Many developers have been going darker with the tones of stories lately. It's time we stop asking definitively if this is a good or bad thing and consider the artistic value at hand.
Oldies but Goodies: Age of Empires III
The Age of Empires series has been a stalwart member of the real time strategy genre since its first installment back in 1997. Age of Empires II (released in 1999) was so popular that they recently redid it in HD. Age of Empires III (2005), on the other hand, is just up to date enough that nobody is interested in revamping it, but just old enough that there really aren’t a whole lot of people talking about it anymore. In fact, the only reason that it occurred to me to write about this game that I spent so many hours pretending I was some sort of ingenious strategist in is because the full collection (including Native American and Asian Dynasty expansions) was on sale a few weeks ago on Steam and I decided that it was worth picking up and playing through again.
I thought I would revisit a couple of levels and smile at the nostalgia before moving on to greater things (i.e.- final essays, interpersonal relations, pizza), but I was very wrong. After finishing the first campaign in its entirety, I snapped out of my gaming frenzy just long enough to realize that I was going to need to play this game more regularly. AoE3 stands as proof that fun can always stand the test of time. Perhaps, comparatively, eight years doesn’t seem like such a long time for a game to be out. From my perspective, however, it’s the difference between childhood and young-adulthood. The map editor was one of my first adventures into the basics of level design and learning to appreciate how much work goes into the creation of a video game. Sure, those levels I made were usually just battles between armies of cannons, but that’s still a lot of fun.
AoE3 made a number of changes to the style of the series, most notably the addition of the “Home City,” a level-able city that allows you to build a deck of “shipments” comprised of resources, troops, or other helpful things that can be sent as your colony advances and gains experience. Experience can be obtained by killing enemy units/structures, building your own, exploring, setting up trade routes… pretty much everything in this game generate experience in some way, shape, or form. Home cities are easily impressed.
As far as strategy is concerned, this game is pretty basic. Most matches come down to “who can produce the most powerful units faster?” Maneuvering (beyond early positioning decisions) only plays a minor part in the outcome of battles. That said, there are tons of playable countries, each with its own play style and unique units. Every country works against every other country, but the sheer number of options brings an immense amount of variety to the confrontations that arise.
If you get the chance, definitely pick up the complete edition. The new campaigns are extremely fun, and each expansion makes significant changes/additions to the gameplay mechanics. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go see what happens when 100 organ guns face 100 elephants with flails on their trunks.