It has been a long 15 years since the real-time strategy genre welcomed the arrival of Age of Empires III. Regardless of how it transitioned the series into the 3D realm, there really was no chance that this sequel could live up to one of, if not, the best entry in the Age of Empires series. There was little the game could do in terms of gameplay that would capture lightning in a bottle again, and the fact that it was not the perfection of pixel art that fans were used to made things worse. Now, with a remastered version coming in the form of Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition, the question remains, is it worth it?
The short of it remains a resounding no. Back then, you could put it down to the level of technology and technical ability that we had a game that featured less than ideal 3D art. The animations were clunky, the textures can hurt the eyes, and the entire world felt a little off. In 2020, we have increased frame rates and higher resolutions. Unfortunately, they only serve to accentuate what was wrong about the game in the first place. Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition feels like a caveman wearing the nicest clothes we have to offer in 2020. The inherent outdatedness of it all remains intact.
Lesser of two evils
At least it tries its best on the gameplay side 0f things. At its core, it’s still the RTS experience that many have grown to love over the years. Players can build their base however they like. Resources need to be gathered, technology researched, and enemies are to be vanquished. Aside from the original 14 civilizations to choose from, Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition adds in two new ones.
The Swedes are blessed with affordable mercenaries, and Torps replace Houses with the added bonus of automatically harvesting resources. On the other hand, the Inca can turn most buildings into defensive garrisons. They also possess priestesses adept at converting foes to friends. All 16 of the available choices come with their own quirks and advantages, you just need to find the one that suits your preferences.
Once that’s settled, it is all about micromanagement. Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition doesn’t exactly make the game easier if you’re totally new to the genre. After all, it’s about leading a civilization to victory. Strategizing, optimizing, and overwhelming your opponents takes a quick mind, clear vision, and fast fingers. However, the remaster does its part in updating the game to a more modern standard.
A better perspective
The UI has been cleaned up quite a bit. Resources numbers are clear and present, with no unnecessary clutter around the screen. Of course, you can always opt for a nostalgic view with the wooden frame, or even the gigantic UI that basically covered the screen in the original. The options are there, waiting to be customized to fit your liking.
Instead of four different resource types to fight over, Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition now only has three. Specific buildings are no longer required to store resources, while a distinctive button will instantly get you to the next idle villager. The game eschews the more menial micromanaging for you to focus on the big picture, which is always good. There’s also the addition of a new card system. Set up between battles, you can then rely on the system to request supplies every once in a while.
By reducing the sometimes obnoxious lengths of games into something more manageable, Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition appeals to the more modern gamer. Sure, you don’t get the same kind of awe and surprise as you move from the Dark Ages into the future, but you still get access to new units and a truncated evolution of your civilization.
A foregone conclusion
Sadly, these do not make up for the underlying issues dogging the remaster. It does not look as good as it should. The core combat element of Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition also lacks impact and isn’t particularly satisfying. There are only so many times you can see poor pathing, inconsistent animations, and seemingly worthless hero units before waving the white flag. This wasn’t exactly acceptable back in 2005, but it’s certainly unforgivable in 2020.
It also pales in comparison to the previously released Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition. There are no new campaigns save for the original six and the two expansions. That is a whole lot of missing content to make up for. And Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition doesn’t even come close, not with its content, storytelling, or visuals.
If you’re a fan, this is the best way to play the game in 2020. You do have to stomach the worst parts of it, however. The online component is the best part of all. Gather your friends, go to war, and try to forget about the lackluster single-player portion. For newcomers, it is highly recommended that you try out Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition instead.