Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition Review – The Definitive Experience

Oct 14, 2020
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GAME INFO

Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition

October 15th, 2020
Platform PC
Publisher Xbox Game Studios
Developer Tantalus Media, Forgotten Empires

A little over two weeks ago, I previewed Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition. What I said there all applies here. That means there's going to be a bit of repetition and it also means I can likely trim this review down a bit, or maybe go in a bit of a different direction with what I talk about. Likely the latter.

On that line of thinking, Age of Empires III was always going to be a bit of a difficult game to bring back in a definitive edition. The Age of Empires II: Definitive edition had so much to work with due to the style, design and age of the original. Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition required finer changes. Not all changes are instantly noticeable, though some are significant.

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The original game wasn't bad looking, even despite how old it is now. This already meant that Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition couldn't simply rest on the plan of bringing all the content back, just looking nicer. This isn't to say it doesn't look nice because it really does. Everything is now upgraded to 4K standards. Textures of buildings and units are that much more detailed. The same for the terrain, which has also been improved by making it more realistic, everything blending in together smoothly and looking great.

As well as adding more detail, you will notice changes to the buildings themselves. The design of some buildings has changed to make them more accurate and realistic. You'll also find this is very much the case with specific buildings, one particularly for the Native American factions. We'll talk about that later. You can appreciate everything as well because the zoom does let you go in a reasonable level. Sure, you're not so close that you can see every fine line, but it's close enough. Zooming further out, on the other hand, lets you see all that detail colliding with each other in what can be great looking battles.

If there's anything that doesn't seem to have been improved, it's the cutscenes. Particularly, the in-engine cutscenes. Essentially, they've not been updated. At least not in any discernible way that I've noticed. They're still a little janky, animations looking off. They truly look like they were made in and around 2005. Honestly, I don't have that big of an issue with it. It's just very noticeable when you can see the improvements made elsewhere. You'll also see some visual improvements on the home city screens, again making other less-improved aspects a little more obvious.

There is an improvement that I haven't yet spoken about. That is the interface. This has been vastly improved, made considerably sleeker and giving you much more real estate when playing the game. It's easier to use and simply looks better. Fortunately, for those who want to have the pure feel of the original, you can use the older UI or a version of the older UI. That or use the new one that comes with Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition.

When you get to the gameplay, there have also been some improvements. In my preview, I mentioned that there are two new factions, these being Sweden and the Incas. As with every faction in Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition, these two have their own perks and features that really help them to stand out. This is only accentuated by the cards system built into the home town thanks to the fact that each faction has cards specific to them.

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It should be noted that there have been changes made to the home city system. In the past, you would gain experience and unlock later cards. This still applies to the single-player campaign, but outside of that, you will have all cards unlocked. This helps to create a much better balance to the online mode. It all works to make a better-balanced game than ever before.

The two major additions when it comes to playing the game are the included Art of War missions and historical battles. Both offer something extra content-wise. The Art of War gives you a series of smaller, focused tasks. These can even be looked as like tutorials. Historical battles. on the other hand, give you a series of well thought out battles to play through.

There is one issue worth mentioning, that's the AI. This can be a pain in the arse when leaving your units to their own devices rather than telling them who to attack. I've had some units essentially stood at the side of their comrades who are fighting, they just seem to stand there and do nothing. I've had a few occasions where units simply won't make a longer walk, you've got to direct them in smaller jumps. Small issues, but still issues.

Now the review is complete there is one last aspect I want to talk about. This is the changes made that really don't impact on the scoring of the game. These are changes that have been made to make Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition more culturally appropriate. You'll notice that certain cosmetics, namely skulls being used as decorations, have been toned back to a massive level. You'll also notice the removal of the Nature's Friendship skill, changed and balanced with new skills.

Furthermore, the fire pit building for Native American factions has been changed to a community plaza. The building functions the same, only you don't see your collection of Native American settlers dancing around a fire pit to gain whatever boost you have selected. Now, they're working together as a community for the greater good. You'll also find a new building, the tribal marketplace, which needs to be built at the side of deposits. This collection of runoffs is the equivalent of other factions mining.

Other changes to make Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition more inclusive and appropriate are the removal of Crazy Horse as a character in the Fire & Shadow campaign. Indeed, this whole campaign, the second part particularly, has been reworked. This is all worth mentioning, even though it won't impact on the score, because they are about inclusivity and should be celebrated.

With Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition, there's not much else to say. There's a great amount of content to go through, but this is honestly just an improved version of the game that was great when it was released fifteen years ago. It's improved in many ways and while there are still a few slight issues, they don't stop it from being a great release. It's not as good of a release as the definitive edition of Age of Empires II, but it's still great. The real push now is for Age of Empires IV.

Copy provided by the publisher.

8.5

Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition is an undeniable and great improvement on the original. Featuring a huge amount of content, including some brand-new game modes, as well as a revamped and improved portion of the original campaign, there's a lot on offer. The AI is improved, though does have a few niggles here and there. Particularly so with pathfinding. This issue is overwhelmed by the amount of content on offer, great improvements to the aesthetics of the game, improvements to multiplayer as well as changes to the home city system outside of the campaign. While not as outright fantastic as Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition, this is still a brilliant release and comes in at a very low price.

Pros

  • Vastly improved visuals throughout (with the exception of in-engine cutscenes)
  • A great amount of content added to with two new game modes
  • Overhauled and improved multiplayer

Cons

  • Some pathfinding and AI issues
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