Pretty Water: In-game screenshot
The Age of Empires III demo version 1.0 is out. Here’s the good news. Despite early press screens showing some absolutely stunning and obviously staged CGI scenes of armies marching in forests with reflections, foliage and the like, the final game, or at least the version Ensemble let us play, is closer to the old 2-D sprite based Age of Empires (AOE) than the non gameplay press pictures they released at E3. The second piece of good news is that if you bought a decently powerful computer in the last two years, the machine should be able to handle Age of Empires III. My Radeon 9600 Pro Pentium4 3.0 GHZ rig ran the demo just fine on 1023X768 with all the effects turned up to maximum. Granted I haven’t had a chance to really test it in a full-blown game with massed armies in full battle. The one little skirmish I had with about 20 units and burning buildings had no slowdown.
Here’s the bad news. The demo was boring. It’s not even a tease. The single player scenarios included were not very interesting. One had you playing as either Spain or Great Britain in a rush to colonize North America. It’s a kind of free form custom AOE game one might play to pass the time vs. an AI or human opponent where everyone starts out with just a small town. The one campaign scenario included in the demo puts the players in charge of an American general pushing the boundaries of the western frontier and establishing trading posts. Not, the most exciting stuff to play. All I can say is, the controls seem very responsive. The graphics are good in 3-D, but I think there menus need to be a little more intuitive. For example, jumping between the unit build menus and the main ‘home’ menu is a bit confusing. I don’t recall it being this hard to jump between menus in the old AOE games. Also, the mouse speed slider needs to be made a bit more precise. A few notches up from default will make my mouse moved too fast and it takes some careful movement to get it to land at the sweet spot.
I’m still looking forward to this game, but I’m not too impressed with the demo overall.