|Age of Empires III (2005)
Available for: PC
RPGs sure have come a long way. Taking away the fact that the whole genre’s seeds were sown in the paper and pencil and ten-sided die Dungeons and Dragons type of stuff, the computerized versions have a history unto themselves. For they also have roots in the classic text adventure games from years gone by. A distinct line can be drawn from “Colossal Cave Adventure” to “Zork” to “The Bard’s Tale” to however far you’d care to drag the line. Nowadays, computer RPGs are a full-on time and life-consuming recreation, what with the addition of online play as well as ramped up graphics, sound, and game depth itself.
So it is with Ensemble Studios’ “Age of Empires III,” the latest entry into the AoE franchise. In this edition, players must control one of eight European armies to gain control of the New World. If that sounds daunting, it is. This is the kind of game you’re going to be sitting at your computer for many hours with, planning out your strategies to achieve maximum success. And that success isn’t always guaranteed, even if you do think you’ve chosen the best tactics to win the game.
It’s really not so much about winning as it is experiencing the game, anyway. “Age of Empires III” allows players to go it alone on either single-player campaigns and skirmishes, or take it online to test their mettle against everyone else on the planet who plays the game. Do you have what it takes to beat the 12-year-old kid down the block? Moreover, does he have the skills to keep you and everyone else down?
Whatever mode that you choose to play, “Age of Empires III” is amazingly deep and completely time consuming once you get into it. An in-game tutorial is handy to get you through the basics and a trial game with assistance if you don’t want to read the semi-mammoth manual and would rather jump right into the action. It’s clear-cut and good to play through, even if you do choose to read the instructions. There are undoubtedly new elements to this edition that even old fans will want to see for themselves before they jump in fully.
The sounds are truly life-like and are best experienced with a pair of headphones for the full all-encompassing experience. The soundtrack is exciting and will give you musical cues when certain actions are going on within the map. The game is also a visual treat, but be forewarned: this is definitely one of those games you’re going to have to tweak graphically in either the options in-game or through your own video card. Even on a quite new system with a 128 MB GeForce II card, some of the graphics options had to played around with to get the smoothest-running game. Of course, those with super graphics cards can scoff at this and chuckle heartily at their superiority.
That said, it is a shame that so many of the newest games practically force players to upgrade their hardware if it isn’t up to snuff. “Age of Empires III” isn’t one of those titles, thankfully, and anyone with a fairly decent system should be able to play this. Well, that is only if you’re running Windows XP, as this title will only run under that OS. That might irk some folks down the line. Still, “Age of Empires III” is quite a highly enjoyable and well balanced real-time RPG with enough depth to keep the single-player fans happy and everyone else glued to their monitors with the online games. It’s definitely a title for those with a taste for the strategic, but what “Age of Empires III” does for those players, it does magnificently.