The original Age of Empires sold a gazillion copies by ushering in the idea of epochs in real-time strategy games (where you slowly move your civilization through a series of technological ages). Since then, Age of Mythology and Age of Empires II each offered incremental changes, and Age of Empires III keeps the streak alive. That's both good and bad: the gameplay is accessible, easy to learn and very polished, but too often Age III has a "been there, done that" feeling.
The single-player campaign, which spans 24 scenarios and three acts, tells an uninspired story of New World conquest as various European factions slug it out for supremacy. The dialogue serves no other purpose than to tell you what to do, and the cut-scenes prove fairly pointless.
So what's truly new? An entirely new 3D engine makes Age III look better than most strategy games - lush and vibrant environments populated with well-animated soldiers spruce up the uninspired gameplay. Better still, the new physics engine can throw enemy soldiers into the air with a well-placed cannot shot. Cruel and awesome.
As you explore and conquer the world, you can request supplies, units and other bonuses from your Home City, your European headquarters. It's a nice a feature, but hardly the revolution that it was supposed to be. The only other major gameplay innovation lets you ally with Native Americans and recruit from their ranks. Unfortunately, the scenarios far too often follow the "build base, attack enemy" dynamic that has plagued the earlier Age games. Poor AI and pathfinding still remain, too.
Thankfully, skirmish and multiplayer modes more than make up for the campaign's shortcomings. With eight civilizations to choose from, you can try numerous strategies and tactics to crush your enemies, and LAN or online play is where Age III really shines.
There's no question that Age of Empires III is enjoyable, and the strong multiplayer modes make it worth owning. It's just that it doesn’t strive hard enough to truly usher in a new age of the genre.