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August 2021

Age Of Empires III: Definitive Edition

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Strategy
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Tantalus
Release Date: Oct. 15, 2020

About Chris Barnes

There's few things I'd sell my soul to the devil for. However, the ability to grow a solid moustache? I'd probably sign that contract ... maybe ... (definitely).


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PC Preview - 'Age Of Empires III: Definitive Edition'

by Chris Barnes on Oct. 2, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Age Of Empires III: Definitive Edition completes the celebration of the real-time strategy franchise with remastered graphics and music, all previously released expansions and brand-new content to enjoy for the very first time.

When I view a friend's profile on Steam, if an Age of Empires title is in their list of played games, then there's an obscenely high hour count alongside it. Simply put, Age of Empires is a beloved franchise, and the third entry in the series, Age of Empires III, is no different. Over the last couple of years, Forgotten Empires has taken on the challenge of bringing these highly praised games to modern platforms. With balance changes, updated assets, and additional content, the developer has put in the work to capture the attention of both existing fans and newcomers while the world patiently awaits the full-fledged sequel, AoE IV.

Despite my friends' playing habits, I'm a newcomer to the series. Beyond a couple of cooperative skirmishes against the AI in the enhanced version of AoE II, I never joined my friends in their glorious struggle for global conquest. With the AoE III: Definitive Edition being released in a couple of weeks, it felt like the perfect time to finally dive into the franchise.

It didn't take long to see why people adore these titles. They check off all of the necessary boxes in an addicting RTS.

Catchy one-liners when selecting units? Check.

Satisfying audio cues when construction completes? Check.

Unique building designs that make for quick and easy management? Check.

Everything felt right while playing. Within minutes, I was enjoying an RTS — admittedly, I haven't felt that way in a while because the hectic nature of the genre often drives me away. AoE III offers an intelligently designed UI (reworked from the original version to meet modern standards) to introduce efficiency, mitigate some of the chaos in the genre, and provide a more satisfying gameplay experience.

For example, AoE III displays a resource count in the bottom right of the screen, along with the number of villagers allocated to the collection of each resource. Clicking the villager allocation automatically selects one those unit types. With this, I can quickly tell where I have a surplus of resources and/or villagers and reallocate them to take on a higher priority task. In other RTS games, I would have blindly picked a villager, unaware that they were the sole person assigned to gold collection, and sent them off to another task. The systems in AoE III are transparent and approachable because the numbers are laid out in a digestible manner. Little things like this made the management feel less chaotic and more strategic for newcomers who may struggle to keep up with the various numbers and mechanics in an RTS.

I spent most of my time playing the story mode, and after four hours of getting familiar with the basics, I felt ready to jump into some online matches. I opted for a cooperative match with strangers against the AI because that's my favorite mode in RTS games. Playing as the Incas, one of the new civilizations added to the Definitive Edition, the game maintained its balance of strategy, chaos, order, and fun. Even as a rookie, I didn't feel like I was getting left in the dust. Units were churned out from my barracks at a steady rate, walls were in place, and I was comfortably assisting my teammates when the AI started rushing them. It felt good to not feel like a totally useless third wheel. Our defenses prevailed, and it was time to turn the tables on the AI.

With plenty of units ready to go, I joined in on the best part of any cooperative online RTS: computer stomping. Alas, the game froze on me just as we started wiping out one of the computer-controlled civilizations. The match was short enough (30 minutes) that I didn't lose any sleep over it, but it was still a bit of a letdown. This was my only technical hiccup during my six hours with AoE III, so hopefully these instances are few and far between.

How do the graphics fare in the definitive edition? Within seconds of booting up the story mode, I was surprised to see that the cut scenes didn't take up my entire monitor. The cut scenes seem to be rendered in real time, so I'm not sure why they're still presented in the 4:3 aspect ratio from the original version of the game. It's not a deal-breaker but slightly disappointing because it didn't feel like I was playing something released in 2020. To help me compare the Definitive Edition to the original game, I purchased the classic version of AoE III just for this preview. The visuals have been touched up, so in this respect, Forgotten Empires has done a good job of maintaining the game's look and feel while adding a shiny new polish. Faction colors are more vibrant in the Definitive Edition, making battles easier to manage. Some of the environments have additional foliage and wall textures to make them feel less flat. They're subtle but welcome changes that adding some life to the game world without detracting from the action and strategy.

The formula in Age of Empires III is great, and the charm and balance between strategy, fun, and chaos quickly won me over. For those like me who may have missed their chance to play AoE III, I wholeheartedly recommend giving the Definitive Edition a shot. The campaign's presentation might feel dated, but the underlying gameplay is rich, engaging, and addicting. As for veterans of the game, the Definitive Edition's additional civilizations, reworked UI, and balance tweaks may be enough to justify the $20 purchase or Game Pass subscription, but expect the game's core to remain untouched. Either way, those looking to conquer the New World can hit the high seas when AoE III: Definitive Edition launches Oct. 15, 2020, on Steam and Game Pass for PC.

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