Hands-on: Age of Empires III: The Asian Dynasties

To date, Age of Empires III has sold over 2 million copies, therefore Ensemble Studios and Microsoft Game Studios aren’t batting an eye towards the next installment in the RTS series. Enlisting some help from fellow RTS developer Big Huge Games, AoE III: The AsianDynasties will be released for PC on October 23rd. A demo was recently released and a hands-on session ensued.

The gameplay is largely unchanged from the previous AoE III games and this may be a good or bad thing for RTS players. The demo sampled the first level in the game for the new Japanese civilization and your mission was to gather nearby allies to storm a castle. Controlling the up-and-coming general Kichiro, you reign over some soldiers who’re under your command along with some help from ally Daimyo Motoada.

So while the tasks may seem derivitive if you’ve already done them in previous AoE III games, look on the bright side: they still work. You start out with your town center and you begin with your settlers building buildings, training units and amassing your army. For the Japanese civilization, returning buildings include the market, trading posts and barracks; new buildings include shrines, which collect a tiny amount of resources over time (but can be amassed in large numbers) and a consulate, which you use export (a new resource) to trade with other countries for additional army units or resources.

The visuals, much like the gameplay, are largely unchanged but I think in this case, the visuals work well in the game’s setting. The Japanese environment meshes well with the game’s engine and I continue to pitch that the AoE III engine is still one of the most beautiful engines I’ve seen to date. Just look at the game’s opening menu background and you’ll see what I’m taking about. You can see the bloom shining off the water, along with pink leaves swaying off a nearby tree and boats bound at port realistically float in the harbor.

In an example of some minor gameplay changes, there’s a small tweak to advancing your town center through the various ages. This time around, you have to use a settler to advance to the next age, as before, you just advanced through your town center. After advancing, you can build a Wonder.

The Asian Dynasties will introduce 15 new Wonders and each comes with an initial shipment of something (either resources or army units) and a passive power. So the Toshugu Shrine, for example, comes with an initial shipment of 400 export along with an increased shrine income passive ability. Another Wonder is the Golden Pavilion, which comes with an initial shipment of 6 Yumi (archers) and an ability to land military units on a whim. Laying down a Wonder or two in the demo surely made my bustling town look great, but it got awfully cramped.

While the demo only sampled 1 level, there will be a total of 15 playable scenarios across 3 single player campaigns. One thing that I found somewhat awkward is the seemingly increasing emphasis on a personal in-game experience regarding the storyline and characters. I feel that this is a nice twist to the past Aoe III storylines since they tended to emphasize on vast armies waging war, or at least emphasis on more than once character at a time. But in the demo, it’s more focused on just Kichiro, which can work either way. I think the AoE III engine doesn’t really work well when up-close to specific characters (some blotchy textures), but the more personal feel is nice.

If you’ve exhausted your fun with the two previous AoE III games, then The Asian Dynasties may just be something to hold you till the next RTS or something you can enjoy for a few hours of decent gameplay. If you prefer to get some extra hours, the expansion will ship with 11 new randomized maps, which you can quickly set up a skirmish or a multiplayer session.


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Author: GamerNode Staff View all posts by

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