Developer: Ensemble Studios
Difficulty: Easy - Medium
Replay value: 8/10
The Age of Empire name is a long series in the real time strategy realm. With the introduction of Age of Empires 3, players are forwarded several hundred years into the future since the last game by replacing old units like catapults and swordsman for cannons and musketeers.
The game is set in the colonial age with the situation involving conflicts between the many European powers trying to take hold of the New world which is North and South America. The 8 powers struggling for control are the English, French, Spanish, Russian, Dutch, Germans, Portuguese and Ottomans with each faction having differences in its way of economy and military. Though they are very different upon closer inspection, in combat however they share many traits that are the same like buildings and units.
The single player campaign is rich with action and relatively long divided up into 3 sections with each "act" a generation apart. Aside from the campaign, there is the play over a network mode to compete against others to build rank and chat, a skirmish mode which pits you against computer AI with 5 levels of difficulty and the map editor to create your own maps and scenarios. There's also a history section to get in depth detail about each unit, culture, building and weapons.
The interface of the game is similar to those in the Command and Conquer series and Warcraft games with the bars on the bottom for controlling and commanding. The troops form ranks automatically with the obvious melee troops like infantry in front and long ranged attackers like artillery in the rear. This can be a bit of a drag because when moving together, they move at the speed of the slowest attacker which if you have cannons and mortar in the back, the rest of your men will follow that pace as well.
A neat feature in the game is the presence of your home city which acts as your true headquarters looking after your growing colony. In the campaign and multiplayer, you can shift back to your home city at anytime to send more men, resources, workers or just upgrade and polish units that are already available though many are exhausted after one use. Your city also will gain experience and with it, gain higher tiered upgrades for shipments.
The gameplay is fairly direct with typically players advancing through the 5 ages before launching and attack or launching it deep in the ages. A set back however is how choppy it can get when all forces collide in battle, even on good gaming rigs. So while having the best assault force is a key to winning, a good machine churning out steady frame rates is also very important. Another drag to this game is that the match only ends when the enemy's units are all dead. It's pretty pointless since it would have made a lot more sense to end the game when all buildings are lost especially since that hastens the pace of the game.
Those who enjoy the medieval type gameplay in RTS's will enjoy AOE 3 and also those who are just looking for a complex game with great looks and feel.