If there’s one fanbase I’m scared to talk about, it’d be the Age of Empires fans, specifically Age of Empires II. A game notorious for the skill required to master it, plus having an active fanbase to this day despite it being older than I am, leads to some colorful characters when reviewers have anything negative to say about it. But with the release of Age of Empires 4, I thought I’d take a stab (no pun intended) at the series. However, this is on AOE III, which is the black sheep of the series, due to a number of issues with it. If you’ve never played AOE 2, and you like history/ strategy games overall, buy it, it gets a gold star from me. 3 is a bit more subjective, and tends to be more hit-and-miss for some people.
Age of Empires, for the unaware, is a strategy game based around building an empire from filthy mud huts all the way up to Medieval times. It’s based around resource management, combat, and logistics, basic strategy game stuff.
This is the norm for Age of Empire games, but AOE III decided to change it a bit, going more for the time of colonization and early America and such. Think muskets and Native Americans rather than knights in shining armor. While a lot of the gameplay remained the same, there were a few changes and tweaks to the formula. The most noticeable one was the implementation of a card system. How it works is you pick a deck of cards before the match begins, be it an amount of food, new builders, soldiers.
Then as the game plays out, a timer counts down and when it runs out, you can take one of those cards and the resource will be delivered to you. This gives you the ability to form a limited strategy before the game even begins, which was never an option in AOE 1 and 2.
A decent idea in theory, though it ends up breaking the game a lot of the time, specifically the cards that give you free cannons and artillery wayyy too early. But I enjoy it for what it is, and it’s a trend I wish other RTS games would embrace because it gives it a sense of.. wait for it… Strategy!
In terms of other ideas there’s also a stage coach system. This acts as a passive source of income provided you hold the station, which drops off resources of your choosing as it travels down a path. It adds a sense of strategy to it, adding another objective to keep an eye on, lest an enemy try and take it from you. I also liked te addition of an explorer, a special unti you get that travesl the map scouting for enemies and building trade posts everywhere. I wish there were more upgrades for him, as he tends to be completely useless during the end game but overall it’s a great idea.
Now those sound like great fun and all, but what are the downsides?
Well, the A.I seems to suffer a lack of basic survival instinct, as the enemies can be literally burning down your farms less than 20 ft away and they just stand around, swapping Yugo cards, or whatever the 1700’s equivalent is. This means you have to keep babying your soldiers and making sure they wont just stand idly by while the enemy ransacks your base.
Overall though, I still feel it’s a fun game regardless, and definitely doesn’t deserve the bad rap it gets. If you’re a fan of AOE 2, and never gave III the chance it deserves, I’d recommend picking up the original, which is $14.99 on Steam.