troops at your disposal in this computer world and pit them against the enemy. You will be building up your empires and your civilizations and enjoy graphics that will make your mouth water. Unlike in previous Age of Empires games that were rated M for mature, this game has actually taken a stance to have strategy games available for the younger teens by toning down the violence and allowing it to be rated T for teen. The major change is that there is no more blood and no more rotting corpses. Though some may say, well then what is the point in this game? Well, it is not a game for a person to get his jollies in seeing the blood issue forth from his enemy, but seeing whether his brained strategy is the superior to the computer's or other human's strategy. And in all respect, this is not like the ancient times when people usually died and just rotted on the field, but in a slightly more civilized era where soldiers who die are actually buried. Though I really doubt that was the thought ideology of the game designers, it does justify the change, and allow for more focus on the game.

Now enough with the nonsense and onto the review…

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Gameplay: 10/10
There is nothing I can say about the gameplay of this real-time strategy game except that it possesses the best gameplay possible that I ever desired in a real-time strategy game. Fallacies that occurred in previous real-time strategy games have been totally eliminated, and I can finally concentrate on the strategies of the game instead of trying to figure out how I am going to work around the flawed system. As with all real-time strategy games, this game focuses around the gameplay configuration of a two-mouse click movement strategy with left click for selecting and right click for moving. A new added feature of the Age of Empires III game is that I can finally zoom in and zoom out of the map to get a more expansive view of my troops and a more close in personal shot of them. And what is so nice about the close in shot is that the graphical detail of the panoramic shot is preserved and even enhanced at the close-up view. Of course, using the movement of the mouse, a person can easily move around the map. Thanks to the great menu features as well, a player can enjoy adjusting the mouse's speed and at what zoom level he or she wishes the mouse to zoom out. The movement across the map is very elegant and my ability to select and deselect movements have even allowed for a smarter interface protocol by allowing units to be selected one at a time if need be when I do not wish a villager to be part of the platoon. Not only did they fix the problems I wanted them to fix, but they even improved upon problems that I did not even have an idea could be improved.

While we are at it, I guess I should explain how the gameplay of the units and their buildings work. It is so nice that even though this game throws obstacles in the way to distort the rock-paper-scissors strategy, the game works out awesomely well. Let me first discuss the basis of all properly constructed real-time strategy game. In an attempt to promote strategy over merely massing, game creators invoke a thee-round circle strategy. So that if a player decides to mass only one unit, another player can easily annihilate that foolish person. In Age of Empires III, there exists this simplified rock-paper-scissors strategy game with the swordsman, the archers/firearms personnel, and the cavalry. While the ballistic people have superiority over the people at a far range, cavalry and swordsman can easily combat them at relatively close range. But what is interesting is that the swordsman is being phased out as the technology improves. Now with the gun, the person with the gun becomes both the swordsman and the archer as he can attack far away and close by thanks to the bayonet attached to the end of his shaft. Though with this, this may possibly even the battlefield to allow for a more fair fight as now it is a matter of horseman versus ground troop. With this two-sided type of strategy a new counterbalance must be added, and it is added very effectively: the cannon and the siegecraft. No longer is the siegecraft seen as a misbalance in the Age of Empires series of gameplay, but an overall super effective strategy to provide balance and gameplay strategists. With the cannon involved, all successful strategies must use it to effectively eliminate the enemy quickly and efficiently without resulting in the loss of a player's party. The game creators have created a siege weapon that will fire on the enemy and not even endanger the players party, because it appears that the friendly fire of a massive catapult object has been eliminated. Even at close range, this weapon can prove deadly at eliminating the enemy. In reference to buildings: the buildings are not as numerous as before and this aids in the overall gameplay and allows players to focus more on the units and their technologies rather than trying to remember which building houses which technology.

Now then, after discussing that, let us talk about unit deployment and movement. Ensemble Studios finally figured out that people just did not like how they could only select a few soldiers at a time that would result in crippled strategies, and instead allowed tens of ten of troops to now be selected. With this added feature, no longer do people have to worry about having the slowest units move first and then hope that the fastest units catch up after a while. When I usually play, I try to send in armies of about forty to fifty units. Before I had to make sure my siege weapons went first and my cavalry horse units went last, so that when the city was finally under attack, the horseman would finally have caught up with the catapults and defend them. Yet, not only did they improve on this feature, but they also improved on the overall unit placement during movement. No longer do I not only have to worry about selecting only about ten units of a time, but when the units move, they move in organized fashion with the siege weaponry at the very back for the best protection in most situation. Not only do they move as such, they move with the slowest unit, so the horsemen keep the tight formation without opening up the box to chaos and defenseless siege. Even when that looks good, it gets even better. With areas already explored, no longer does a person have to worry about setting up special movement paths for a soldier, because they follow them logically and with the enhanced artificial intelligence system. When I want to make soldiers from one base move up to support the soldiers from another base, there is no need to worry about making sure they do not get caught in something, but they will follow the path accordingly and logically and not as if they could fly as a crow straight and think they could walk over water. Remember when players would have many soldiers moving and then one would get caught in a hidden pixel…well not anymore. Just with these improvements on movement, possibly the most important aspect of real-time strategy interventions, I am greatly satisfied.

Let us not forget the heads up display. Though it seems daunting at first, it is quite friendly at helpful. With multiple buttons at your command, if you do not feel as though you wish to invoke the keyboard hotkeys or even more, refuse to use keyboard commands in real-time strategy games, well this heads-up display gets the job done. No longer do you have to worry about checking on the current progress of a technology or the advancement of your civilization to the next age, because in the heads-up display, it notifies you and tells you of the current progress. When under attack, constant radar emissions will let you easily discover where it is occurring on the overview map. And when you wish to construct an item or invoke the special abilities of a unit, well it is right at your fingertips. The information such as the amount of copper, food, and wood mined is also kept in notice. Now there is a new feature to this heads-up display and it adds some flavor to the gameplay and it is the card play and experience.

Sometimes you may find that you can be short on troops, well, there is nothing to fear, because this card system and help you when you are struggling. Every so often, you will gain experience for killing units of the enemy, constructing buildings, and accrue it gradually as well. After so much experience, you advance a level, and with this advancement in level, you have the option to invoke the cards at your disposal. These cards range from crates of wood to deployments of soldiers. This does not detract from the overall gameplay of the game and if you can effectively and adequately use it, it can end games quicker than usually and put the enemy on the defense.

Now if the campaigns and random games are not enough, a player can try his or her luck with the multiplayer. The multiplayer has been drastically improved from the former two Age of Empires games and now players can see their ranks, record their games to see where they went wrong, and compete on a ladder to see how they compare with the rest of the world. The multiplayer allows players to enjoy strategy, but at a much more difficult level. These players who play in multiplayer understand the ins and outs of the gaming world of the Age of Empires III game. Most of them have specialized in one civilization and know how to use it. Unlike in other games, most of the glitches and pranks have been taken out of this multiplayer fest and it boils down into who can eliminate their opponent the fastest and it is comparable to blitz chess. Though it does not have to be solely about conquest, but a multitude of other options such as collecting the most amounts of resources, building set buildings, or doing a set amount of specified objectives. The multiplayer adds considerable gameplay and replay life to the aspect of Age of Empires III and while it is worth a try, remember to not have it take over your life. Besides multiplayer fun as well there is a campaign and scenario editor to allow a player to create his own maps and his own fun so that perhaps he can emulate history better than the game creators did. The gameplay of this real-time strategy game is awesome, and it those real-time strategy games that refuse to learn from this game are unfortunately behind in the times. There is nothing wrong with this gameplay and I am eager to learn what Ensemble Studios has in-store for its future planned Age of Empires series games.

Story: 4/10
Ya…ouch is correct. Age of Empires III as in its previous games was supposed to be based upon history and not the fantasy realm of other real-time strategy games. Unfortunately though, it is a fantasy except with real people. When I played Age of Empires III, I expected to enjoy partaking in the epic campaigns of the American Revolution, the expansion of the British Empire, and the unification of the Germanic states. However, all I got was a load of rubbish and stories that were most likely made up. It was bad that Age of Empires II did not even provide reading material about the historical events, but this one blatantly forgot its origins as a history based game. Instead, I am dealing with some story about this woman trying to compete and defeat another railroad company's expansion. If there were any history in that than the “oh no, I am going to fight a battle with the enemy just because he said he was going to beat me up” instead of the good history of “we fight for our independence.” It is really a knock in the attempt of trying to make a great strategy game that incorporates one side of the brain in creative thinking and the other side of the brain for epic knowledge in the history of our world. I mean, most people will not read a book about the expansion of the European nations into the New World and its impacts on the Earth, but if only Ensemble Studios had incorporated this before the battles and not some superficial storyline, I would have heralded this game as one of the greatest ever. But no, instead I have to deal with almost comical storylines, but anyways, thank goodness most people only buy games for the gameplay value and not about the educational value, and so luckily this game is saved. Though I am an exception. When I play a game, I want to know there is some worth behind its foundation. It is much more worthwhile to picture myself as the overseer Washington and Lafayette during the battle of Yorktown and the utter defeat of Cornwallis, than to pretend to fight a battle that most certainly never took place. Though with this pretend nonsense, it is a story, but a rather bad one. I just hope that if there is an Age of Empires IV and it takes place during the World Wars that its actually historical fights such as Pearl Harbor and not some “oh no, they stole my mother, let us drop an atomic bomb on them.” Though if the game creators do not improve on this storyline, soon other real-time strategy games will have just as good gameplay and graphics and an actual storyline, and they will be the ones remembered as the classics and not this game. So, if you happen to stumble upon this game expecting a history lesson, expect no such thing. If you came to see whether a noteworthy story that could be worth cherishing from a diary entry existed in this game, you will sadly be disappointed. Yet, if you do not care about story or history and only wish to destroy and conquer, well then, this game is a commendable treasure. Fortunately for real-time strategy games, some people are driven to conquer and could care less about the true meaning in the battle. Are they missing out on something? Yes they are, but this is only a game. Away from the blood and sweat of dieing men in a battlefield, a player can enjoy fantasy through the screen of his computer, and though a disappointment for history enthusiasts, this game proves great else wise.

Graphics: 10/10
The graphics are breathtaking and unbelievable awesome. From the details of individual units to the destruction animation of buildings it is just unbelievable that there is no lag in the gameplay. The ground looks real and the graphics are so beautiful that it does actually seem that you are looking down from the sky on the actual scene. Even the water, one of the hardest graphics to make real, looks real, and very aesthetically pleasing to the eye. As there are no problems with these graphics, I guess I will try to describe some the awesome aspects of them. My favorite part of these graphics is the destructions of the building. When a cannon is sent to attack a building, it blows apart the building piece by piece, with the chimney blowing off, then some parts of the roof, then some of the side walls, and eventually it implodes on itself. It is amazingly awesome to see such graphical power in a game that focuses around strategy and not just superficiality. No longer is it like the silly soldiers when they used to raze buildings in Age of Empires and Age of Empires: Rise of Rome when they poked the buildings with sticks, but instead, the soldiers lob flamed material onto the building to set it on fire. Just watching the individual flames being launched from their hands, floating in the air, and then landing on the building is stellar. Finally, the buildings themselves have their own defenses. As it reminds me of sniper rifles, when a villager or person fires from the towers in a building, a person can see the smoke trail leaving from the building and ending at its shot target. Another amazing aspect of the graphics is with the siege craft cannons and there firing cannon balls. When a cannonball slams into the targets, it usually sends the dirt and the person flying, and if they are close to trees, the trees will come tumbling down as well and shake the screen to give the sense of a tree slamming into the ground. The details are amazing from the overall screen to the zoomed in screen. With the zoomed in screen it is even possible to see the expressions on the people's faces, just stunning. It is amazing that so much action can occur and yet the graphical material on the screen can be preserved. These are the best graphics I have ever seen in a real-time strategy game, and I just cannot wait to see more improvements to the graphics as technology improves and as newer games are released.

Sound: 9/10
The sound is great in this game, but it lacks anything that would really define the game. Though all the music has been redone, it is basically variations of the original Age of Empire games. Though I liked those songs, I would like to have more diversity in the sound field. It does well while a person plays a game, and when a town center is under attack, it even changes tunes to add some more adrenaline to the game where sometimes it is lacking. No longer is this music synthesized anymore or degraded due to compression processes, but is actually a nicely put together chamber orchestral score with some of the best players in the world taking part in this musical composition. Though music is not as important in the sense of real-time strategy games, it is always an extra bonus to have some classical tune. Even though Age of Empires III has a classical theme tune, I wish there was a classical tune while playing in the game as well.

Replayability: 8/10
This game has the many campaigns, random games and skirmishes, multiplayer, and scenario editor to provide tens of hours of gameplay. Though this game is classic in the gameplay sense and graphics sense, the lack of well-confined story ultimately keeps it from being a truly cherished game in the hearts of gamers. And with that lack of a story, most players will only people able to find comfort in the replay factor of this game through its multiplayer action and its skirmishes, which in on themselves can provide bountiful hours of gameplay. But let me warn the typical strategists that do not let yourself get bogged down in this game. It is not a Starcraft in which both gameplay and story made it epic, but only contains about fifty percent of the pie. It does not garner attention, and true light, is only a fad. While Starcraft continues to live on now into a decade, it is very doubtful that this will share that same legacy. Though while it is at its peak, enjoy it while it lasts. It is a game to play through a few times, but it is not the integral part of hardcore gamer. There will be better games out there that complete the full pie, and not let a quarter seem eaten. The graphics and gameplay are so perfected that this game offers multiplayer and replay factor that is well deserving, because as I said before, there is nothing currently that can match it. It is a wonderful game, and while it continues to stand strong with an expansion pack and another one on its way, there is enormous replay value for the typical strategist to hold out on until a true classic appears.

CONCLUSION
Using my rating system for real-time strategy games:
27.5% Gameplay, 25% Story, 20% Graphics, 7.5% Sound, 20% Replayability

Overall Game Rating: 8.025

OVERALL RATING: 8/10
Suggested Action: A great buy for a strategist.


Final Comments: Though not a classic, it is the best real-time strategy game currently out on the markets. Though with Starcraft II showing signs on the horizon, this game could soon be dethroned. It is unfortunate that Ensemble Studios is making Halo Wars a real-time strategy game solely for the Xbox 360, but let the game company have it. If you are looking into the world of real-time strategy and want the friendliest gameplay functionality as well as superb graphics, then this is the hot item on the market currently. Ensemble Studios has had a legacy of making superb real-time strategy games and this here is another one. But let me warn the casual gamer or the person who wants to learn some history, there is no value in this game. Compared to the background information that was so bountiful in the Age of Empires and Age of Empires: Rise of Rome game, this has nothing worthwhile You will not learn anything, and the stories are so superficial, you will not even remember what they are about in a month or two months of time. Nevertheless, if you did not come to be informed on the history of the American Revolution or the French Revolution or the expansion of the Old World in the New World, then this is the game for you. You will not be fighting truly any noteworthy battles, but you will learn to appreciate a game where brainpower is needed. Do you want to feel as though you are the general of an army, well this is the game for you. Create your civilization or destroy it as you see fit (if you destroy though, you will just lost however), and conquer the enemy so that your empire will reign for the centuries to come. I present to you the great Age of Empires III.

Fin


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 07/23/07


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