Age of Empires III Preview

By Socvazius

“Sergio, you are not going to be a fanboy about this,” was the first thing that came to my mind when I started thinking about writing this preview. I’ve been a hardcore fan of ES’ games since ’97, so keeping a completely objective viewpoint could be difficult. Regardless of how biased my assessment of the game is, I got maybe ten or eleven hours hands-on with the game when I visited ES last week, so the information gathered should certainly be adequate. This preview will only have that new information, however, so if the more general information is your cup o’ tea for now, you should check out HeavenGames’ AoE3 E3 Preview and AoE3 Heaven’s general content section.

We’ve already known about home cities and shipments, but very little beyond “Home cities are way cool and you can send shipments from them.” Here’s the deal: managing everything concerning your home city is an interesting enough game in itself. You start off with a level 0 home city that has 15 “cards” which represent an ability to send units (in varying number depending on strength and level of card, which will be discussed), upgrades, and crates of resources (typically 300 of one type.) You gain the ability to add more cards to your home city by gaining experience and leveling up your HC in games. Adding cards typically unlocks access to other more powerful cards, which oftentimes also have a prerequisite of a certain home city level. However, you can’t use more than 20 cards in a game…What do you do when you have the best city ever and have access to more than 20 cards? well, that’s when you start making decks.

Decks, you say? Why yes, decks. When you’ve accumulated enough cards, you can create decks (maximum of 16) with cards all focused towards rushing – with lots of early resource crates and free troops, booming, and the like. You choose what deck to play with before the game starts. Basically, as your home city levels up, it becomes more powerful (with better cards), more specialized (with focused decks), and more adaptable (with the ability to switch decks – playing styles) depending on map and players before a game starts.

Getting experience to level up your HC obviously includes playing games, but how much experience accrued per game is dependent on a number of things. Having the most points, unit kills, and buildings razed gets you 500 xp each (though that number probably has nothing to you because you have no concept of xp worth…to tell you the truth, neither do I.) Your HC also gets the same amount of experience as you get in the game from gathering resources, killing units, and doing other cool things; gathering that experience in-game also allows you to send shipments, so it’s this big home city/xp party at the ES house.

The community has shown some concern about some changes to AoE3’s gameplay, which all seem to be related to the game’s focus on military rather than economy. The lack of dropsites, for instance, is absolutely necessary as there’s no way most people would be able to fight as much as AoE3 is made for and still manage an economy with dropsites. The pace of fighting and soldier deaths has also made it necessary for ES to allow people to train 5 units at a time. Without that ability, people would have to build 30 barracks just to keep things going.

Combat modes have fairly large implications to battles; defensive mode makes infantry – especially bayonet and spear infantry – more effective against cavalry, trample mode lets French Gendarmes kick the crap out of everyone even more effectively with increased trample damage…you get the idea. While they don’t effect battles as much as formations, Natives can prove to be useful, though it seems to be dependent on which tribe it is. Specifically, the tribes which field more non-conventional troops such as the short-ranged Mantlet siege unit or the fast-moving Commanche horse archer. No native units take population shots, so it is in a player’s best interest to train them regardless of type if he’s in a bind and is housed or has maxed out his pop (which happens a lot less often than one would expect.)

Mercenaries also take no population slots, but they’re a completely different flavor of soldier. They can only be trained in the 4th age at the dock, after researching a rather expensive technology. And like that technology, the mercenaries cost a couple thousand coin. There are three levels of mercs with a couple types of units per level; the only known ones are 1st-level Swiss pikemen and 3rd level samurai. They’re not a couple thousand per unit, you instead get a random number somewhere around ten. With the mercenaries’ high cost, you can expect how powerful they are; a single samurai can rip through scores of cavalry before going down.

Next: ESO2, AI and UI