Age of Empires 3: Definitive Edition hands-on - 3D Wololo refined

Microsoft and Forgotten Empires complete their Age of Empires original trilogy remastering efforts with a steady, if unexciting release.


In the lead up to its release back in 2005, the hype for Age of Empires 3 was fairly rabid. Following two of the most beloved games in the real-time strategy genre with the series’ first foray into a fully 3D presentation, the third Age of Empires game had nearly impossible shoes to fill. While it was generally accepted to be a solid entry in their series, it failed to capture the same magic of its two-dimensional predecessors. Each of those 2D classics has received the Definitive Edition treatment from Microsoft in recent years with positive results. Naturally, Age of Empires 3 was due for the same refurbishing, though it feels more like a tune-up rather than a frame-up rebuild.

It was a different time

Despite being only fifteen years old, Age of Empires 3 launched with some inclusions that would surely cause some backlash today, particularly from its less-than-respectful portrayal of Native American culture. Aside from the expected polishing of graphics and the user interface, the first change that returning players will notice are the changes to some of the playable factions. Specifically, the Sioux tribe is now known as Lakota and the Iriquois have been relabeled as Haudenosaunee. These changes were made to more precisely delineate the particular subdivisions of tribes the campaigns and units represent. Additionally, dispatching units with pickaxes in search of gold coins has been replaced with a tribal marketplace to more accurately match the actual historical relationship the tribes had with gold and European-based settlers.

The fire pit has also been replaced with a community plaza. In the original game, the fire pit was utilized by tribal factions to gain passive bonuses directly tied to the number of units assigned to dance around it. The passive bonus gain mechanics remain unchanged and are now handled with the community plaza. Additionally, the Nature Friendship mechanic that allowed certain units to magically coerce animals to attack enemy factions has been pulled altogether. In another change to treat native tribes less like caricatures from a John Wayne movie and more like the real people they were, skulls on spikes will no longer be strewn about native tribe encampments.

Two completely new factions are included in Age of Empire 3: Definitive Edition: Sweden and the Inca tribe. They fall in with the original faction roster to provide a grand total of sixteen. Art of War Challenges are new for this edition of the game, offering a few different ways to tackle content with rewards tied directly to completion time. The other new game mode is Historical Battles. These scenarios give you the opportunity to dive right into some of the more famous skirmishs in history without the need to work through the campaigns of the participating factions.

The original campaigns make a return, with some altered for content in an attempt to offer a less-romanticized chronicle of the European settlers steamrolling the North American continent at the expense of its native inhabitants. It is possible that other similar changes lie in wait for those that plan on exhausting the ocean of content included, but time constraints prevented me from seeing the entirety of what may have changed from the original release. Again, none of the alterations affect gameplay in the slightest, but if for whatever reason you will be unhappy with anything other than a straight reissue of the original product, consider yourself warned.

As far as the presentation is concerned, tasteful enhancement is the name of the game here as opposed to the rather transformative overhauls that Age of Empires 1 and 2 received with their Definitive Editions. Building models have been improved all around and are the easiest change to spot, making use of the increased resolution capability and expanding map zooming changes. The user interface receives some alterations to bring it in line with modern expectations, though I am not familiar enough with the original game to speak with any authority on how much of a help or hindrance they would be to grizzled Age of Empires 3 veterans.

Many ways to play

The original Age of Empires 3 was never the golden child of its family and I expect that its Definitive Edition will experience similar treatment. It needed a remastering the least of the original trilogy and still enjoyed an active community, but it is hard to spot anything in the package that will deter those interested in taking a trip down memory lane. Age Of Empires 3: Definitive Edition will officially launch on October 15, 2020, with both Steam and Xbox Store versions available. Game Pass subscribers will also be happy to learn that it will also be ready to roll on Microsoft’s subscription service on the same day.

Contributing Tech Editor

Chris Jarrard likes playing games, crankin' tunes, and looking for fights on obscure online message boards. He understands that breakfast food is the only true food. Don't @ him.

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