Dread is a large word, but I had anticipated the arrival of AoE III with some worry. Hearing strategy game developers of the game to replace my favourite AoE II discuss how they had spent a year getting the water just right tends to inspire such feelings. We’d all heard about fancy 3D stuff, the Havok engine etc. while discussions of improved – or even changed – gameplay had been few and far between.
Having played the game a bit it now seems that gameplay changes are indeed modest (which means that AoE II skills transfer almost directly). Most importantly micromanagement has been almost eliminated. Not only do villagers not need to build and rebuild farms, they now do not have to carry the resources anywhere at all which means you can collect resources without worrying about your vils travelling a long way. Less strategy involved, of course, but all in all a pretty good thing it seems to me. The game continues the tradition (known from Age of Mythology but not from previous AoE games) of having certain designated spaces on the map which support particular buildings giving particular advantages. I didn’t like this aspect of Age of Mythology but in AoE III it seems to have been downplayed although it’s still a feature which shapes the conflict to some extent (largely a bad thing, but it does speed up the game somewhat).
Officially, the Great New Feature is the “home city”, which is meant to be a source of identification (the city can level up which is novel at least) and which holds your deck of cards. Yep, the whole deck of cards idea seems far-fetched but appears to be less of a nuisance than one might think.
Which brings me, in a classical non sequitur, to the player matching system. And here, finally, real change is apparent. Oh yes, it’s still fairly counter-intuitive and rather poorly explained, but it seems to combine virtues from the matching system of AoE II and AoM in a way which actually works. I know it sounds improbable but it’s now possible to actually go online and start a game within minutes – unheard of in AoE II (where, oftentimes, you couldn’t start a game at all). In the end this change, completely outside the “core” game which you usually see described in reviews and such may turn out to be the most important one by far.
And what I meant to say: Let me know if you’re up for battle in the new world.
[post-entry rant: The game is extremely buggy. Sound shuts down, the update crashes the game etc. but that’s just too ridiculous to even mention – particularly being a Microsoft game which supposedly can speak to Windows and has been tested to some extent.]