Like its predecessors before it, the final game in the Age of Empires trilogy is now receiving the remaster treatment. With a game so broad, I am still just scratching the surface of what this new release has to offer. Nevertheless, here are my first early impression of Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition. It’s available now on PC and as part of the Game Pass Ultimate subscription service.
Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition Details
Reviewed on: PC
Developer: Forgotten Empires
Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Genre: Real-time strategy
Modes: Single-player, multiplayer
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)
A vast real time strategy adventure
I’m already a solid week into my time with Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition. Yet even with so many hours already under my belt, I feel as though I’ve hardly put a dent in the game. With a plethora of modes, unique civilizations, and deep strategy, there’s a lot to take in.
For that reason I’m not quite ready to put a final review score on this title yet. Be sure to check back for updates as I continue to delve into this strategy epic. In the meantime, here are my initial thoughts after spending a healthy amount of time getting my feet wet with the various modes of play.
The art of war in Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition
I would generally consider strategy to be my favourite PC gaming genre. That said, I was a console gamer growing up and didn’t really discover my passion for it until later in life. As a result, I definitely wasn’t there to experience certain franchises in their early prime—including this one.
This makes Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition my first major foray into the series (I did dabble with the others a bit some years after their initial release). That makes me at least familiar with the basics, but by no means comfortable enough to jump right into the thick of gameplay.
For this reason I was essentially expecting some sort of refresher in the form of a tutorial, but did not find one. Every mode I tried seemed to put me straight to work with a total lack of teaching moments. That’s when I came across “The Art of War” toward the bottom of the menu—what essentially amounts to a tutorial disguising itself as a series of small challenges.
It doesn’t clearly mark itself for newcomers, but this mode (new to the Definitive Edition) is a great place to start if this is your first Age of Empires game, or if you simply need a warm up. The challenge element (ranking your performance with medals) adds some fun to the learning, and it will prepare you much better for modes like “Story” or “Historical Battles”, which essentially toss you into scenarios already in progress.
Graphical and audio enhancements
I’m not familiar enough with the initial release to know the exact degree of improvement Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition shows in graphics and sound, but I imagine it’s fairly staggering. Looking at the game today, it definitely shows a level of detail and animation that fits in with the current standard. I might not even recognize it as a remaster of an older title were I not already privy to the fact.
Units feature an appealing level of detail, particularly when zooming in. They also benefit from a wide array of animations. Furthermore, the game’s soundtrack certainly holds up as well. The sweeping orchestral arrangements boom with depth and really set the stage for epic real-time strategy and warfare.
A new polish on an old tale
With The Art of War challenges out of the way, I’m now free to explore the various other game modes. Naturally I approach Story Mode with a bit of trepidation. The “colonial” nature of Age of Empires doesn’t exactly fit as well in the lens of 2020 as it may have even just 15 short years ago.
I’m happy to note however that the developers themselves seem to be aware of this stigma as well. In fact upon booting the game, a pop-up message addresses the issue right off the bat. Here the development team acknowledges the challenge in remastering a game in the wake of shifting perspectives on historical social issues head on.
In particular, we are made aware that in working closely with first nations representatives, many harmful stereotypes are subject to removal from Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition. This includes the elimination of certain animations as well as a completely new voiceover performance from native speakers for the Lakota civilization.
Relive history with Historical Battles
Historical Battles are another feature new to Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition. They essentially take on the same approach as Story Mode. However instead of a fictional narrative, these snippets of gameplay mirror real-life historical events. This allows players to take part in important battles straight out of their high school textbooks.
The battles are fun, although once again their scenarios tend to begin “mid-game”. Those who are familiar with the game’s mechanics will have no problem. Yet anyone with a passing knowledge of strategy games can probably jump in and learn by doing here as well. This probably isn’t the best starting point for new players though.
There’s plenty to do in Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition
After a full week with Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition I’m still digging into everything the game has to offer. Once I discovered the tutorial-like challenges in The Art of War, I found they were the perfect refresher before diving into the story or the new Historical Battles.
Of course there’s still a huge chunk of game left to explore, including the standard “Skirmish” mode. There are a total of 16 unique civilizations to play as here. This includes two that are new to the Definitive Edition—the Inca and the Swedes. Each one offering a different take on how to approach the game. The level of re-playability here is impressive to say the least.
I’m still discovering just how deep Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition truly is, but you can check it out now on PC and as part of a Game Pass Ultimate subscription.