FROM THE ANDES TO THE BALTIC
We also get two completely new factions – one from each side of the Atlantic. The powerful Inca Empire gets highly defensible unique trading posts, swift infantry, and their priestesses can convert enemy units to your side in classic “Wololo!” fashion, an ability that was originally excluded altogether from Age of Empires 3. Their population buildings produce food passively, so you don’t have to worry as much about hunting and agriculture as much the longer a match goes on. And their Bolas Warriors have an attack that can slow down enemy units, making their fleet-footed Chimu Runners even harder for your opponents to deal with.
The Swedes are the new European faction, with aggressive Carolean infantry that can deal damage at range or with a death-defying melee charge. They also get highly maneuverable leather cannons and Hakkapelit cavalry to make them the masters of combined arms that they were at the height of their imperial power. They have a housing building called a Torp which can be placed next to any natural resource, and it will harvest that resource automatically without the use of settlers. This makes playing as the Swedes feel like a rugged frontier expedition. They’re also ideal for making use of mercenary contracts, as they get a discount on cost and the amount of time it takes them to spawn.
I’m a little disappointed that there isn’t much new story content to go around, though all of the campaigns from the original game and its expansions are present and fully remastered with improved graphics and sound. The characters don’t look exactly modern. Even compared to much older RTS games like the original Company of Heroes, this Definitive Edition comes across as still a bit dated.
But it’s obviously a huge improvement over the original nonetheless. In particular, the new physics features are a lot of fun to watch. A cannonball plowing through an infantry formation will send the poor sods ragdolling through the air spectacularly. Individual pieces of roofing and crossbeam will break and tumble realistically as you attack walls and other structures. The lighting, reflections, particle effects, and terrain textures stand out, and you can play in full 4K resolution if you have the hardware for it.
The new historical battles present some fun challenges and a bit of single-player action for those who aren’t already tempted by the skirmish mode or replaying old campaigns. The Algiers 1516 scenario, for instance, requires you to break through a Spanish naval blockade as an optional objective to be able to ship in any reinforcements from your home city. It’s clear that the team put some thought into creating new, interesting challenges using these vintage mechanics.The Art of War scenarios feel more like a fancy tutorial than anything else. They’re a great place to start if you haven’t played Age of Empires 3 before or need a reminder of the mechanics. Some focus on running your economy and others on fighting battles. Each has bronze, silver, and gold medals to earn if you really want to condition a specific skill. But it doesn’t really take that long to master them all, so it’s not exactly a feature you’ll be coming back to again and again once you get the basic ideas down.
A NEW AGE
Age of Empires 3 has long been the black sheep of the trilogy, at least in that it never captured the hearts and minds of the RTS faithful as completely as its two predecessors. But it still holds up as an interesting base builder with a huge degree of diversity between its European, Asian, and American factions. A deep, satisfying deck builder system lets you customize the toolkit you set sail and conquer with, providing a long-term incentive to level up your home city and unlock new cards. Sprucing up the graphics and audio caught my attention. The new and revised factions made me want to stay awhile.
Leana Hafer is a contributor to IGN. Talk strategy games and/or history with her on Twitter at @AsaTJ.