Quarterlies 2005
TomChick - Features - Comments - 01/01/06

Most Disappointing Game of 2005
Age of Empires III

My problem isnít with the design, which is a throwback to all the old economic driven RTSs from Ensembleís heyday. Itís pretty wonky, concerned as it is with gathering rates, damage multipliers, and the minor differences between a musketeer and a cassadore. For the most part, the design works great.

The new home city stuff, which taps into my inveterate addiction to collectible card games, is probably responsible for well over half the times Iíve started a game. Either I want to test out a new card, or I want to get another card. At which point I will then play another game to test it out. The new native settlement stuff works great, too, giving Indians their due props for helping establish and occasionally tear down the New World. Itís cool to see some Cherokee riflemen and Tupi archers mixing it up with their European benefactors [sic].

My problem with Age III, and the reason itís so disappointing, is that Ensemble made mistakes I wouldnít expect from a veteran developer, much less a veteran developer with their track record. Three patches later and there are still gaping holes in the interface, all the more conspicuous for a game design that relies so heavily on micromanagement. There are problems with under-documented features and information you canít get in the game. Ensemble Online is hostile to casual players since it has no matchmaking based on ranking or player skill.

Perhaps worst of all, the post-release support is a weird waltz of one step forward, two steps back, and letís not really discuss it. For some inscrutable reason, important features have been stripped out with the latest patches. To me, Age III is literally unplayable in its current v1.03 incarnation. I donít know how people can manage their units without an attack move.

The strange irony here is that Age of Empires III wouldnít be the most disappointing game of 2005 if I didnít like it so much.

From my review in Computer Gaming World: To be fair, even a bad RTS from Ensemble is better than a mediocre RTS from someone else. With this lush engine and their obvious enthusiasm for the subject matter, they know how to make doppelsoldners, strelets, and culverins sexy, even if you don't know what they are. And that's half way to making a really good RTS.

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