Some of you might have heard me talking about a little game I like to call “Age Of Empires 2”, from time to time. It’s fair to say I’m quite fond of it. AoE2’s Definitive Edition has brought that game so resoundingly back to life that it’s even got a new expansion, and it’s captivated me so thoroughly that I’m finding it hard to care about the long-anticipated Age Of Empires 4, announced in 2019 but with no release date in sight. But those of you with a penchant for the old maths will have noticed that there’s a number which lives between two and four - so what of Age Of Empires 3?
Well, Age Of Empires 3 was pretty great. It’s even got its own Definitive Edition, launched at the end of 2020, which does a lot to improve on the original build. But it’s always going to have something of an anchor around its neck, in that it was one of those sequels that attempted to fix something thoroughly unbroken.
The sad thing, for me, is how many features of AoE3 were genuinely innovations on its predecessor’s. To take one example, just look at the self-renewing food and gold generation buildings, designed to stave off the notorious end-game “trash wars” of an AoE2 match, where everyone has run out of resources and is just spamming endless waves of scum at each other. This is not a bad idea, in theory. Indeed, AoE2 DE took steps in this direction itself, with the addition of self-reseeding farms.
But… well… we love the trash wars. They’re exhausting, bleak, and can take up three quarters of a match’s overall playtime. But they’re part of the whole package, you know? Same goes for AoE3’s attempt to accelerate and streamline AoE2’s early game. Yes, the AoE2 Dark Age is slow, but that’s again somehow part of the magic - combined with the aforementioned trash wars, it makes your standard AoE2 match into a sort of weird sandwich of pacing, which shouldn’t work but really, really does.
If you’re into RTS games, and you’re not a superfan of AoE2, you owe it to yourself to have a go at this one, especially now it’s enjoyed such a solid remake. If it hadn’t been released into a world where its predecessor existed, I can guarantee it would have made a much bigger splash.