Fifteen years after its original release on PC, Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition is launching today on the Windows 10 Microsoft Store, Steam and Xbox Game Pass for PC. The game follows the previous releases of Age of Empires: Definitive Edition and Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition, and Microsoft has launched a new Age of Empires Definitive Collection that includes the three remastered games for $44.99.
As someone who loved previous episodes but never played the original Age of Empires III, I was quite excited to go hands-on with this remaster. Until now, my favorite Age of Empires game was Age of Mythology from 2002, which I still prefer over the Age of Empires I and II remasters. Despite the impressive visual overhaul and real attention to detail, I found that the core gameplay of the two Age of Empires games didn’t Age really well.
For this review, I want to first go through the gameplay changes introduced by Age of Empires III, then detail all the improvements brought by this new Definitive Edition of the game. If you never got the chance to play the original Age of Empires III, I'd say that there’s definitely a learning curve, though people familiar with the series should have no real trouble to adjust to the new gameplay.
A more complex but satisfying gameplay
Coming from Age of Empires 2 and Age of Mythology, there are a couple of things that confused me when I started playing Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition. First of all, resources gathered by villagers are immediately added to your stockpiles, and it’s no longer necessary to build dedicated buildings for collecting food, wood, or gold. Moreover, you can now assign up to 10 villagers to collect food on a farm, instead of 1 villager per farm like in previous Age of Empire games.
Another notable improvement compared to previous episodes is that military units are created in batches instead of one by one. This makes it much easier to quickly build an army. Moreover, this should also prevent your new units from being slaughtered by enemies when you automatically send them to the battlefield.
If Age of Empires II focused on the middle-ages, Age of Empires 3’s story is all about the European colonization of the Americas. This impacts the gameplay in many new ways, with each map containing villages of native tribes where you can build Trading Posts. Doing so will grant you access to unique units from allied tribes which can make a real difference on the battlefield.
In Age of Empires III, you’ll also need to select a different type of politician every time you’ll advance to the next age. Each politician grants one-time bonuses including resources, units, and military upgrades, and you’ll need to choose carefully if you want to speed up your progression.
Another big change in Age of Empires III is the ability to send shipments from your home city to the new world. You'll unlock more powerful shipments as you progress through the different ages, which will provide resources, units, and other bonuses. At the end of a game, you can also visit your home city and choose new shipment types, called cards.
This is really a core new gameplay element in Age of Empires III, as you can also pre-select a ‘Deck’ of cards to send to your colony during all future games. Every civilization has a unique set of cards, making the 16 different civilizations slightly more different than in previous games.
What’s changed in this Definitive Edition
Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition includes all 8 campaigns from the original game and all expansions, and Microsoft did some work to revisit the Native American storylines to make them more historically accurate. The 16 civilizations include two new ones, the Incas and the Swedes, and each civilization has its own units, buildings, and city shipments.
On the graphics side of things, this Definitive Edition made the jump from DirectX 9 to DirectX 11, bringing support for 4K graphics, new particle effects, lighting, shadow, and destruction systems. The in-game cinematic have also been re-rendered with higher fidelity, and the music and sounds have been remastered. The UI has also been overhauled with 3 distinct layouts to choose from, and the camera is also more flexible and allows players to zoom in and out even further.
In this Definitive Edition, developer Tantalus Studios also made the choice to completely unlock the Shipment Orders (cards) and the Age-up Politicians. "In the original game, you had to grind for hundreds of hours to unlock all the good cards for each Civilization, and we felt that it gave an unfair advantage to experienced players,” explained Joss Ellis, Director of Development at Tantalus in an interview.
In addition to the different campaigns and multiplayer modes, Age of Empires III Definitive Edition also introduces new tutorials, historical battles and “Art of War” challenge missions. All these solo modes should benefit from better AI which should better react to what’s happening on the battlefield. There’s also a new “Extreme difficulty level which should be more challenging than the “Expert” level in the original game.
There are a lot of welcome changes for the multiplayer modes as well, including a new server-based system, Spectator mode, integrated leaderboards, ranked ladders, and matchmaking. The game also supports crossplay between Steam and the Windows 10 version, and I had no matchmaking issues during my tests.
Last but not least, Age of Empires III Definitive Edition will support mods, and a few of them built for the original game will still be compatible. For convenience, Tantalus Studios added a central hub at ageofempires.com/mods where players can upload their mods and browse for content.
There's still more work to do
Age of Empires III Definitive Edition is an enjoyable RTS game overall, but I can’t conclude this review without outlining some issues that can be quite irritating. First of all, the pathfinding problems that plagued the Age of Empires I and II remasters are also present in AoE III: DE, and you may regularly need to help some lost units reach their destination. In one occasion, some of my units also became stuck in a wall, and I had no choice but killing them.
I hope developers will address these pathfinding issues with post-launch patches, but I also have some complaints about the AI. During battle, I often saw some of my units standing there doing nothing while the rest of them are fighting enemies. More often than not, units also focused on attacking buildings instead of the enemies currently attacking them, so you can't really count on the AI to do what's best on the battlefield. Obviously, the revamped AI that the developers introduced in this remaster still needs some work.
Still, Age of Empires III remains a great RTS game, and it has now beaten Age of Mythology as my favorite Age of Empires game. The gameplay improvements, graphical upgrades, and Cards system really make a difference, making Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition an enjoyable strategy game by 2020 standards. Microsoft will continue to support AoE III: DE after its release, and I hope the aforementioned problems will be fixed.
Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition is a $19.99 purchase on the Windows 10 Microsoft Store and Steam, and it's also available on Xbox Game Pass for PC starting today. For new subscribers, we remind you that you can get your first month for just $1 instead of $9.99.