Age of Empires 3: Definitive Edition Review
Age of Empires has been a part of my life since the original launch, and when you count of the hours played across all the titles, it’s easily my most played franchise on PC, by a long shot. In the build up to Age of Empires 4, the development team has been churning out Definitive Edition versions of the past numbered games in the series – Age of Empires, Age of Empires 2, and now Age of Empires 3. Although Age of Empires 3 is the least impressive upgrade of the three – likely due to it being newer, and therefore, required less – there is still a ton of fun to be had here for a very reasonable price. Let’s dive in!
As a veteran player jumping into my 500+ hour of playing an Age of Empires game, I knew exactly what to do and how to do it, but I began thinking about new players. Where would they start? Ideally, they would start with the brand new Art of War mode, where the basics of Age of Empires are taught without players feeling like they are being dragged through a tutorial. Unfortunately, there is nothing on the main screen that would drive you to that mode if you were a brand new player. It’s something you need to discover on your own. And this can be frustrating. Should you jump into a regular standalone game, you will be looking at some villagers, an explore, and a town centre, and saying to yourself, “What now?” If you jump into the story mode – which includes three stories based on the main game, Warchiefs Expansion, and Asian Dynasties Expansion – you are throw into the middle of something already created and ‘living’ and you might say again, “What now?”
Aside from lack of direction, I do believe that Age of Empires 3: Definitive Edition delivers on multiple front, and it is evident from the first time you load the game. In 2020, the topic of colonization is much more prevalent than it was 15 years ago when the game originally came out. While the development team is obviously not backing down from the historical context that surrounds this title, they did make significant changes within the game to how certain people groups were portrayed. This included overhauled character animations for many of the indigenous civilizations, and brand new voice acting done excellently by members of indigenous communities.
Listen, in 2020, this was probably a change Age of Empires NEEDED to make to avoid backlash, but the amount of resources and development work that would need to be done just to achieve this change is astronomical. And for that, I’m glad to see the resources provided to make the change. They probably could have gotten away with a statement about how this game was launched almost two decades earlier, yada yada. But they didn’t, and I’m glad to see it.
Age of Empires 3: Definitive Edition includes the base game and both the Warchiefs and Asian Dynasties Expansion. To add a bit to entice others to come back, two other civilizations have been added into the game. Both the Swedes and the Incas are fun to play, and bring about their own distinct look (buildings, units, etc.) and have amazing special units. The team did a great job balancing these new civilizations well, and they mix into all the others very well.
Although no new campaigns were added to really highlight the new civilizations, the development team did add in numerous historical battles – while I never really played the historical battles available in Age of Empires 2, I found the ones included in Age of Empires 3 to be incredibly fun, and brought me back to my favourite subject in High School – History.
Graphically, the overhaul to Age of Empires 3 is pretty outstanding. Capital Cities look better when selecting cards and customizing the look, and character models within the game also recieve a major upgrade. Buildings look a bit better than the original (which was fantastic in it’s own right), but the terrain and environments might be the most impressive of the bunch. While not the same level of jump you’ll see in Age of Empires and Age of Empires 2 definitive editions, it’s still substantial enough to notice. A brand new, customizable UI is also included this time around, letting you place important information where you want it.
Over the past few days, I’ve been taking the multiplayer on Age of Empires for a spin. There seems to be tons of folks playing online, and games with complete strangers, as well as my other staff at GamesReviews, has been fantastic. Setting up private games was seem less and effortless, and my friends and I have played game after game. The balance between old civilizations and the brand new ones is really evident when playing with and against actual human competition. While I ultimately still prefer the single player aspects of the Age of Empires series, the ease of play with this definitive edition will have me coming back more often than I normally would!
Overall, Age of Empires 3: Definitive Edition is the perfect way to hop back into the series as we wait patiently for Age of Empires 4!
Age of Empires 3: Definitive Edition is now available on Steam, and via Xbox Game Pass.