Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition Impressions

The trilogy of Age of Empires remasters is now complete, and it feels like their trajectory has matched that of the original releases.

The new Inca civilization in the Age of Empires III Definitive Edition.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.

A Haudeenoshownee village in the Age of Empires II Definitive Edition.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.

A Swedish home in the Age of Empires III Definitive Edition.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.

Gaming Round-Up: Adrift

Do you ever find that when you finish a long game that you really love, you have a hard time getting into anything else for a while? That’s been my experience since finishing We Happy Few. I’ve tried a lot of things, but not much is sticking.

My character in Conan Exiles.I did finish the Reign of Terror mod for Grim Dawn, which recreates Diablo II, but to be honest it ended up feeling like a bit of a slog. Even with the updates provided by the Grim Dawn engine, the gameplay hasn’t aged that well, and even the story is a lot more shallow than I remember it being.

I did get to experience the story of the Lord of Destruction expansion for the first time, not having played it back in the day, and I think I liked it a bit better than the base game’s, but even then it wasn’t exactly thrilling.

A few weeks back, both Conan Exiles and Fallout 76 ran simultaneous free trial events, and even though neither is a game I’ve really had on my radar, I decided to give them a shot for curiosity’s sake. We Happy Few did leave me with a bit of a craving for more survival mechanics.

To my great surprise, I actually ended up enjoying Fallout 76 quite a bit. It does have a lot of jankiness — the combat is weak at best, the character models are hideous, and the PC interface is an unmitigated disaster — but even so I was actually rather sad when the trial ended. I’m tempted to pick it up on sale at some time.

I miss my CAMP. I had a lovely spot on a mountain peak between two forested valleys. I was growing a vegetable garden in the back. Player housing can be really fun when it’s a meaningful part of the game and not just a place to decorate once and then forget about.

The view from my CAMP in Fallout 76.Exiles, on the other hand, I didn’t enjoy at all. Whereas F76 was occasionally annoying due to bad design, Conan Exiles feels like it was designed from the ground up to be constantly annoying. I get that they’re going for a savage world where danger is constant, but when even the sheep treat you as KoS, you’ve just lapsed into the realm of unintentional self-parody. To say nothing of the nightmare of inventory management…

And honestly, even if you fixed those problems, it still wouldn’t be a very interesting game. Crafting is somehow even more gameified and mindless than in the average MMO (a bizarre choice for a game that’s almost entirely crafting), and there’s just no point to anything. No story, no meaningful goals.

After that I dipped into a few titles from my backlog. First was Far Cry: Primal. I really like the concept of the game, but the reality of it just didn’t click for me. Too much of a grindfest. I don’t understand why so many single-player games want to be bad MMOs these days.

I did enjoy the animal companions, though.

Next up was some strategy games — Surviving Mars and The Hive — but neither grabbed me. I give The Hive credit for an original concept, but in practice it was a pretty generic RTS, and it just didn’t feel like it was bringing anything new to the table.

Speaking of RTS, though, one highlight that did crop around this time is a game called Nordic Warriors I tried via a demo key given to Massively Overpowered. It’s a single-player game, so I wasn’t able to cover it on MOP, but it did impress.

A battle in the tactical RTS Nordic Warriors.The story of Nordic Warriors is based on Norse mythology, which is always a good way to get my attention, but more importantly, the gameplay is an homage to Bungie’s Myth games from back in the 90s.

Anyone who’s followed this blog for a long time knows I loved Myth back in the day, and there’s just nothing like it even now. Its hyper-realistic real time tactical strategy is a style of gameplay that simply doesn’t exist any more. Anything to bring back that kind of gameplay has my support.

In some ways, Nordic Warriors shows its low budget — the entire development team is just three people — but all things considered it’s an impressive effort at bringing back the Myth experience. I will definitely be picking it up when the full version goes live later this month.

In the meanwhile, that still left me without a game to fill my lonely days. Right now, I’ve gotten back into Elder Scrolls Online. Not for Greymoor, though. It looks like a pretty underwhelming expansion to me, and to be honest I almost forgot it was even a thing. Instead, I’ve finally started on the previous expansion, Elsweyr, which I bought on sale ages ago but never got around to playing.

I won’t lie, I didn’t go into this with a lot of enthusiasm. On paper ESO is my dream MMO, but in practice it tends towards being merely adequate. I think a lot of it is just down both the writing and the combat being fairly mediocre. I like the Khajiit, so I was curious about Elsweyr, but my expectations were low, especially after the disappointment of Summerset.

It’s early days, but while I may not be blown away, I will say it’s growing on me. It already feels better than Summerset, at least. Dragon fights might not be wildly original as public events go, but they’re definitely a lot more exciting than just reskinning Dolmens.

A Khajiit town in the Elsweyr expansion for Elder Scrolls Online.While the meat of the story is still kind of underwhelming, the world-building is interesting. Unlike most of the game, Elsweyr feels genuinely fantastical, and I am enjoying meeting all the strange and bizarre subraces of the Khajiit. And if nothing else, Khajiiti NPCs have vastly more personality than the Altmer.

Something has gone badly wrong if even I find Elves boring.

I’ve also switched to my warden rather than my main for a change of pace, which may be helping a little. She certainly kills things faster; normally I’m not a fan of mowing down mobs without any difficulty, but given ESO’s combat isn’t exactly a delight, I’m more okay with it right now.

I’d like to start a necromancer, but then I’d have to deal with having an untrained mount again. It’s a shame that ESO is so alt-friendly in so many ways, but that one mechanic just feels so punishing if you try to switch to a new character. Weird how MMOs work against their own designs sometimes.

I’m not convinced I’m not going to lose interest and jump onto something else before long, but so far at least I find myself warming up to Elsweyr. Mayhap it may tide me over until Nordic Warriors releases, at least.

Then again, there is also a part of me that’s hankering for some Age of Empires…