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Age of Empires III: Complete Collection PC CD

Published by: Microsoft Game Studios
Developed by: Ensemble Studios & Big Huge Games

I've always been a fan of the Age of Empires series but I never got around to playing Age of Empires III. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, I didn't have the time to play anything other than what I was reviewing and secondly after downloading the demo I decided my PC at that time would not have coped well with the game. If, like me you don't yet own Age of Empires III and have enjoyed the previous games in the series, then the Age of Empires III: Complete Collection could be a very tempting proposition, especially as it's a golden opportunity to pick up what could be the final instalment in the series, along with its two expansions, in one package.

Age of Empires III: Complete Collection includes Age of Empires III, The War Chiefs and The Asian Dynasties expansions with tech tree charts being supplied for each. In total there are three campaigns. In Age of Empires III you'll be put in the shoes of Morgan Black Morgan and his family who have come to the New World. You will help the Aztecs fight against the Spanish and also have a hand in the war between the French and British and revolutions in South America. The campaign in The War Chiefs continues the story of the Morgan family. This time the story is focused on Nathaniel Black and his grandson Chayton Black. You'll take part in the American Revolution and the Indian Wars. Finally in The Asian Dynasties you'll get to grips with the Japanese, Chinese and Indians with a campaign that feels more historical than fictional. In addition to the campaigns you'll have access to a skirmish mode (which offers Supremacy and Deathmatch modes), an online mode and LAN multiplayer modes and in case you're wondering the game is still fairly popular and there are always available games to participate in. There's also a scenario editor that allows you to create your own scenarios.

If you've played any of the previous Age of Empires games you'll pretty much know what to expect with Age of Empires III. In total there are fourteen playable civilizations: Spanish, French, British, Portuguese, Dutch, Russian, German, Ottoman, Aztec, Iroquois, Sioux, China, India and Japan. Each of the nations has its own characteristics and special units and you'll need different strategies to make the most of each of the civilizations. During the games you'll take your civilization through five different ages (Discovery, Colonial, Fortress, Industrial and Imperial) and the game, like the previous games in the series, is all about building up an economy that can sustain your military in order to defeat your enemies.

Age of Empires III did make a few tweaks to the series' formula. Scattered around on the map you'll find treasures to be claimed, with each treasure having a guardian that must be defeated in order to claim the treasure. Resource gathering has been streamlined. There are now only three resources to collect: Food, Wood and Coin, and your units no longer have to traipse back to a storage facility to offload their goods. When moving from one age to another you get to choose a small bonus for your civilization. By far the most important addition to the Age of Empires series is the concept of the Home City. During the course of a mission your home city will be able to provide you with additional units and items that can help your cause. When help is available you simply click on the home city button (that's adorned with the flag of your civilization), select what item you require (from the choice that's on offer) and then click the home city button again to return to your mission.

During missions you'll gain experience by completing objectives and finding treasure amongst other things. Once you've gained enough experience you'll level-up your home city. Levelling-up your home city gives you access to more powerful units, items and abilities (the game calls the selectable units, items and abilities "cards"). You can only have a fixed amount of "cards" during a single game but you can customise card decks and use which ones you want during missions. This is a good addition and your home city will continue to develop as you play through the campaign. Your home city is tied to a particular civilization so one of its side effects is that it deters you from playing different civilizations as it's more profitable to stick with one civilization and enhance your home city as much as you can.

If there's a complaint to be had with this collection it's that some may find the asking price a little high. On Amazon for instance you can purchase the Gold Edition (which includes both Age of Empires III and The War Chiefs expansion) for less than £13 whilst The Asian Dynasties expansion can be had for slightly less. The Complete Collection on Amazon is around £31 (with an RRP of £39.99). The asking price should have been lower or alternatively all of the Age of Empires series and their expansions could have been included and the package simply entitled Age of Empires Complete.

Graphically Age of Empires III does look a little dated but it's still a decent looking RTS by today's standards. Age of Empires III was the first in the series to be in 3D. The benefits of this are the ability to zoom your view in and out and destructible buildings with physics modelling. The downside is that the game can be quite demanding unless you have a well specified PC. The character models don't look so good when you zoom in but in truth this isn't the kind of game that provides any benefit from being zoomed in, so it's nothing you'll really notice. The animations are a little crude. This is particularly evident when your units are moving in formation or when your ships are navigating the seas. Still it's difficult to be too hard on a game that's now four years old. The game's cut scenes, which use the in-game graphics, are delivered in a stylish and dramatic fashion and blend into the in-game action in an effective manner. Whilst Age of Empires III (and its expansions) may not be as visually impressive as it was back in 2005, it's still has a lot going for it in terms of visual appeal.

Age of Empires III and its two expansions shouldn't cause deaf gamers any real problems. All of the game's important dialogue is subtitled (the comments your units make when you issue orders to them aren't subtitled however), so you'll be able to enjoy the game's cut scenes and follow any events that occur during the missions. During the cut scenes you'll see character names and portraits accompanying the dialogue (there is no name or portrait shown when the narrator speaks in the cut scenes however). During the campaign missions and the game's tutorial you'll see subtitles appear in dialogue boxes. There are no portraits shown in the dialogue box but the speaker's name is displayed so you'll be fully aware of who is talking. If there's one complaint I have with the dialogue boxes it's that they are positioned on the left side of the screen and these can be easy to miss if you're keeping your eyes on the action. They should have been positioned in the centre of the screen and it probably would have been better if there had been the option to pause the game so that you could read the dialogue at your own pace. There are several sound effects that indicate when your units are under attack and so forth and these aren't captioned. There is usually some visual representation of this shown on the mini-map however.

Despite being just over four years old now, Age of Empires III still stands as one of the best PC RTS games that you can buy. The Age of Empires core game-play experience has aged surprisingly well. The original campaign and those found in the expansions are all very enjoyable and will provide you with many hours of entertainment as all three are quite lengthy. The online community still seems quite strong too, which is certainly good to see. Age of Empires III: Complete Collection is an excellent package that should appeal to anyone who has yet to purchase the original game and its expansions. The asking price is a bit rich however and it's a shame that nothing extra has been included to make it more appealing than purchasing the game and expansions individually (which can work out to be less expensive).

Overall Game Rating 8.5/10

Deaf Gamers Classification

DGC Classification B
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