While Ensemble Studioís spin-off of the Age of Empires series, Age of Mythology, was a delightful change to the somewhat realistic tones of their flagship series, I always craved a sequel to the original series, and a brand new title to sink my teeth into. The first two iterations, the second of which arrived over 6 years ago, were heralded as the new pinnacles of the genre, and went on to sell deservedly in copious amounts. But 6 years is a long time in the video game world. I mean, in just over half a decade we went from idyllic fast-paced 2D action with Sonic the Hedgehog, through to the ever adored Mario 64. And as such, you canít help but feel that things have perhaps moved on, leaving this particular series lagging behind.
For the un-initiated, the Age of Empires series has been running since way back in those dot com days of the mid-nineties. Back when Britpop was at itís finest as Oasis, Blur, and Radiohead competed for radio time. Strategy titles had been and gone of course, from the likes of M.U.L.E to Populous, but none seemed to grip like the original Age of Empires. Although essentially being a simplistic collect build and rush title, it sold in the millions, and achieved award after award.
And yet a decade later, weíre still presented with essentially the same gameplay mechanic. The in game time has changed, now encompassing the period of 1500-1800, but things are for the main bulk of the time, exactly the same as Age of Empires II.
Some things have moved on of course, particular the graphics engine pushing everything along. If you happen to have access to a particularly meaty PC, then the visuals might not exactly blow you away, but certainly perform the job much more than merely adequately. The sea in particular looks most attractive, as boats rock realistically once cannons are fired, and ships break apart in large chunks. On land things arenít quite as impressive, with large areas of basically Ďdead landí that merely needs to be traversed rather than ogled. That isnít to say a mass land based battle isnít impressive of course. Smoke billows around the battlefield, and huge cannonballs send infantry sprawling here, there, and everywhere. Yet it isnít until these huge hulking weapons, and mass battles make an appearance that the visuals really get going. During the many peaceful moments youíll spend erecting buildings and gathering up wood, thereís a lack of activity that although is realistic, fails to impress the eye.