Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition is beautiful. This is probably the first and strongest impression you get when you start the game, now that it’s arrived on the Xbox Game Pass. Every sparkling sea wave, the berries on the fruit bushes, clumps of leaves and vegetation are all represented with vibrant, vibrant colors. Marching my armies over the snow in Alaska leaves a fading trail of footprints, and the whole game seems so much more detailed that I can practically see every single hair on Gentle Pete the Pet Bear, my friend and ally from the campaign.
For this reason, if you are a newer player or just want to do something about it, I would recommend going into the Art of War challenge missions. These are new missions specifically for AoE III DE, and seem to perfect the gap between tutorial and all-out war in the campaign. Each mission covers an important gameplay mechanic, such as gathering food or digging up treasures, and these begin with short introductory videos to quickly fill you in on why every thing is important. It’s, for example, a good introduction to the Home City feature, which might otherwise seem a bit of a random addition to the game. Your hometown gives you supplies, troops, and units, which promotes the idea that you are on a mission to explore the new world – gaining experience by finding treasure or winning victories in new lands rewards you with more support from home. These come in the form of cards, which causes you to build a kind of pile with the type of supplies you would like to have available when you start a new game. The Art of War missions also point out tips that you might otherwise have missed: for example, that your explorer can sometimes use one-shot kills. Each card has a treasure scattered across it in the form of gold, units, or other supplies, and your explorer is one of the only units capable of recovering it. That means it’s important to keep him alive, and it’s a much better way to defeat treasure hunters by waiting until the deadly power of one shot is recharged, and preventing your explorer from losing too much health.
As we mentioned in our first impression of Crusader Kings III, this is the type of game where you also learn as you go and pick up lessons from each defeat or slip-up. For example, AoM requires storage holes for the resources harvested by your villagers – not so in AoE III, where they seemingly just push raw meat, timber and gold into their pockets. This led me, worried about not getting resources while my enemy was busy building his empire, to send a villager back to the city center to hand over any resources he might have – or so I thought, as it was a way to gather resources AoM. Again, not like in AoE III, where my villager just happily barricaded himself in my center and I could not figure out how to get him out again. However, it’s tempting to start from scratch and build an empire so irresistibly, and AoE III performs it so well that any resounding defeat is as much fun as when you manage to crush your enemies.
AoE III DE allows for a wonderful level of control and micro-control, allowing you to channel your inner god complex while bending over the keyboard, clicking away and cuddling manically as you go. None? Only me? Well, still, you can control all units in the game, and the ‘Age of’ games tend to give you a whole host of soldiers. In Age of Mythology, I collected the Set animals and sent an army of hyenas, giraffes, and crocodiles to my enemies. In AoE III DE, I liked to keep my six Pete the Pet Bears as my elite investigation unit. Being able to control almost all units means you’ll have to keep an eye on things when choosing whole armies – my forces were seconds away from attacking an enemy fortress when I noticed that the village’s two sheep were lined up in formation, loaded with them into the attack.
There is a variety of content that suits your desire but you want to play. The campaigns – the maps of the Asian dynasty campaign are particularly beautiful – allow you to follow a narrative that progresses, under more specific conditions, while the historical battles set you up with specific troops and targets. If you want to start from scratch and build for an all-out war against opponents, the Skirmish setting is your best choice. Aside from the beautiful graphics and better destruction animations and enhanced music, AoE III DE has made a huge effort to improve the content across the game. As soon as you start it, there’s a message from the World’s Edge to explain how the study has partnered with Native Americans and First Nations consultants to correct stereotypes or inaccuracies in the depiction of indigenous civilizations, leading to a new version of Act II – Shadow in the campaign.
I’m still not sold in my hometown (I also have not figured out how to customize it) as it does not really feel like a necessary feature and it looks like the game would work just as well without it. And if you’re looking for something to really build on or add something new to the Age of Empires shine, you’ll probably have to wait for Age of Empires IV. However, just based on my first few hours with it, the AoE III DE is one FREE TICKET if there ever was one. There are hours of content and the playback factor is particularly high. As it includes the original expansions, a new expansion, two new civilizations (making 16 in total), new The Art of War challenge missions, and new historical battles, this will definitely keep you busy for a long time. The game looks beautiful and I ran into a few bugs but no major bugs yet.
We have just downloaded the Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition (Win 10) performance list, and you will need to do a fairly comprehensive review of the campaigns, Skirmishes and Multiplayer to complete the list as well as try some more difficult achievements, such as the old-fashioned achievement, who need you to win a game on the hardest difficulty – without upgrading your city center. If you’re looking for something to pick up on your Xbox Game Pass, start with Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition – but be prepared to lose serious time on it.
Heidi spent several hours trying to build an empire and be defeated at almost every turn. She achieved two achievements on our Steam review copy and returns to fight as soon as possible.