Beautiful graphics. Good music.
Easy to learn with good tutorial.
High replay value.
No software update alerts, you must check the site manually.
Two-button mouse recommended.
This game is terrific and a lot of fun. Age of Empires III is the sequel to MacSoft's second best-selling title, and the latest release in the Age of Empires series. I will review the newest update, Age of Empires: The War Chiefs on MacNN very soon. Before I go any further, let me say up front that I generally avoid playing computer games because I can't afford to get distracted from more pressing responsibilities. So this review is written from the perspective of a novice gamer who took the time to experiment with a strategy game, found the experience to be immensely entertaining, and confirmed the danger of getting sucked into an engrossing game that consumes huge quantities of free time.
Easy to learn
While my two teenage sons are comfortable diving right into a game, I had to start out with the tutorial, which I found to be well-designed and quite user friendly. It quickly taught me the basics so that I could comfortably start a game. The manual is very detailed, and I found myself thumbing through it after each of my first few games to learn about other features and options that aren't intuitively obvious.
One evening, I intended to sit down and write this review only to find myself sucked into an epic battle with my two sons against an Expert level computer opponent. Of course, we waged this battle over our home network, but the game also supports online networking through GameRanger. We used a Dual 2.7 GHz PowerPC G5, a 1.5 GHz PowerBook G4, and a 2.0 GHz Intel Core Duo MacBook. All three ran the game with ease, with the graphic display speed being the obvious major difference between them. Even on the MacBook, the well-defined and detailed graphics were actually quite satisfactory.
The objective of each game is to move through a series of five ages, each giving you new military units and economic upgrades that increase your options and chance of success against human or AI opponents. Every civilization has its own Home City, which offers different improvements. For example, the Spanish have a strong military, particularly their hand infantry and cavalry. They also earn early Home City shipments, allowing them to attack early. The British on the other hand spawn villagers faster and have one of the strongest economies in the game. Furthermore, the British military is formidable but takes longer to build. There are eight civilizations in all, and each offers a slightly different style of play. There are also a multitude of different maps upon which you can build your empire, allowing you to emphasize land or naval battles.
A major difference from Age of Empires II is the use of Cards and Decks, which provides a unique assortment of improvements and resources from which you can choose. The higher your Home City level, which rises as you gain experience from each game, the more Cards are available for your use. This offers a unique way to customize Decks to suit your playing style. You start out with only 15 Cards available in the default Deck, but eventually, through experience points, you are allowed to pick up to 20 Cards from dozens of options in five categories: Economic, military, buildings, manufacturing and naval.
Download all updates
There are several known issues to version 1.0 including crashes when trying to play over a LAN. I experienced a crash immediately upon trying to play a game across my home network and it happened consistently whether the game was initiated from the PowerPC G5 or an Intel-based MacBook. Fortunately, installing the version 1.0.2 update fixed most of the problems. That said, I did experience at least one mid-game crash on both the G5 and on the MacBook. Needless to say, it's a bit of a bummer to be in the middle of a game that's going quite well only to be dumped out to the desktop for no reason. While this doesn't happen often, the fact it happened at least once on two totally different machines tells me that there might still be a bug or two that's not fixed with the 1.0.2 update.
The AI opponent
While MacSoft claims a very complex AI engine, we did notice that the AI reaction is somewhat predictable. For example, in Sandbox, Easy, and Medium, it is very easy to beat the computer due to its lack of offensive capabilities. In Hard, the AI is very predictable in the beginning of skirmishes and puts up a decent fight up until the point you attack its base, where villagers continue to collect resources instead of putting up a fight. At the Expert setting, it seems as though a major handicap is given to the computer and within minutes of starting a battle, the computer sends in a seemingly unlimited number of forces and the forces seem to have perfect intelligence as to where to attack.
This is a very interesting and fun to play game that keeps you coming back for more. Earning new Cards, customizing your Deck and Home City, and being able to select different geographic areas provides a new experience with each game. Age of Empires III is rated T for Teen and is available be as a Universal Binary release that can be operated natively either on Apple's Intel-based or PowerPC Macintosh computers.