15 years and a fresh coat of paint later.
Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition

Almost 15 years to the day that the original Age of Empires III was released comes the remastered Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition. Love it or hate it, the original certainly left an impression on fans of the franchise. I am not saying all those impressions were necessarily good, but they were impressions none the less.

What we have here is a remastering of one of the more divisive Age of Empires games released. Upon first starting up the game, you are greeted with a note saying that the original representations of indigenous civilizations were met with a few liberties in the original 2005 release. The note from developer Forgotten Empires continues to say that they have worked closely with American tribes to correct those errors that were most present as part of the original War Chief expansion.

I will say up front that I am not necessarily the best candidate to review an Age of Empires title. I had not previously played any of the titles in the franchise. It is not because I thought the games were "bad." It is more because I am simply not a fan of real-time strategy games. Please note that I tried my best to go into this game with an open mind, ready to experience something new. All in all, I came away with a new respect for the genre, but it still is not my cup of tea. That said, let us continue with the review of the game itself.

Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition

My journey into Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition was facilitated by a mode called "The Art of War." This mode offers up a series of challenges that will help teach newbies to the RTS genre, such as myself, some of the ins and outs on how to play properly. The challenges eventually moved on to more advanced techniques. These scenarios offered up challenges and techniques that probably come naturally to veterans but were completely new to my strategy-deprived mind. I was very thankful that such a mode exists because I may have been completely lost in the main campaigns otherwise. Honestly, this is the mode in which I spent most of my time in.

Also included as an option is the Historical Battles mode. These were not really my bread and butter when it came to Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition, but I did briefly dabble in them for the sake of the review. These are a series of missions that are, as you may safely assume, more based on real-world historical battles. The developers chose a series of battles that are appropriate for the period featured in the game. Each scenario opens with a brief description of the battle to provide a bit of context for the where, who, and why of each scenario. Maybe it is just because I am terrible at the genre, but these scenarios were often quite challenging. They were not made for someone like me, but I get the feeling veterans of the genre will love them.

Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition

I know the point of a remaster is usually to compare new visuals with the old, but I am not in a position where I can do such a comparison much justice. Just based off what I see in the Definitive Edition, the models and general visual work are all very well done. Each building type and unit are visually unique and offer a nice contrast to the modestly detailed landscape and surrounding environments. The soldiers, or units, are detailed to the point that you can see layers of clothing on them. They even feature little faces though they are not exactly super detailed, nor do they display any sort of emotion. But hey, faces are cool especially given that you probably will not even be in a position to see them unless you're really looking hard.

On the flip side of the graphical coin are the animations. I would not say that the animations are "bad" per se, but they do not appear to be very fluid. They are, in short, quite stiff and often off-putting when compared to the generally high quality of the models themselves. CG animations appear to be straight out of the 2005 version.

Unit A.I. is also a bit hit or miss, more often being a miss than a hit. I felt like I had to babysit some of my units to ensure that they kept attacking when I told them to. The Definitive Edition here is said to have incorporated many of the balancing changes offered up by community feedback. However, I do not know if the current AI is an improvement or a regression from the original release. All I know is that I sometimes had to constantly order my units to attack otherwise they may stop or halt the action I told them to carry out.

Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition

It is these little annoying issues that would add up over time and result in a less than stellar gameplay experience. The overall game is not bad though. In fact, I generally enjoyed my time with Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition, at least so much as I could enjoy a real-time strategy game. There are certainly some areas of the game that could have used a bit more polish in this release, but I believe that fans of the franchise, especially fans the original Age of Empires III, will very much enjoy what is being offered here.

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Additional Information
  • Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition
    • Developed by: Tantalus Media, Forgotten Empires
    • Published by: Xbox Game Studios
  • Price: Starting at $19.99 (USD) via Steam, Microsoft Store
  • Platform reviewed on: PC
    • Reviewed on: i7-6700K, 32GB RAM at 2666, GTX 1080 Ti, and installed to a Crucial MX500 1TB SSD
  • Release Date: October 15, 2020
  • ESRB: T for Teen (Mild blood, Violence)
  • This game was provided to Total Gaming Network for review purposes.
What’s new?
For everyone
  • All content of the past 15 years bundled in one big pack, including the original “Age of Empires III” and its two expansions
  • A brand-new expansion, featuring 2 new civilizations (bringing the total to 16!)
  • All new art in stunning 4K Ultra HD
  • New particle effect, lighting and shadow systems to bring the graphics to life as never before
  • Brand-new “The Art of War” challenge missions
  • Improved destruction animations on buildings
  • Fully enhanced sound & music
  • New, unique civilization music for all 16 civs!
  • Overhauled, scalable UI, with 3 distinct layouts to fit multiple playstyles
  • All Home City cards/shipments unlocked for all civs, and brand new pre-made starter decks to allow new players to jump into the action
  • Mod support, new game modes, tutorials and more community and quality-of-life improvements.
  • New server-based multiplayer using the same proven, stable backend of Age and Age II DE
  • Integrated leaderboards & ladders
  • Matchmaking
  • Spectator mode (unlimited spectators, late-joining and dashboards)
  • One community: cross-play between Microsoft Store & Steam version
  • New maps, inspired and built in cooperation with the competitive community
  • Improved game balance
Single Player
  • Improved AI which can read the battlefield better. Making well-rounded army compositions, retreating from lost battles, hit-and-run tactics on the highest levels.
  • New, intense “Extreme” AI difficulty level to challenge even the best of players.
  • New “Politicians” and “Revolutions” for the original European civilizations adding more depth to gameplay.
  • All 8 campaigns from the original game and all expansions, spanning 54 playable missions have been revamped. Fully voice acted in various languages.
  • Revisited Native American storylines, including an all-new version of Act II - Shadow
  • Medal system to reward players for completing campaigns at different difficulty levels
  • New Historical Battles.
UI Improvements
  • Various hotkey presets (Original/Grid)
  • In-game tech tree
  • Extended & scalable UI (legacy options available!)
  • Range and progress indicators for buildings
What’s in here?
15 years of “Age of Empires III” for $19.99
  • “Age of Empires III” (2005)
  • “Age of Empires III: The WarChiefs” (2006)
  • “Age of Empires III: The Asian Dynasties” (2007)
  • “Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition” (NEW Content 2020)

Additional Media
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