Age of Empires III: The Asian Dynasties
With the second expansion called The Asian Dynasties, Age of Empires III gets enriched with a couple of new tribes, new technologies and also the return of glory past away. For the first time developer Ensemble Studios passed the torch to Big Huge Games, known from Rise of Nations, expansion and semi-sequel, and together they worked on this title.
The most noticeable innovations to the game are the three new people: Japanese, Chinese and Indian. Not that this was a surprise seeing the title, but luckily also a number of new elements have found their way into this game. Maybe the biggest innovation is the return of the wonders. The Eastern people use them as a sign for greatness of their nation and they form an alternative for the standard “leveling” that we’ve gotten used to since the beginning of the series. This brings along an advantage but also a disadvantage. A wonder can be built quickly if there are enough paisants present but it always takes relatively long so that over that period of time your income will be a lot less. Next to their main function the wonders also provide a special bonus: some train units, others take care of resources, while there are also some add experience or power to your units. By losing a wonder you luckily won’t get catapulted back an entire evolution but only the paired bonus goes lost. A wonder can’t be built twice by the same player so better to protect them well.
Another remarkable return are the castles that – unfortunately, but how could it be otherwise – aren’t even half as strong as those from AoE II. In fact they’re enhanced watch towers, a bit comparable to the fortresses that are available as bonus cards with the Western countries. Contrary to the watch towers they can’t only contain units, but they’re also the main training facility for artillery. Completely new are the consulates that permit to buy units and sometimes even buildings from another country. There can be only an alliance with one other nation though. Units are sold with Export, a new resource in the game. All villagers that actively work make that Export rises. If you give a percentage of your income automatically to your consulate you’ll receive Export bonusses in return.
With the new civilization the buildings have mostly combined functions. Castles give defense and artillery, while barracks sometimes also take care of horses. Also the different buildings that raise your population limit not also give resources, whether or not automatically; a mix of famrs and banks. In short, there was some decent thinking done on which road to go with this expansion.
The three nations don’t only differ a lot from the Western ones (or those from Warlords for that matter) but also from each other. With the Japanese, the first people you get, especially the graphical style is remarkable and this gives the game a unique touch. Maybe the units get their strength from beauty as they’re also very powerful and also the resources come in quite easily. The biggest weakness is the artillery which need to be gotten from the expensive consulate.
The Chinese love artillery on the other hand, they’ve got black ravens which is very effective fireworks when shot in the direction of a building. The foot soldiers on the other hand are a lot weaker and need a mass-effect. It gets noticed that the bonus cards don’t send three, five or seven, but immediately fifteen or twenty units each time. The Chinese don’t have stables but train units from the barracks in mixed squads; f.i. two horses with three infantry units. It needs a bit getting used to but after a while you’ll know which is your favorite groups. Many troops however also demand a lot of resources and that’s the problem here. No free resources like Japan, although the houses can function as farms to grow animals. Rice fields also deliver a solution for food and gold.
Also the Indians bring some variation in the playing rythm. Their economy is built primarily around wood, a lot of wood. Luckily the costs can be lowered with a ton of bonus cards from the home, but of course you’ll need to have earned enough points for this. The Indians fix this by putting holy cows in front of their chariots and have them collect experience. Funny detail is that you can’t butcher cows as Indian to gain food. The units consist out of mostly elephants next to infantry and they’re pretty strong. In my eyes these guys are the strongest, but also the most difficult nation in the expansion.
All three people come with a different storyline. These should be a lot more realistic and historically correct than the Black family from the previous parts, although I must say that the stories still seem to come out of thin air. I’m not quite interested in the Ming Dynasty in the 15th Century and although they do form the lead for the solo missions I keep missing the interesting quests from Age of Empires 2.
In multiplayer a couple of new modes have been added; regicide (protect the king), King of the Hill, and two variations on Treaty. With these latter it’s possible to put up a time limit where players can’t attack each other and the idea is to build your empire as good as possible before the time passes.
Both graphically and soundwise everything is quite alright. The game comes with a nice resampled version of the main melody that works quite catchy. There’s still little to say bad about the graphics engine eventhough you start to feel it’s getting a little older. The only aspect that somewhat disappointed me is the quality of the cinematics that seem to become worse with the years, both ingame as the CGI.
And now the hard, always returning question: is this game worth your purchase? For The Asian Dynasties there was quite some decent thinking about what to make of the expansion. What we get are three really well-made nations, a thin storyline of about fifteen scenarios and this makes AoE III certainly a better game but the addiction factor of number 2 is still far to be found.