- Genre: Real Time Strategy
- Format: DVD
- Developer: Ensemble Studios
- Publisher: MacSoft Games
- Minimum System Requirements: Mac OS X v10.3.9, 1.4GHz G4/G5/Intel Mac, 512MB RAM, 64MB video card (with support for hardware T & L), 56K dial-up Internet access or LAN for online play
- Review Computer: 1.8GHz G5 iMac 17", 512MB RAM, Nvidia GeForce FX 5200, Mac OS X v10.4.2
- Network Feature: Yes
- Processor Compatibility Universal
- Price: $54.99
- ESRB Rating: T (blood, violence)
- Availability: Now
- Official Website: www.agecommunity.com
A smashing success of a follow-up game, Age of Empires III (AoE III) gets almost everything right in this incarnation. It is an improvement on itself that appeals beyond its original base and should draw in a wider audience than the original. Improvements in graphics, gameplay, replayability, and basic features of the game make it almost deserving of a second title rather than being packaged as merely a follow-up or an upgrade to the original.
Noticeably stepped up from their original game, the graphics are stunning. At the "Normal" setting, which places you far enough above the action that you can see and control major aspects of the town or a current battle, the characters, trees, and buildings are quite detailed. But the graphics really shine as you approach the action. Instead of getting murkier and less defined, the faces and landscape come into sharper relief as the camera draws nearer. The battle scenes are visually alluring, and in the first few plays I found myself distracted by their accuracy. The water and other parts of nature also are a treat to the eyes. The developer's website indicates that they had the bold goal of producing the best-looking game ever, and it is likely they succeeded.
Step back and enjoy the scenery.
Graphics and game engines usually perform a few visual stunts from a menu of choices based on the actions or amount of damage done during the game. The level of attention played to these options usually speaks to the quality and value of a game. AoE III improves on this by creating parts of buildings or weapons or trees that are not just landscape but are, instead, "real." That is, in battle, a tree might fall and kill an otherwise uninjured or unengaged solder...as happened to me. Cannon balls ricochet and send injured villagers flying off into the woods or, sadly, over a cliff to their doom. Town Center roof parts fall off onto your closest attacking forces, inflicting very real damage, as might happen to careless troops in a real battle.
A new level of play in your ability to form alliances comes with setting AoE III in the Americas. Each playing locationthe Carolinas, the Rockies, the Great Plains, and moreoffers the opportunity to join with two or more native tribes. Strategically, these alliances offer more than just warriors; depending on the tribes with which you ally, you can learn skills that benefit your own town center and even your own or your team's ability to move, defend themselves, or produce and gather goods more efficiently. The alliance is formed by the simple creation (and defense) of a trading post on a designated spot in the native village. Indian soldiers can then be generated from the trading post and are under your full command.
The aspects of game progression detailed below work together to provide strategic benefits as well as an inducement to play the game over and to replay more efficiently and effectively. The replay value of AoE III is quite high, and this reviewer has not yet tired of the game weeks into the AoE III experience. It is no longer about merely acquiring wood and creating an army that outlasts theirs. Develop a long-term strategy that makes sense to you and pursue it over many weeks and moths of gameplay.
- Home City: As a great explorer, you find yourself backed by a great home city. Your Queen, or King, or other ruler will periodically send resources of your choosing to your Town Center. Each age allows you access to different resources, some of which can only be sent once, others which can be sent an infinite number of times. As you conquer parts of the campaign, or defeat enemies in the random map or custom scenarios, your home city acquires prestige and power. Additionally, you can choose which resources to develop in your home city, so, its growth is also dynamic and able to be personalized. This adds yet another level of strategy to the game.
Improve your home city.
- Cards: The supplies that can be sent to you from your home city come from a deck of "cards" that you can add to as your home city grows in prestige. You start with a reasonable deck of cards that entice you to advance through the ages to acquire goodies such as forts, additional villagers, and needed troops. As you earn points for accomplishing certain goals during gameplay, you unlock additional cards to add to your deck. Because your deck is of limited size, unlocking new cards can make victory easier, but makes strategy more important. You won't ever again have all of your resources at your fingertips, and must decide in advance which card will be most useful before you enter a scenario.
- Establish trading posts quickly with the local natives. You'll need the improvements that come in the second age, including the ability to create healers from some of the tribes, and the warriors who can inexpensively be used to irritate an enemy town while you build up a force for a full attack. (Exploitation remains the tactical best use of the natives. Sorry.)
- Conquer trading routes and upgrade quickly once you've acquired two. These trading posts generate needed resources. You can only choose to gain experience at the first level, but after that you can choose to acquire food, wood, or gold as needed. Advancing to stagecoach or train speeds up the shipments.
- Dedicate a portion of your villagers to acquiring solely what is needed to advance to the next age. As villagers no longer need to carry the resources to your town center, it makes sense to send them to distant stands of trees or faraway mines early on, when they are less likely to be killed by your enemies' troops. In a long siege, you'll then still have resources available close to home.
Get townspeople to work!
- If you want to upgrade a particular type of soldier while growing an army, queue up the upgrade to happen after you create the unit. The units will be available more quickly, and the upgrade will occur on your way to lay siege. Or, in a worst-case scenario, you have the troops available to defend against a siege of your own Town Center, and the upgrade will take effect during the battle.
- Advance - advance - advance. The strongest army is not necessarily the biggest, it's the one that is most technologically advanced. Get to the next age! Then do it again!
Mac Settings Tips:
I found that in order to get optimal gameplay on my Mac, I had to reset my dock and my Exposé settings. Frequently, when scrolling around the map, one needs to drag the mouse into a corner. With exposé enabled, this caused the screen to jump and triggered my finder menu to come to the front, leaving the game playing. With my troops running unguided, I lost precious seconds re-clicking the game, then resuming my efforts to scroll back to my desired destination. This occurred even when playing on full screen, and only stopped when I went to System Preferences / Dashboard & Exposé and dragged down the menu bars to disable each corner (setting each to "-").
Additionally, if your Dock is hidden at the bottom of the screen, it will be triggered by dragging your mouse down during the game. Again, this is a common move during the game, so it quickly got annoying. Disabling the Dock from the Apple menu / Dock / Turn Hiding Off, or by hitting Open Apple + Option + D, solved this problem.
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