First a big thank you to Microsoft Game Studios for providing Age of Empires 3 for this Review.

Age of empires 3 is the latest in the age of empire series. The first two games were a huge success and now the question is, does age of empires 3 live up to what come before it?

The game for those that may not know is a Real Time Strategy or RTS for short. With age of empires 3 witch I will refer to as AOE3, you have single player missions and multi-player missions. On top of the single player and multi-player you also have a skirmish mode where you lay down the game parameter's and then fight the computer AI.

In terms of whats changed from previous AOE games the answer is not much. In AOE3 you have the addition of the home city and that adds a twist to the game. The home city supplies you with supplies as your game plays out and you can pick what it is they send you based on what you have unlocked in terms of cards. The cards are basically skills you unlock this unlocking is also based on the level of your home city and that level goes up by doing both multi-player and single player missions.

With the home city if you want to be able to have all the cards unlocked then you will need a lot of skill points. Skill points are also given for how you do in combat and if you do certain things within the game. With the home city you can also have different setups for example you could have a whole set of skills that deal with rushing and then another setup for defense.

With AOE3 you can pick from Spanish, British, French, Portuguese, Dutch, Russian, German, Ottoman. Each civilization brings something to the table that the others don't, they also each have their weaknesses and strengths when compared to each other.

Like previous AOE games the AI in the game isn't all that bright. For example I was on a water based map and the AI built a few ships and when I killed the ships and the dock the AI never bothered to do anything else the AI just sat on its island doing nothing. Its a bit of different story when your on land then the AI will be sending squads of guys after you on a regular basis. Even on land though once you learn how to hold off the squads of AI on land then you got the AI beat. The AI never changes its strategy and do to that its not hard to figure out how to beat it even at its hardest levels.

One thing I'm surprised by is despite the fact this is the third AOE game they never seem to overhaul the AI. I guess Ensemble Studios is relying on the mod scene to make up some better AI routines.

The graphics in the game are great if you can afford to turn them on. My machine here will not run this game smoothly with the graphics cranked up and I have AMD 2500XP with 2 gigs of ram and a ATI X800XL 256 meg video card. I play this game with the graphics as low as I can set them and I have a screen resolution of 1024 by 768. Even with the game as low as it can go I still see times where the game will dip down to 15 frames a second. This pisses me off to no end when that happens. I think the game makers are stuck on stupid when it comes to graphics and games. What makes this whole thing even worse is the introduction of the physics to the game. As cool as it may look to see guys flying around when they get hit by a cannonball that coolness fades away fast when your frame rate drops down to slide show mode.

I would like to know what they were thinking at Ensemble Studios when it comes to the physics for the game. Every RTS I have played has been a cpu killer and then to take that knowledge and make things even worse by adding physics demands on the cpu blows my mind. At the end of the day I would have rather of had no physics in the game and have a smoother game play then to see guys flying through the air in slide show mode.

The other thing I have a problem with is the multi-player and I'm referring to Internet based multi-player here and not LAN play. I'm starting to think Ensemble Studios don't have game testers or they have a bunch of blind game testers. I seriously don't get how the game made it out the door with the multi-player being as bad as it is in terms of performance. The lag in the multi-player games I have played in for the most part have been show stoppers. I'm talking about your in a 2vs2 and the lag is so bad that the game is pausing all the time. The only time the multi-player runs fine is when everyone is dead.

What makes the multi-player really bad is unlike the single player portion of the game the multi-player is being hampered by two things. The first thing thats killing the multi-player is the graphics/physics of the game and the second thing is the net lag. I have seen times in the game where my frame rate using Fraps was 50 frames a second and I was watching my guys move a bit then stop move a bit and stop this can drive you nuts. Where it really gets bad is when you get into a big battle because now both problems are in effect at the same time not only is the net lag killing you but so to is the lag from the graphics/physics.

The multi-player is what really bugs me the most because its the mode I would like to play the most in the game. I don't care about the single player part of the game at all I would rather spend all my time fighting smart people over retarded AI any day.

The only thing that may save the multi-player for some people is if they have a LAN setup. At least with that you could get rid of the network lag and then only have to worry about the graphics/physics lag.

In terms of public multi-player Ensemble needs to rethink what players need. I would like to see the multi-player have some options where you can restrict people who come into your games based on the hardware they have in their machines and the speeds of that hardware. For example if you have 3 people on 3MEG DSL lines and the 4th guy is on a 56k modem your screwed. The game will go as fast as the slowest machine/Internet connection. Also Ensemble needs to change the ping display and give numbers instead of color bars.

The multi-player in this game shows neglect and you can see it in the performance of the game. Maybe Ensemble should actually spend some money on the multi-player side of the game and keep the multi-player people happy for a change. I would be willing to bet a lot of people who buy this game will be getting it just for the multi-player alone and don't care about the single player. I know about a dozen people who if they thought the multi-player was top notch would buy the game in a heart beat. Them same dozen people don't care one bit about a single player portion of the game.

In conclusion its up to the user, if you want to put up with the problems of the game as to if you should buy it or not. If you only want single player and the single player skirmish modes or a LAN play then you can't go wrong with the game at all. In fact in terms of the actual game and how it works I think Ensemble did a good job but the performance of the game and the lack of a few things is where I have major issues with the game. If you are solely interested in playing the Internet based multi-player with public players from the Ensemble on line service then your going to be in for some laggy games be prepared to go nuts. You may get some smoother on line play if your playing with friends and you know they are on good machines and have good Internet connections. At the time of this review you could buy Age of empires 3 for about $50.00 U.S.

This game was tested on the following machine.

AMD XP 2500
ATI X800XL 256 MEG

Below are some screen shots of the game, all screen shots were taken at the lowest graphic settings at 1024 by 768 resolution since thats how i played the game... enjoy!

Here is a picture of the front of the box.

Here is a picture of the back of the box.

Here is a in game screen shot with low graphics settings.

Here is a in game screen shot with low graphics settings.

Here is a in game screen shot with low graphics settings.

Here is a in game screen shot with low graphics settings.