The Age of Empires games have special meaning for me. While one of my friends, Paul, was slaving away in college at his engineering degree, he happened to mention that he got a new computer and likes this “Age of Empires” game that puts ancient civilizations into mortal combat with each other. He invited me to play a few games. I whooped on him, and then proceeded to introduce him to Ages of Empires II: Age of Kings, and whooped on him there. It was December 1999, I’d just accepted an offer to join FiringSquad full-time, and between whooping on Paul and working at FS, it was the best time of my life.
I recall this because Age of Empires always had something different about it. It used real countries, relatively real units, and had the concept of Ages – but that was only the start. Paul, when he first started playing, liked to build cities. SimCities even. They’d have walls, towers, gates, neatly arranged farms, and plenty of game animals walking around, completely unmolested by his peasants. Every time my rampaging Celtic or Teutonic hordes encountered Paul, it was an idyllic community that they put to fire and sword. The screams of his peasants were sweet, but not so much as Paul’s frustration. Paul eventually got better – much better, at the cost of his academic performance it turns out (oops, my bad) – but Age of Empires still hasn’t changed. You can still build your SimCities, or your rampaging hordes.
Age of Empires III expands on the economy and city-building concepts, while simplifying the process and adding Age of Mythology flavor. For example, every time the player reaches a new age, he picks a new governor, the way he’d pick a patron god in Age of Mythology. Also gone are resource drop-off points, peasants no longer have to deliver lumber to lumber mills or food to granaries – all resources are automatically added as they are gathered.
Cities also require less building; there’s less pressure on the housing situation, while unit-producing structures are more efficient. In the Barracks, for example, you can build one Pikeman or five, and they’ll both take the same amount of time to develop. In fact, you can choose to build one, and if it isn’t finished yet you can queue up another four to make five total. However, the limit does stay at five and if the player chooses more, a second queue will open up. Peasants and boats seem to be the exception to the quick-build rule.
This makes for faster time to action and less time spent on building the six barracks you need to compete. Extra barracks do help, but it is rare to need more than two. The streamlining of city-building doesn’t take the emphasis off the economy at all, however. Hunting is still the best way to gather food, with fishing and farming coming in far behind.