As its name suggests, Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition is an updated version of Age of Empires 3 which comes packaged with 4K graphic support, rebuilt 3D assets, a modernized UI, cross-play multiplayer, and enhanced audio. The game also bundles all the previously released Age of Empires 3 content like “The War Chiefs” and “The Asian Dynasties” expansions along with two new game modes and two new civilizations. The Definitive Edition will also come with its own post-launch support from Microsoft.
Like you’d expect from any definitive edition of a classic game, Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition comes with a number of graphic and UI improvements including a new modern hotkey preset that should feel a bit more comfortable than the classic hotkey layout. The game also has an internal tech tree now, along with an extended and scalable UI that should allow you to play more easily even on an ultrawide display. The Home City feature of the original AoE3 has also seen some updates to keep it more in-line with modern gaming standards. The Home City content is now available for players right from the start, along with pre-made card decks so players can enjoy the mode without having to grind for each city and card unlock. A majority of the updates to Age of Empires 3 with the definitive edition release are focused on quality of life improvements and making the game a bit more accessible to players right from the start. Which is the expected path for a re-release.
What you might not expect are some of the content changes. For Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition, the Native American storyline has been revised particularly when it comes to Act II: Shadow, which has been completely rewritten. All 54 playable missions have been revamped and now include full voice acting tracks in multiple languages. There’s also a new medal system to reward players for taking on missions at different levels.
When it comes to new content, the two new game modes are both very different, but very fun. The Historical Battles mode takes players deeper into the history of the various different campaigns and is certainly worth playing through. The Art of War challenges, on the other hand, are far more focused on gameplay skill. There are also two new Story campaigns for the two new civilizations, the Incas and the Swedes. These play out much more like the other Story campaigns, but provide some new content for one of the more classic game modes in case you want to play something that feels familiar without re-playing an older campaign.
The Multiplayer system has also been overhauled with a server-based multiplayer, which was based on the same backend system that was behind the revamped multiplayer in the previous two definitive editions. It also includes new maps, integrated leaderboards, online matchmaking, improved game balance, and a spectator mode.
The Single Player modes have also seen some specific improvements thanks to an improved AI which can read the battlefield better in order to make well-rounded army compositions, retreat from lost battles, and offer a greater challenge to high level players. There’s also a new AI difficulty tier, new Politicians, and Revolutions on the original European civilizations to add more depth to your gameplay experience.
Underneath all of the changes that come with the definitive edition, the base game is still the same. It’s dressed up, yes, and has a lot of modern improvements that make the game far easier to pick up and play, but Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition still feels like a fifteen year old game, because it is. It’s not as flashy as a modern historical RTS title, though the graphic improvements and gameplay changes do make it feel more like a modern game. But the dialogue, the storytelling, and the controls feel clunky by comparison. Which isn’t to say it’s a bad game, but there is something vintage about Age of Empires 3. Like all remastered and re-released games, there’s only so much modern window dressing you can put on old code.
Which makes the new game modes and new campaigns a rather interesting blend of something old and new, because they’re trying to fit into an older style of gaming. It works out, most of the time. But there is a tangible difference between the classic bits of Age of Empires 3 and the new pieces. However, because both the classic content and the updates are all run by the same code, the difference isn’t too jarring. It still feels like the same game, for the most part.
Which includes all the classic frustrations of dealing with an updated, but still dated, AI. After all, there are no new ways to control your army. Which can get a bit frustrating when dealing with large numbers of combat units. The delay between issuing orders and seeing them followed out is also a rather old frustration. But that kind of thing is pretty much expected in cases like this one. There’s only so much you can do to update an old game without completely rebuilding it. So as long as you don’t go into the Definitive Edition expecting it to play like a game developed and released in 2020, you shouldn’t be too disappointed.
That being said, Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition features the kind of changes to the graphics and gameplay that do an incredible job of updating the game for a modern audience. It isn’t a perfect update, but it certainly makes the game far more fun to replay if you remember the original release, because the enhanced graphics, revised storylines, and all the extra details make for an impressive experience that almost feels like a remake than a remastered version of the original.
If you feel like playing any Age of Empires game in 2020, there is absolutely no reason not to pick Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition. Sure, it’s not as sleek or flashy as the new Total War games and it doesn’t offer the ability to change the past quite the same way Paradox Interactive’s grand strategy games do, but it is a classic RTS title with a few interesting flourishes like the Home City mini-game and it has never looked or played better than it does with the Definitive Edition.
If nothing else, it’s a great way to bide your time until Age of Empires IV releases.