Review by Stalolin (Steve Rosenburg)
I'm in my base, ameliorating my economy
It can be argued that the original Age of Empires for the PC set the standard for real-time-strategy games, and I certainly agree. But does the third installment (plus two expansion packs) stay ahead of the game and continue to be innovative, or is it just like all the others? Well, I actually can't tell you much about the latter point, having not played a great deal of real-time strategy games in my gaming career (indeed, I've only played Starcraft on the Nintendo 64). I can however, give you a gamer's opinion of it.
Let's take it from the top. The original ('Vanilla' version, as the online player base refers to it) allows a player to take control of one of eight colonial super-powers and attempt to crush the armies of your enemies and build your own economy from the ground up. The campaign is of decent length and is a great way to introduce players who may be new to the whole real-time strategy thing to the concepts and mechanics. In one mission I took control of a giant cannon and smite my enemy's ships in the oceans. Good times were had. An added bonus is the addition of even more story missions in both The Warchiefs and Asian Dynasties expansion packs. This will keep you playing, as the stories are some-what interesting, and the challenge engaging. The battles are also wonderful.
The Warchiefs allow you control of three additional civilisations, those from the Americas - the Iroquois, Sioux and Aztec. Although you may think that each would be almost the same, they each play very differently, and in fact one thing I'm really big on in this game is that although there are so many civilisations, each plays uniquely. They aren't simply re-skinned versions of each other with slightly different units. They're re-skinned versions of each other with very different units, economies, buildings and styles of play. They each look different, and they each play different.
The next addition to the game is the Asian Dynasties expansion. This allows you to choose from another three civilisations, India, China and Japan, each playing very differently to the rest, as mentioned earlier and again come with their own campaign missions.
Gameplay has been slightly changed from previous titles. For one, an export system has been introduced to increase the speed of battles. The player earns experience points for everything he does, from finding treasure through his explorer unit (every game will start you with one who cannot permanently die) to building and destroying buildings and units. When you gather enough points, you are able to choose an export - say, a shipment of resources of military units which will arrive at your Town Centre in a short period of time. As you level up either on or offline, you are able to choose from a wider variety of cards which help you improve your strategy. All the kinds of units you'd expect to be there are. Long range, melee, cavalry etc. and each unit has its own counter unit. While that can be a good thing, it can also reduce the appeal of online games that come down to chance, or a game of rock paper scissors (or in the case of this game, defend, rush, or boom).
The graphics are fantastic, and really add to the atmosphere of battle. You can even zoom and rotate if you happen to be bored during a large battle. However, as mentioned earlier, battles usually break down to one type of unit fighting its counter type of unit and getting murdered. Rarely will you get a great battle with a varied type of unit, unless you're playing the story mode. That said, the online mode is fun, with clans and what-not, but it never seems to be quite balanced, and hasn't been since the start.
Vastly different civilisations, good campaign, relatively good online, great graphics.
Online lags if you don't have a good graphics card, online is never quite balanced, battles can come down to luck, lack of unit variety in battles.
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: Age of Empires III: Complete Collection (AU, 10/02/09)
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