Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition Review – Rebuilt This City

The last time I played Age of Empires III, I was completely disappointed. It wasn’t due to it being a bad game, or that it had changed things from Age II — although that’s an argument I won’t dive into — instead it came down to the fact that my computer at the time couldn’t handle it despite thinking my specifications were up to scratch. Luckily, coinciding with the launch of Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition, I have a PC that can run it and a monitor that makes it look absolutely fantastic. Playing the game this time around is like a completely new experience and rounds out the trilogy of ‘definitive’ treatments to the Age of Empires series, bringing the games to a new generation and capturing the hearts and minds of a whole new playing group.

Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition involves a lot of building. Following the tried and true formula of its predecessors, it adds new gameplay features to the fold — the biggest of all being the “Home City” mechanic. Your Home City is a thriving place that builds up with your empire, and allows you to ship tactical advantages that can turn the tide of a game; for instance, if you are low on resources, you can use your experience points to ship the necessary items, or if you’re in need of back-up for your army you can send additional units. The more you do within the game, the more EXP you build, giving you extra cards to play in what is known as your “Card Deck”. 

However, there is a drawback to certain cards meaning you can only use them a certain amount of times. Your card deck can be built upon and shuffled around to inject the right advantage at the right time of the game and as you advance through the ages, your card tiers become better and provide more of a boost to your resources.

This system isn’t without its gripes though. For one, choosing cards to send to your village takes you right away from the action and back to your Home City, removing your focus from the current strategy. You can also choose where you want shipments sent to. “Hero Units” (or explorers) can receive them directly, and so can several different types of buildings, however, this may prove a disadvantage if you are sending both supplies and units as your supplies can end up on the battlefield, or your units well removed from the battle where you need them most.

Villager resourcing is similar to previous instalments, minus the continual back-and-forth travel between resource and depot, eschewing the need for buildings such as lumber yards and mining pits. Additionally, houses take the shape of various different forms depending on your starting civilization, and can also provide advantages such as producing additional resources. Trading Post systems remove the trading carts and boats of previous games, and the game introduces Native settlements across the map which can be allied with as the game goes on. The game boasts a plethora of new units to the series, and along with expanded tech trees and independent civilization classes and units, it adds just that little bit more depth to strategy and combat tactics.

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Let’s say you were someone like me who had never really experienced Age of Empires III back in the day and had grown accustomed to the way the first two play. There are some significant changes to get your head around. Resourcing is the strangest, the strategic placement and defense of resource sites are now gone, and villagers are left to their own devices. The Home City idea is good but also extremely annoying when it comes to having to consistently check between the map and the city. Additionally, traditional keybindings and mouse-clicks are completely thrown out the window. For instance, right-clicking something with a villager to repair it no longer executes said option. Sure, it seems nit-picky, but as they say, if it ain’t broke.

With major tweaks to the base gameplay as well as a graphical overhaul, this isn’t your average remaster. Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition feels fresh and brand new, even for a game that is fifteen years old. Zooming in and out of battles is a sweet little novelty bound to the simple act of scrolling the wheel of your mouse and really highlights the graphical advancements made since the original was released. V-sync is a definite if you’re playing in high-definition, as there is a significant amount of screen tearing that will lower your playing experience if playing at maximum settings.

The A.I. is sharp and sometimes frustrating, especially when you are continuously hit-and-run by attacks while building your army, battling halfway across the map, or outsmarting your pincer movements as you plan an assault. Even the story mode is a great entertaining time, and while the voice acting may leave a little to be desired, the campaigns are fun as the re-enactments of historic battles through the lens of fictional characters adds an extra bit of excitement to the game overall.

Completing the updated trilogy, Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition breathes new life into the franchise with the impending fourth instalment on the horizon. Fans of the original are sure to love the tweaks to the gameplay and graphics as well as the addition of two new civilizations, while new players will be able to dive right in to learn the mechanics of the game as well as jumping into the historic battle story mode. Now, all that’s left is an Age of Mythology revamp.
Gorgeous-looking updated graphics
Gameplay and quality tweaks
Additional content plus the original content
Accessible for new and returning players
Changes to gameplay that were common in the first two games
Home City is a distraction