Age of Empires III Preview – E3 Coverage
Hidden deep in the back of the South Hall at the Los Angeles Convention Center was the showcasing of Ensemble Studios’ fourth game: Age of Empires III. It didn’t have countless scantily-clad women or seizure-inducing flashing lights, but the game itself was enough to draw enough people to the point that the second-floor booth was about to have some chaps going over the railings. I got a chance to get exactly 4 barrels full of information from checking out the game myself (and take it on a run of sorts) and interviewing Ben “SuperTr00per” Donges on the game, which are prepared in a delicious manner in this article (which will have photos as soon as Zen sifts through 10 gigs of photos, not an easy or quick task).
Okay, as every bit of information on Home Cities is released, they get more and more confusing; getting a date for my aunt Ingrid would be easier than understanding home cities from what we’ve gotten so far. So what the hell is up with those things? Turns out ES has gone through several kinds of home cities, but what they’ve got right now works something like this: you gain experience points (will get to that later) and once you get enough xp, you level up your home city. Leveling up your home city lets you recieve a certain number of shipments in the form of troops (8 Strelets, for example), ships, resources; pretty much anything a colony in the new world would need. These shipments aren’t absolutely vital to your survival, but they’re definitely helpful. In the early game, just a couple extra musketeers or a couple hundred extra food could mean the difference between winning or losing.
Looking past shipments, home cities gain some of their so-called “RPG element” with their “cards.” Cards are essentially extra technologies…or feats, as us RPG nerds would call them. Access to cards are gained by leveling up, and give a civilization certain benefits such as villagers gather food 5% faster for a low level HC, or forts are able to be built in the 3rd age, for a higher level (specifically, level 6) HC. Higher level cards have low-level prerequisites, so you’ll have to specialize your HC to get the more powerful abilities; a player with an uspecialized HC with only low-level cards is at a significant disadvantage to one that is not.
So home cities are a pretty snazzy gameplay element that should make things a bit more interesting to work with…how do you get xp to level them up? Instead of having to kill 5,000 frogs to go level up to the point that you can fight actual people like in some RPGs, you get to go straight for the shooting people in the face with arrows in Age of Empires III. Similar to the Norse method of favor gathering in this game’s mythological brother, you gain a set amount of xp when you kill each unit and building in AoE III. It’s a pretty straightforward system – the amount of xp gained is even shown when you take something out – so not a whole lot else can be said about that.
Actual battle mechanics, however, have a whole lot more going on with them. Formations are wicked useful, a long way away from the jumbled mass of units from the original AoE. Right now there is the volley, block (good against cav), scatter (good against cannon), and charge; charge is unique in that units slowly speed up as they approach their enemy and are running by the time they engage in melee, quite useful in certain situations. Individual formations seem to have a limit to the number of soldiers than can be in them, but several formations can be grouped together into an army.
Sending those armies against each other is – of course – the most exciting aspect of the game. While gunpowder units dominated the battlefield in the colonial era, there are still many melee units; that, coupled with the introduction of cannons in the 3rd age, makes for the most diverse set of units we’ve seen in an Age game. And the introduction of between 6 and 8 different cannons is indeed a big thing, they pretty well revolutionize the way battles are fought, as you might imagine. Traditional, anti-personnel cannons can end up being the focus of a battle as they can obliterate enemy infantry incredibly fast. Similarly, anti-building cannons (such as mortar) are almost required to effectively take down any kind of defensive fortification.