Age of Empires III: Age of Discovery
Whenever the term Age of Empires is used, nearly every gamer spontaneously recalls himself of Age of Kings, which was released back in 1999. Not only did it look amazing back then, it also offered numerous hours of addictive game play. The multiplayer part is still being played at almost every LAN party out there.
Now, six years later, Microsoft brings us Age of Discovery, third chapter of the series, which takes place during the second half of the previous millennium. But does the game really live up to all these high expectations?
Age of Empires III: Age of Discovery is made up of two big parts. On the one hand, there’s the campaign mode, where a story guides you through all the battles. If you’re not in the mood, you could also try the skirmish mode, where a random level is generated for either single or multiplayer games.
The campaign consists of three acts, three storylines from the life of Claudia Black and her ancestors. It all starts on Malta, where you discover the evil plans of an organisation. They set sail for the new world, looking for the fountain of youth. As a true crime fighter, it is your responsibility to stop them from reaching it!
During the acts, you travel through the entire American continent. You’ll bathe in the white shores of the Caribbean, explore the highest mountains of the Andes and visit the wild wild West. Every area has its own geology and vegetation, and they all look astonishing! The campaign isn’t limited to units of one nation, but changes often as you forge new alliances with other European nations.
Every nation has its own units, and bonuses. Ottomans are still the number one when it concerns artillery (I’ve never seen a gun thát big) and the Dutch are specialised in gathering money by use of banks, a unique building in the game. The differences aren’t limited to just unit statistics: building styles, country banners, unit names and voice-overs were created for each nation. You might get a headache though after hearing German or Dutch chatter for a couple of hours.
When in game, you get the opportunity to ask your home city for backup. The frequency depends on how much experience points you have collected within the current game. Gaining experience can be accomplished by creating units, research certain technologies or simply kill some enemies. Calling help is done by the use of cards, which you can -dependable on its type- use once or infinite times. Most cards ship units or technologies, while others give you one-time buildings. An example of this is the castle, of which you can now only build one. Cards can be combined into decks, with a maximum of twenty cards per deck.
At the end of a game, more experience is rewarded, so new cards can be picked, and improvement to your home city bought. These extensions have no influence at all on the actions of your army, but it does cheer the home town up a bit. A nice detail is that, after the use of a card, the requested units can be found running to their ships.
In the so called skirmish mode, the game doesn’t change that much. The only real difference is that you can choose the nation that you will represent in the new world. It is necessary however to create a profile, that will keep track of your unlocks and experience level. Sadly you cannot change this nation, unless you start another profile. Gaining all those cards takes -yet again- a lot of time. Swiftly picking a nation for a single game is simply not possible.
The level generator for single and multiplayer games offers very little options, compared to its predecessor or even every other RTS in the genre. The map size for instance depends directly on the number of players that was selected. Apart from the starting age and difficulty, there aren’t any options left to adjust.
These skirmish missions mostly turn out into a struggle for the trade posts instead of a ‘real’ war, although the AI is often too stupid to actually take these trade posts. They deliver either resources or experience on a regular basis. The more you own of them, the faster your civilisation can evolve. If trade lanes are upgraded to coach wagons or even steam trains, the speed at which resources are dropped off, are increased, making it even more difficult for the enemy to keep up. Trade posts can not only be built aside these lanes, but also near Indian villages, where some special technologies can be researched.
Last but not least, a word about the graphics. All models are extremely detailed and now show different stages of destruction. It just feels so good to see those poor little towers get shot off the town centre, or how ships plump each other full of canon balls. An extensive soundtrack accompanies the game, and evolves according to the situation at the moment. In battles, the music takes a higher pace, to return to its original melody when order has been restored.
Age of Empires III is a worthy successor for the original series. Even though a lot of ‘fresh’ ideas were implemented in the game, it really lacks the kind of freedom that everyone is used to (and was hoping for). The limited story mode (less than 10 hours!) shortens the lifespan even more. The graphics however make up for this big time, and will make sure this game turns into a hit this fall.