Developed by Ensemble Studios and published for Mac OS X by MacSoft back in 2006, Age of Empires III maintains the expected level of involvement for a real-time strategy (RTS), but delivers it in a absolutely superb package; armies begin as simple men killing each other with bows and swords, only to advance to more efficient implements of war, such as cannons and rifles, with peasants gathering resources, such as food, gold and timber.
The single player campaign begins with the tale of Morgan Black and the Knights of Saint John. With his order on the brink of extinction, Morgan struggles to push the invading Ottomans from Malta. Through the course of battle Morgan discovers what could be a map pointing to the Lake of the Moon, a mysterious body of water that is said to contain the fountain of youth. The Knights of Saint John could never allow such a thing to fall into the hands of the Ottomans, or worse, The Circle. Existing only at the edges of reality, The Circle is said to have infiltrated all levels of society, making the world their decadent playground. With this in mind, Morgan and his knights board their tall ships and set sail for the new world and the possibility of eternal youth, or death at the hands of their enemies, known and unknown.
The campaign spans 24-missions, spread across 3-acts, each following a member of the Black family through history. For instance, act 2 centers on Morgan’s grandson, John Black, and his struggles in the French and Indian War. The campaign’s story is mainly told through nicely detailed in-engine cutscenes, with a full cinematic at the end of each act. It’s definately got that ‘one more level before I go to bed’ hook.
Furthermore, most campaign missions offer secondary objectives that provide a bundle of extra experience points, but completion isn’t required for overall victory. For example, one might have to free a group of imprisoned allies, or protect a nearby settlement from enemy attack. These secondary objectives add a certain level of depth and intrigue to the single-player campaign.
Age of Empires III features 8 playable civilizations that adhere to different play styles. For instance, the French economy starts slowly, but their Villagers are capable of light combat and building British housing gives a free peasant with each house.
The missions themselves offer more than the usual RTS fare in several ways. Age of Empires III offers players various RPG elements that actually work in an RTS. The game is built around one’s “Home City,” which becomes more powerful as the player progresses. For instance, as the player kills enemy soldiers and razes enemy buildings, they gain experience points. As experience points are gained, the player earns shipmentes from the Home City. Shipments can range from simple resource crates to military reinforcements. As their city levels up, players unlock new shipment types to be available in later missions. Some shipments, like resource crates, may be called upon more than once, whereas deadly combat reinforcements must be used sparingly.
The Multiplayer experience is fantastic – three of us played it in the man cave for several nights, losing many hours of sleep in the process, although the CPU on higher difficulty can be absurdly unfair! Unfortunately, online multiplayer is a no-go since the closure of Game Ranger, but players can do battle via Lan or Direct IP with other Macs
Age of Empires III uses an entirely 3D engine to wow players with bump and specular mapping, tone mapping, dynamic shadows, real-time lighting effects and advanced water effects. Visuals that even that even today looks simply stunning.
The game features the superb PhysX engine which handles all the animations. Buildings or ships will crumble in the direction they are being fired upon with varying degree of explosions depending on what weapon is being used. Water looks amazing with the angle of sunlight and motion clearly visible, with the added touch of water sprays.
Aurally, Age of Empires III is absolutely top-notch. The characters in the single-player campaign are well-voiced overall, the musical score is quite rousing and suits the game atmosphere beautifully, weapon sounds, such as cannons and muskets are spot-on and the screams of pain and regret as soldiers fall on the field of battle totally immerse the player.
All of this splendor comes at a price. If your machine is a PowerBook or single processor G5, don’t even hope to see a fraction of these visual niceties. We have played this game on the following machines for the maximum experience; a 2005 2.0ghz dual-core G5 with a Nvidia Quadro FX 4500 graphics cards, a 2009 iMac with quad core i7 and a 2012 Macbook Pro with dual core i5.
The initial release of Age of Empires was extremely buggy with local multiplayer and resulted in many ‘out of sync’ issues with immediately ended our games. I recommended applying the 1.0.6 updater which fixes these issues – if playing multiplayer locally you will all need to be on the same version. The game requires a mounted DVD to play, but this requirement disappears after the updater is applied.
- Min OS: Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later
- CPU: PowerPC G4 / G5 or Intel @ 1.2ghz (although realistically you need a dual G5 or above)
- Ram: 512mb
- Hard Disk: 6gb
- Graphics: 64mb
I like to buy all my mac games in their original format, but Age or Empires III is a particular rare beast on the used market (eBay) and often fetches bids in excess of £75. However, as it is now considered abandonware since the closure of Ensemble Studios in January 2009 you can find it here for convenient download.