by: M. C. Cosmin
; edited by: Benjamin Sell
; updated: 4/17/2012
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This article contains a complete review of the award winning "Age of Empires III" game and its expansion packs. It provides information about game-play, civilizations, campaigns and new features.
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Age of Empires III is real time strategy (RTS) game developed by Microsoft Game Studios in cooperation with Ensemble Studios and Big Huge Games (for the game’s latest expansion) and is the last RTS game in the Age of Empires Series released so far.
Like all the other Age of Empires games, it is set in our not so distant history and it is based mostly around the Industrial Revolution and the Renaissance of the 17th century.
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The game has two expansion packs. The original game and its first expansion (Age of Empires III: The War Chiefs) were developed by Ensemble Studio and Microsoft Game Studios. However, in 2009, just before the development of the second expansion (The Asian Dynasties) begun, Microsoft, the official owner of the Ensemble Studios since 2001, disbanded the company, and the development of The Asian Dynasties expansion pack was entrusted to Big Huge Games.
In 2010, Microsoft signed a contract with Robot Entertainment for future development of the Age of Empires series. The development of “Age of Empires Online" begun in late 2010 and was released to the public on the 16th of August 2011.
Although Microsoft has not officially dropped development on Age of Empires III, the game hasn’t received any major balance changes or bug fixes since mid 2010. Because there were a lot of technical and balance problems in the game, third party developers created “community patches" with improved reliability and game-play balance. The community patch build is not officially recognized by Microsoft, but there are online communities based on this game version.
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The graphical engine is developed by Ensemble Studios and is very similar to the one Age of Mythology uses, but with several improvements and added visual effects, perfectly recreating the atmosphere of the 17th century. The game is based around the industrial revolution. You can now use trains, factories and advanced artillery to overcome your opponent’s army.
Unlike the other games in the series, Age of Empires III is a lot less friendly towards turtle strategies and will reward aggressive and active players through experience points and bonus shipments.
As a basic concept, the game was initially focused on the colonization of the two American continents, but it was decided to extend the game until after the industrial revolution. When you first play a custom game, you will be asked to choose a civilization and create a home city. As you play, you will gain experience points.
When a certain amount of experience is accumulated, you will gain a bonus shipment from the home city. These shipments can be almost anything, from extra workers and resources to advanced upgrades for your colony and military units. The home city will also gain in levels as you gain experience points. The higher the level of a home city, the more powerful shipments become available.
This basically makes your town a colony belonging to the home city, perfectly recreating the atmosphere of early American colonization. This also means you will be focusing on playing one civilization, although you can switch between home cities and thus civilizations at will before creating a game.
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New Gameplay Features
Shipments, also known as cards, are grouped in decks. You can only use one deck in a game, and a deck can contain between 20 and 25 cards, depending on the level of your home city (you gain 1 extra card for each 10 home city levels). These cards can completely modify your game-play. Usually, players will have several different decks for each map style.
Trade routes. Trading is a little different from what you might be used to in other Age of Empires games. Instead of creating a trade route by producing caravans and ordering them to move between town centers, you now have one or more trade routes already established on the map, each with several drop-off points along the way. Players can gain extra resources or experience by building trading posts at these drop-off points. Under the “supremacy" victory condition, once a player controls all available trading posts and holds them for 10 minutes, he wins the game .Therefore, preventing your enemy from controlling trading posts is essential for victory.
Native civilizations. When they first arrived in America, the first colonists discovered the native cultures of the continent. In Age of Empires 3, native settlements are scattered across most maps. Building a trading post near those settlements will give you the possibility to train native warriors and research unique technologies to aid in combat. Unlike other units, the native warriors do not use population slots; however, you can only train a handful of them per trading post. This means the more native settlements you ally with, the more native warriors you can control, making your army bigger and stronger.
Explorers and treasures. When you create your home city, you will be asked to name your explorer. The explorer is a hero-type unit which will accompany you in all the games you play using that specific home city. He cannot die. If his hit points reach 0, he will simply fall unconscious on the ground and will wait for you to rescue him. The explorer is mostly tuned for exploring early game. His combat capabilities will increase with age advancement and special shipments. He can also build trading posts (a lot faster than villagers) and collect treasures. Treasures are special items scattered across the map, and guarded by neutral units called treasure guardians. To claim a treasure, one needs to defeat the guardians and use a villager or explorer to pick it up. Treasures can contain resources, units, upgrades or even wagons used to construct buildings.
Units can now be trained in groups of 5. Instead of building 10-15 production facilities to create an army at an acceptable pace, buildings can now train up to 5 units at once, the only exception being the villagers, which can still be trained one at a time.
Passive incomes. When the map runs dry, players can still generate resources through farms, plantations and factories, which can generate infinite amounts of resources, but at a slower pace compared to natural sources.
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The campaign is no longer based on historical facts, but instead follows the story-line of a fictional “Black family" and its arch-enemy, the Circle of Ossus. The campaign is split into three acts, Blood, Ice and Steel and spreads across several generations of the Black family.
Each of the two expansion pack will have their own three campaigns; however, they come back to the historical style that made the other Age of Empires games so successful.
The War Chiefs campaign depicts the fall of the native civilizations in America and the Asian Dynasties tell the story of the emancipation of the Asian civilization. The only expectation is the Chinese campaign, which sets up a fictional trip of the Treasure Fleet to the Americas, before the Europeans discovered them.
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Knight Morgan Black of the Knights of Saint John first gets to the new world while pursuing an Ottoman fleet which was apparently looking for the Fountain of Youth. Morgan Black befriends several native tribes and a female pirate, with which he will have several children.
Morgan soon finds out that the ottomans were not after the Fountain for their own benefits, but to prevent the Circle of Ossus from claiming its sacred waters. This Circle wanted to water to ensure world-wide dominance as these waters would make their armies almost immortal. It was lead by the head of the Knights of Saint John, and Morgan is forced to betray his commander and blow up the Fountain.
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In the next act, Morgan’s grandson, John Black and his Mohawk friend Kanyenke are dragged in a fight with the Circle when the latter kidnaps John’s uncle. After that they start tracking the circle and attacking them whenever possible. During the “Ice" act, a lot of America’s turmoil past is related, such as the Independence War and the rise of the United States of America.
John ends up giving his life to prevent a massive army controlled by the Circle from establishing a beach-head on the western coasts of America. He will have a child with his friend’s sister. As a reward for John’s sacrifice that basically saved the defenseless colonies, the newly formed American government gives the Black family a large sum of money, with which Nathaniel, the son of John Black, will fund the creation of a mighty railway company.
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In the final act, John’s granddaughter, Amelia Black, finds herself facing the total bankruptcy of the Black Company. She is lured by a French prospector called Pierre Beaumont to a mountain pass where supposedly a great treasure was hidden, a treasure that would save the company.
However, Pierre Beaumont was working for the Circle and was planning to kidnap Amelia and torture her for the information regarding the location of the Fountain of Youth. Kanyenke saves her and together they track Beaumont to the Andes, where the Incas were holding the last barrels of the Fountain’s waters.
Although Amelia’s forces manage to drive the Circle back, Beaumont manages to steal the last of the fountain’s waters and retreats to the Ossuary near Havana, where they would make their last stand against the combined forces of the Black Company and the United States.
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Civilizations in the Original Game
The game offers 9 playable civilizations, and each expansion adds another 3, for a grand total of 15 with both expansion packs. The civilizations are completely different when it comes to play style, units and available cards. Each of the civilizations has their unique advantages over the others:
British: They gain a villager each time they build manors. Replaces houses with manors which are a little more expensive. Their best units: hussars, musketeers and longbowmen; they have the best fleet in the game if all naval shipments are sent.
Spanish: The experience threshold for shipments is lower. Their best units are Rondeleros, Pikemen and Lancers. The Spanish explorer can train war dogs to help secure treasures early game.
French: Instead of villagers they use the more expensive Coureurs des Bois, with increased hit points, armor, attack damage, gathering rate and building speed. They have the best cavalry in the game: the Gendarme (Cuirassier); they also have a lot of shipments dedicated to native warriors.
Portuguese: They receive a free covered wagon each time they advance an age, which can be used to create Town Centers. They are the only ones who can have more than 3 Town Centers at any given time and earlier than the Fortress Age. Unique units: Cassadors (anti infantry unit) and Organ guns (light artillery). Their powerful ground force is backed up by a fairly strong navy. Their best units are the Jinte Dragoons (ranged cavalry) and Musketeers.
Dutch: Their villagers cost coin instead of food, and the maximum amount of villagers they can have out on the field is lower. To counter this, their gold production is doubled by using banks, which generate a steady income of gold through the game. Their best units are the Carabineer Ryuter (ranged cavalry) and the Nassau Halberdier
Russians: They train villagers and infantry in batches. They can quickly muster large amounts of units. Most of their units are unique: Strelet, Cossack and Oprichnik; their best units are the Tartar Cavalry Archer and Pavlov Grenadier.
Germans: Have a special villager only available through shipments which gathers and builds faster than normal villagers. Unique units: Uhlan, War Wagon, Doppelsoldner. Their best units are Skirmishers and Uhlans. They gain uhlans or other military units with each shipment sent, making them very effective at harassing the enemy.
Ottomans: Specialized in rushes. Their villagers cost no food and Town Centers steadily produce them, at a slower rate than normal Town Centers. They have the most powerful artillery unit in the game: Grand Bombard; Unique units: Janissary, Abus Gun, Spahi, Great Bombard, Galley and Imam, and their best units are the Gardener Hussar and Baratcu Grenadier.
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Civilizations Added in The War Chiefs Expansion Pack
The Native Americans introduced in the War Chiefs expansion pack offer completely different play styles, but they are, however, no match for the European powers. Their War Chiefs grant bonuses to nearby friendly units. The fire pits serve as ceremonial sites, granting bonuses and powerful spells depending on the number of units dancing around the fires.
Iroquois: The War Chief (explorer) increases the hit points of nearby units; they can build buildings for free using travois. They receive a travois or two every time they advance in age. They are probably the only Native American civilization that can measure up with the European powers as they can use a shipment that doubles their army numbers.
Sioux: The War Chief increases speed of nearby units. They start with 200 population slots so they don’t need to build houses, but they are unable to wall their settlements.
Aztecs: The War Chief doubles the experience gained by nearby units when killing enemies. Their Warrior Priests count as both warriors and healers. The War Hut acts both as a defensive structure and unit production facility.
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Civilizations Added in The Asian Dynasties Expansion Pack
Honoring the already established tradition, the three new races added in the last expansion pack are also completely different from the others. Instead of having only one explorer, with the exception on China, they start with 2 weaker and unique versions of the European explorer, which can gain some interesting abilities through shipments. A new resource is introduced: export.
An Asian culture can benefit from the intervention of a European power. Once you build a consulate, you can choose a European culture to ally with and exchange export points for units, buildings, resources and upgrades. Export is automatically generated when gathering resources. Another differentiating factor is the way Asian cultures advance in age. Instead of researching the advancement at a Town Center, they build wonders using their villagers. The more villagers used to build the wonder, the faster the age advancement becomes.
China: instead of the standard unit production of other races, China has unique banner armies containing two different types of units. They only have one explorer, however, when in combat, the explorer can convert enemy units into disciples, which in turn can convert others. They build villages instead of houses and their population cap is set to 220, with 20 slots higher than others. On the down side, their units are weaker than the counterparts of other civilizations and they have very weak artillery support.
Japan: They build shrines instead of houses which act as mini-factories, generating resources. They can’t hunt. They can summon special units called Damyos, which can train units out in the field and receive shipments, as well as provide bonuses to nearby friendly units.
India: Their villagers cost wood. They start with more wood than food, and their first wood gathering speed upgrades are already researched. They can build mango groves for extra wood supplies. Their cavalry is composed of camel and elephant riders. Their artillery is composed of cannons mounted on Elephants.
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Age of Empires III has a completely integrated multiplayer support, with both dedicated servers through the Ensemble Studios Online service and Local Area Connection. The dedicated system provides support for clans, leagues, ladders, a decently good match making system and home cities saved online. Players gain points as they win against players of higher ranks. When a certain amount of points is reached, the player gets a new rank.
The one problem with the Ensemble Studios Online service is the match making system, which sometimes forces two players of very different skill level to fight each other, resulting in low level players being bashed from time to time by veterans. This was partially fixed by community patches using a third party online service for the community patch.
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Although it no longer recreates the epic battles of the past (nope, it won’t pass you the history exam), Age of Empires III is still rich in historical references and data. They offer a small wiki containing trivial information about the units and buildings in the game and their actual roles in the past times.
Unlike the similar wiki present in the Age of Mythology game, this one cannot be accessed while in-game. Instead, you will have to finish the game and go to the wiki from the main screen buttons, and then look for units and buildings there. Luckily, the wiki is very well structured, so finding what you need should not be a problem.