It’s always healthy to let the new content settle and to let the meta to stabilize after some balance tweaks. However, this last month has been huge for Age of Empires III. The release of the Knights of the Mediterranean DLC has added a lot of content for all kinds of players and soon after came a revamp, revitalizing a third of the game content that saw almost no use, and another rework for a legacy civilization. The game has gotten into a revival, with plenty of newcomers trying it out for the first time, and many veterans returning to see what’s new.
The knights of the Mediterranean is by far the biggest DLC in terms of content: two new civilizations, over 30 new maps set in Europe featuring 9 new minor civilizations (more on that later). There are also new historical maps to play with friends with unique sets of rules and mechanics. Finally, there is the new Tycoon mode where players can compete against each other through economy and not military power. The new civilizations follow the trend of the latest reworks in the game, with both being capable of fighting in every age and having tools to boom. This time, they are both European civilizations and their unique mechanics will appeal and challenge different types of players
The new civilizations follow the trend of the latest reworks in the game, with both being capable of fighting in every age and having tools to boom. This time, they are both European civilizations and their unique mechanics will appeal and challenge different types of players.
Of tempo and synergy
The Italians introduce new tempo related mechanics that will challenge veteran RTS players while also allowing for a wide range of strategies and gameplans
They compensate their few starting villagers by getting a free villager with each tech researched, bringing them on par with other civilizations but at the cost of a slower age up. This gives special importance to collecting resource treasures to get an actual edge over the enemy.
Another tool at their disposal is their unique builder, the architect, able to build any structure for free or to rush it by spending resources, with an added layer of complexity: the cost to finish the building lowers as he works on it. The player has to manage time as a resource to adjust building costs, allowing some unique game openers and transitions.
Italy has also one of the most interesting economic buildings in the game. The Lombard is a bank where the player can invest 300 of any of the three main resources and it will be progressively exchanged for the other two.
What makes it great from a design standpoint it’s the amount of layers it has and the range of experimentation it provides to the player.
Firstly, unlike the rest of the economic buildings that at most require the player to place them near resources, the lombard requires a deliberate investment from the player to function.
Secondly, it plays with the different gather rates for resources, where food gathers the fastest, wood the slowest and coin in the middle. Finally, the exchange rate of a single Lombard is slow. A single Lombard clocking at 5 minutes to process a single 300 resource investment. However the more Lombards the player has, the faster the return, creating an economic tool that has to be deliberately neutered to reach its full potential.
The Maltese, based in an order of knights, focus on their archaic units (pikemen and crossbowmen) for sustained aggression while also being able to field formidable defenses, including an imposing fixed gun. Their use of building – unit synergies will challenge veteran Age of Empires 3 players.
Their unique units all benefit from this synergy. The sentinel is a rather straight forward defensive unit intended to outtrade enemy musketeers with the extra hp granted by being near to friendly buildings. They also benefit from Depots, gunpowder caches that increase the rate of fire of nearby gunpowder units and base defenses at the risk of it exploding when destroyed, damaging friend and foe alike (and it can be deliberately detonated!).
The hospitaller it’s more interesting. It’s a walking shield that absorbs damage taken by their allies, allowing them to increase the combat value of friendly units. This goes in hand with Malta’s availability of healing, as the maltese barracks double hospitals (or maybe the other way around!). The extra speed when near friendly buildings allows them to get out of combat before they are taken out.
The building – unit synergy is also the way they boom, as the Wignacourt Constructions shipment grants villagers an increased gather rate on all resources by staying within range of town centers and defenses.
Among their unique buildings, the commandery shines as the faction workhorse. It’s not only a mix of stable and tower, but also an entrance to a tunnel network that allows any unit to travel between them. With the tongue shipments, these Commanderies can train a variety of units from other civilizations, like German settler wagons or British longbows.
Whereas African Kingdoms introduced naval trade routes and refined minor civilizations with the game meta on mind, Knights of the Mediterranean uses the European setting to add neutral buildings to its map design and further develop minor civilizations by giving them support powers and passive abilities for their units.
After 15 years, Age of Empires 3 has finally incorporated neutral buildings to its gameplay. Similar to the ones in the Command and Conquer series, you got the turret in the form of cannon towers that double as ground control structures and as shipment arrival point, windmills that function much like oil rigs, producing food for their owner, and developed trade routes to obtain resources and experience. With the later addition of settlements granting line of sight around them and minimap cues, you got something equivalent to the radar station.
The introduction of these new elements makes maps much more interactive. However, In the case of the cannon towers and the windmills their implementation is rather timid, although there are maps that completely revolve around them. Overall, neutral buildings play a more prominent role in the scripted maps.
The settlement rework is by far the most impactful change introduced in the recent updates.
Before the last patch, the players had no viable way of interacting with minor civilizations despite the devs constantly refining them according to the meta. Simply put, they represented a massive detour from effective tactics and in resources, as they needed an extensive use of the most expensive resource in the game, wood.
Their solution to this was to lower the initial investment and add layers of interaction.
As soon as the game starts, the player can “befriend” their settlements by moving units close to them. At this state, they provide only a small amount of line of sight around them and can be captured by the enemy. From here the player can choose to build a cheaper trading post to consolidate the alliance with the settlements (much like building observation posts in Company of Heroes), expanding the line of sight and granting access to their units and techs.
The result of this change was a huge room for experimentation. There are some strong choices: in North America the Cree can produce villagers from their settlement (with the House of Oldenburg playing a similar role in northern europe), in africa the sudanese have a tech that grants the player two free buildings at the cost of a modic sum of food and gold and the acan can trade the player food stock for wood and coin.
Among the vast roster of minor civilizations, the new European Royal Houses add a lot of variety and experimentation to the game. The most prominent feature that sets them apart from other minor civilizations it’s the access to support powers similar to Age of Mythology god powers. These timed abilities include an area of effect stun, calling a balloon to reveal an area of the map for some seconds (functioning like Bfme Sauron’s Eye), a temporal boost to cavalry armor (like Dionysus Bronze) or spawning of super units like the Greek Sacred Band
When it comes to their units, they field units similar to the classic european roster but with passive abilities, unique profiles or get access to three levels of promotions, a new mechanic equivalent to veterancy. For example, the Bourbon royal musketeer has a charged pistol shot that deals massive damage, Habsburg mounted infantry can dismount and fight like skirmishers, Oldenburg Northern Musketeers cost only food, have less stats than their normal counterpart but can get up to 45% extra HP with veterancy.
I can’t wait to see if the devs are up to bringing the old minor civilizations to this new standard as they are doing with the major civilizations. This is speculation, but I think the release of all this content is also meant to help with the reworks for the remaining European civilizations.
A day in the limelight
The amount and variety of content introduced in the DLC and the continuous changes and reworks is enough to make the game feel fresh again, with plenty room for experimentation outside of the proven and tested strategies.
Communities are welcoming the influx of new players by producing tutorials and guides to teach them the ropes of the game, while veterans gather together to brainstorm new tricks.
Within the AOE3 community, two of the most long-standing communities of Age of Empires III, the Royal Clan and ESOC have partnered up with United Empires to host the Kings of the Old World, sponsored by Microsoft. This comes after the bitter news of the game being left out of the Wololo competition, the biggest competitive Age of Empires event.
With a prizepool of U$D 6000, the biggest prize pool in the game history, the Kings of the Old World tournament will focus on the European maps, where veterans of the game will put the game to the test.
The tournament qualifiers start this weekend, you can check the rules and the schedule at https://eso-community.net/viewtopic.php?f=1093&t=24493
The game it’s also free on Steam during the weekend and is also available for purchase for 70% off.