Here it is, after a long break, part 2 of the Ensemble Studios edition of Remebering the Fallen! (If you haven’t read Part 1, you might want to do so now.) Also, this series will appear on a new date. Look for this article every Wednesday right here on PlatformNation!
After the massive success of Age of Empires II and its expansion, Ensemble set to work on the next title in the series. However, instead of working on the third title in the Age of Empires series, Ensemble went some place completely new: to ancient Greek, Egyptian, and Norse mythology. The next title in the series was cleverly titled Age of Mythology.
It was released in 2002, only two years after The Conquerors expansion pack. This might explain why in Age of Mythology, the Age formula remained largely the same. You choose a civilization, gather resources, and build an army to crush the enemy. However, the extra time allowed Ensemble to design a new graphics engine that was fully 3D, allowing a whole new level of detail to be added to the games.
However, instead of the historically-rooted units and style that made the Age of Empires series popular in the first place, Mythology had units and structures that were based on ancient mythological creatures and legends. For example, players can choose a god at the beginning of each game. Each god has a specific “god power” that you can activate once a game. Also, there are “heroes” which a type of unit that is extremely effective against the mythological units. You can also find relics that give you boosts during the game.
The civilizations in Mythology are reminiscent of Starcraft: There are 3 different civilizations, and each have vastly different play styles. This was a new development from past age titles, where the only distinguishing feature between civilizations were different units. They are also extremely balanced, which is why Mythology remains the favorite title in the series for many gamers. For multiplayer, you could play over LAN or through ESO (Ensemble Studios Online), which is pretty much like Ensemble’s version of B.net.
Following of cashing in on easy money, Ensemble released an expansion for Mythology a year later. The expansion, titled “The Titans” implemented some new features and added one extra civilization (The Atlanteans.) Another major feature was the implementation of the ability to summon a titan. If the game went into a stalemate, a player could construct a “portal” of sorts and summon a giant titan that was so powerful and strong you would think that someone had entered in a cheat. Other than the relatively few gameplay tweaks and a new campaign to go along with the new civilization, The Titans didn’t have much else to offer. However, it was still a solid game that earned favorable reviews.
In 2005, two years after The Titans (man, they can really keep a schedule!), Ensemble released Age of Empires III. Following the series’ progression through history, AoE III takes place between the discovery of the New World and around 1850. The game introduced one major gameplay feature: the home city. The home city was sort of a deck of cards. Doing in-game actions such as resource gathering, building units, and destroying enemies earned experience points. Once you earned enough, you could unlock a point that you could spend on a card from your home city. This could be anything from a shipment of 6 musketeers or a crate of food. It’s important to mention that once you choose a deck, you can’t switch out cards in game. The gamers are split on this issue; some really enjoy it and some say it ruins the purity of the RTS genre. Other than this “home city” feature, the game played similarly to past titles in the series.
The game also featured a lengthy and noteworthy campaign, along with skirmishes available offline and on(through ESO).
One of the more striking upgrades was in the visuals department. Back in 2005 (was it really five years ago?), the visuals were jaw-dropping and the critics were raving. The addition of the Havok physics engine allowed for realistic building destruction. Each of the 8 civilizations had varied and detailed units. The in-game soundtrack was equally impressive. All of this served to catapult Age of Empires III into the stratosphere. The game sold over 2 million copies—-and that statistic is from 2008. I imagine its much higher now. Another noteworthy statistic: The game was the 7th best computer game in 2007, two years after its launch! While many nostalgic gamers complained that it was nothing like AoE 2, the sales figures proved otherwise. And when a game sells well, you know what is close behind….
Ensemble released The War Chiefs in 2006. This brought three new civilizations into the mix, all Native American based. There were also some additional units given to European civilizations such as ironclads and, my favorite, the Gatling gun! Other than those new additions and a new campaign, there wasn’t anything completely new or radical in The War Chiefs. However, it sold well enough to warrant another expansion pack.
So, in 2007, the last expansion pack for Age of Empires III was released. Titled The Asian Dynasties, it added, you guessed it, three new Asian based civilizations and a new campaign. In addition, some new multiplayer game modes and gameplay tweaks were added.
It is interesting to note that Ensemble worked closely with another developer on The Asian Dynasties. Big Huge Games collaborated closely with Ensemble since Ensemble was busy working on some other titles, but we will save that for next week.
And on that cliffhanger of a note, we will end here. If you liked anything you heard here, go check out these games as they are pretty cheap nowadays. Come back next week as we look at Ensemble’s swan song, some unreleased titles, and the new face of the Age of Empires franchise!