The trilogy of Age of Empires remasters is now complete, and it feels like their trajectory has matched that of the original releases.
The first game was impressive for its time but was surpassed by its successors, and while its remaster was competent, it couldn’t fully make up for the game’s age, especially with no new content. Age of Empires II was when the franchise reached its peak, and its remaster was a virtually perfect example of how to update a game, delivering major improvements without changing anything that made the game great.
Age of Empires III, meanwhile, was still a solid game but unable to match the greatness of its predecessor, and its new Definitive Edition is a solid upgrade, but not the masterpiece the AoE2 remaster was.
Playing this, I quickly remembered why 3 is my least favourite Age of Empires game. They tried to improve on the formula of 2, but mostly all they accomplished was adding a bunch of unnecessary bells and whistles that made the game more complicated, but not more interesting.
That said, Age of Empires is still Age of Empires. Beneath all the bloated tooltips and wonky extra mechanics, the core formula is still plenty enjoyable, and it still works out to a fairly good game, just not one that quite lives up its legendary forebear.
So too with the remaster. Overall they did a good job — every change is a positive — but it does leave a little something to be desired. It’s good, but it could have been better.
The best trait is easily the graphical overhaul. The game looks gorgeous now. Everything is colourful, vibrant, and detailed.
There are a number of small but welcome gameplay tweaks, too. Home city leveling has been effectively eliminated, so everyone has access to all of the shipment cards off the bat, which is a nice way to prevent people having to grind all over again.
The revolution mechanic has also been fleshed out more. This is mainly noteworthy for me because it’s added Canada as a playable option. Even if it’s just a revolution option for the British and French rather than a complete civilization, it’s nice to have my country represented in an Age of Empires game for the first time.
They’ve also tweaked the indigenous civilizations to be more culturally sensitive. I will admit that in my ignorance I didn’t realize there was anything problematic about the old versions, but I’m glad they’re making the effort to be more respectful. In hindsight, the firepit thing does seem… less than ideal.
Finally, there’s new content. Here’s where I have some complaints, and even then it’s not that there’s anything wrong with the new content. I just wish they’d done more — what’s there feels like an appetizer rather than a full meal.
There’s two new civilizations, the Swedes and the Inca. Based on early impressions, they both seem pretty fun. I always enjoy the indigenous civilizations because I prefer the lower tech aesthetic, so the Inca are an easy win, but I also found myself enjoying the Swedes to a surprising degree. Being able to harvest resources with houses is a very strong economic boost, and their tech tree is simple but effective, with clear tools for every situation.
There’s also a new short “campaign” of standalone historical battle missions. These are fun enough — it’s nice to return to historical events rather than the fictional stories of AoE3’s base campaigns — but I really wish there was more. There’s only six missions, and strangely the new civilizations are not represented in them, which feels like a real missed opportunity.
Part of the problem is simply that the bar was set so high by the AoE2 remaster, with its multiple new civilizations and campaigns.
Which was always the problem with 3, remaster or no. It’s a solid game, but it predecessor was just too tough an act to follow.
Anyway, for all my humming and hawing, I’m pretty happy with the Age of Empires III Definitive Edition, and I’d recommend it to fans of the franchise. Just leaves me wanting more is all.