Armies are encouraged to bring a peasant along with them, in addition to the priests and siege equipment normally brought in reserve. Peasants, while not combat efficient or particularly useful in most military situations, can be used to gather the various treasures around the map. These are much smaller and less important than artifacts from Age of Mythology, but will no doubt take on the importance that micro-managing hunters did in Age of Kings. When every second counts (remember the obsessive race to see who could “Castle” first?), the importance of a stash of 80 food or 80 gold cannot be under-estimated. Of course, treasures are guarded, which is why we say you should bring a peasant with your army, or perhaps an army with your peasant.
The way units organize themselves is noteworthy. No longer is the player fiddling with jumbles of anti-archer, anti-cavalry, anti-infantry and anti-anti-x units in various groups. Rather, the AI manages to arrange them all in a certain order if you group them. It won’t necessarily fight them against what they’re best matched against, but creating a super-group of multiple unit types arranges them in a logical fashion; cavalry up front, infantry in the middle and ranged units in the rear.
On top of tactical considerations, there’s a more strategic game as well. The player chooses not only the governors for his colony, but has to deal with the home city as well. Being a colony, it’s expected to get help from the motherland and shipments do arrive. These are based off how well the player is doing. There’s a fixed counter that slowly adds to the shipment timer, but this can be improved by beating up enemy armies for experience, or building your own. Each new unit or unit killed is worth a certain amount of points; Lancers, for example, are worth 20. Points are added to the shipment counter and when it fills, the shipment icon is pressed, the home city menu pops up and the player chooses. Certain shipments, typically those that concern military units or bonuses, are a one-time-per-map deal. Others, like resources, can be used infinitely. Experience points aren’t limited to speeding up the shipment timer, they are also used to buy upgrades at the home city. Upgrades mean getting more or better units per shipment.
Home City upgrades were quite welcome and in fact the entire idea is an impressive addition to the singleplayer campaign. Past Ensemble games didn’t quite stimulate the senses very well, with the first two Ages of Empires titles being rather bland, and Age of Mythology dragging on somewhat in some tedious scenario design. This was made all the more evident with the general repetitiveness of the RTS formula and lack of variation in it. From what we’ve seen so far, Age of Empires III spices the scenarios up and cuts them down to more manageable bites.