Review by Commander_R

"Age of Empires III: Asian Dynasties"

The real-time strategy genre is probably my favourite for PC gaming. That means I have higher standards for these types of games. I have seen really bad games and expansions, however I also seen truly awe-inducing games. This one, fortunately, is in the latter category.

Today/night (depending when you read this), I am covering, as you probably read in the titles, an expansion pack for age of empires III. This one brings you into the Asian aspects of the time-period while leaving what you loved about AoE (Age of Empires) present. The underlying principle in game-play and mechanics are the same. Your objective is usually this: Force your enemies into surrender, or destroy them all.

Graphics: 10/10 Wow....these graphics are extremely well done and I remember why I was so awed by AoE III when I first played it. Visiting that game with this expansion has brought levels of awe upon me. To get down to the matter at hand, the game follows the same premise in graphics reserving the feel of it during the expansion pack. Even my computer, which is often considered a lower-end computer for gaming, can run this game with few if any troubles, yet you're not going back to the mid nineties.. You would need a decent video card to truly appreciate the awe and effects properly, especially for the water. The units look a little cartoon character sometimes, but that is often the case with an RTS. The particle effects are well done, and the animations were not slapped together the day before release either. This is most evident when using the cannons, because you actually see recoil on the guns themselves. Do I even need to describe the physics revolving around the cannonballs themselves? Do I need to describe the realistic manner in which the unfortunate targets respond? No, just watch and see yourself. The in-game physics are simply amazing.

Audio: 9/10 Again, the audio department has done a superb job in the game`s audio. It actually brings you to the place and the time, and sometimes even replicates the mood extremely well. However, as this is not my area of expertise, I cannot adequately describe the sounds as well as some people could. I will comment on the voice acting, however. I enjoyed the new voices immensely, possibly even more than the array of "oldies" from the base game.

Game-play: 9/10 It is difficult to describe game-play sometimes so I will break this into a few basic sub-categories. These categories will be basic control scheme, menu layouts/user friendliness, and actually getting in and playing the game.

1. Control Scheme: 8/10 The controls works well, your primarily using the mouse although there is a chat feature (mainly applicable in multiplayer games). The mouse selections are pretty much the exact opposite of the command and conquer games I have played to date. Basically the right button is the primary "select and move" button in contrary to the command and conquer utilizing the left. It's a little odd and takes some getting used to. However, once you gets used to it, the game is quite easy to control and manipulate for your purposes. The controls, asides from being "inverted" is about the same as every other RTS you probably played so they works well, but not groundbreaking.

2. Menu Layouts/user friendliness: 10/10 Extremely well done. Not only are the menus easy to navigate but what the developers did in making it as friendly as possibly is astounding. They obviously took the details a lot of other developers neglect and utilized them. For example, there is an option available to adjust "team colors" so color-blind people can have an easier time playing. The tiny details helped make this truly user-friendly. The menus are well-laid out and it isn't hard to find whatever you are looking for. What menu layouts need is to be clear as possible, and it is extremely clear to navigate.

3. Pre-game stage: 9/10 Selecting your team, either one of the 8 original teams, or the 3 exclusive to the expansion, is fairly straightforward and interesting. The maps include all the originals, and new maps. Not only do you have your new "exotic" maps, but you also got larger versions of the old maps, making them longer to play and more engaging in general. All the standard stuff you would expect. However, what makes the series stand out even more is the fact that you get "home-shipment" decks where you select 20 cards. Choose carefully and wisely, for once you start a game you're stuck with them. I will explain them a bit more later in the review.

4. Playing the game: 9/10 In-game, you start with your one building, some settlers, some resources and your explorer. From that you must effectively build a mini-empire and conquer your foes before they conquer you. The strategies can greatly vary, even further by the home-shipment cards. To gain access to these cards, you must earn experience points. To gain experience points you build units/buildings, destroy units/buildings, or gather treasures. In the new expansion all 3 are expanded as well as the cards themselves. This expansion also maintains the premise I have mentioned earlier, destroy your adversaries but adds more.

I need to acknowledge the types of games as well. You got campaigns, skirmish mode and online multiplayer. I will not be covering the latter of the three in this review though.

Campaigns: 8/10 As well as the three old campaigns which follows one large storyline, you are given three campaigns following three individual stories. Now the most notable thing about the new campaigns, asides from being completely unrelated with the original, is the focus on the three teams a lot more. The campaigns are still largely fictional although they do show more of actual history. As I heard one person comment, to be able to actually play in the era would be significantly more interesting which sort of brings the campaign down to a degree. It doesn't completely kill it though.

Skirmish: 9/10 Basically you controls the scenario as much as possible, just in case you want to try and re-create a certain battle. The skirmishes can range from you and an AI opponent on the sandbox difficulty, right to an 8 player campaign on the highest difficulty possible. This game can truly provide a respectable challenge to most players. Throw in alliances and handicaps, and you should be set. You can also play custom maps you made in the map editor.

Map editor: 8.5-9/10 Thankfully this map editor is nothing like the one for "Command and Conquer: Generals" because that map editor was the devil to try and use first time. Admittedly this one can be a little fiddly to use at times but it isn't hard to spend a lot of time working on maps. Whats better then using your cannons to mow down the incoming infantry on an epic map? Using your cannons to mow down the incoming infantry on an epic map YOU created! The map editor can be a little confusing, especially the cinematic parts, but after a while you should be able to figure it out.

Bonus features: 10/10 Now a relatively little-known fact about this is that you can actually learn from this game. Shocking, isn't it? In-game while you're waiting for stuff you can browse to buildings or units, and actually read the real-life history and statistics about what they were or based upon. Some units, like fictional characters, lacks a real history, but teaches you about the character. Alternatively you can use the main menu to access this feature and read all about...well...everything in the eras. I forgets what else there is amongst the bonus`s however.

Replay Value: 9/10 The expansion pack, on top of everything else, really adds to the game-play and makes for a highly enjoyable experience. It isn't hard to punch a lot of time playing this and it isn't difficult to jump back into it after a while.

Conclusion: There is no doubt you should get Age of Empires III if you like the genre, but should you buy the expansion? If you can get it, sure, go ahead. It adds some respectable content and I gotten a fair few hours playing this game. If you like Age of Empires III, and have a respectable interest in playing as Asian factions with Asian maps, get this game. To see if it's worth your time, maybe you should borrow the expansion for a short while? You can always still play the original AoE III when you return the expansion. To conclude, I got one last thing to say in the words of AC/DC: "Pick up your balls, and load your cannons for a 21 gun salute", because this expansion pack`s and everyone involved in the development and testing of this game certainly deserves one.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 08/09/10

Game Release: Age of Empires III: The Asian Dynasties (US, 10/23/07)

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