Microsoft preparing Age of Empires 3

Microsoft and Ensemble Studio have announced that they are working on Age of Empires III. The site contains screenshots, and vague details. Apparently the game has been tweaked to make realistic physics a more important part of the gameplay, and takes place after Age of Empires II, with "European [powers] determined to explore, colonize and conquer the New World. This time period features stunning scenes, from towering European cathedrals to courageous tribes of Native Americans, and spectacular combat with Industrial Age units like rifled infantry, cavalry and tall ships bristling with cannons."

I never played Age of Empires II, but I remember the first AoE kept my friends and me busy during highschool. One particularly memorable battle pitting a friend and me against three computer controlled AIs started around midnight, and lasted six hours, at the conclusion of which I sent my ally the message "See you in class in two hours." Good times, good times.

To answer the first question on every gamer's mind, yes this will be a 3D game, and it looks like the terrain engine is taking full advantage of having a 3D world. There also seems to be an unparalleled level of detail for a war game of this magnitude. Just take a gander at the screenshot featuring a city with perhaps over a thousand houses, with every citizen a full 3D model, every house having detailed windows, doors, archways, and every boat having its various ropes and stuff (I not well versed in naval terminology, sorry), all of which being reflected and distorted in the water. I'd be shocked if you didn't need a new videocard to play this game. While the release of "just" HalfLife 2 was not enough to make me plonk down $900 for ATI or NVidia's latest offering, when AoE3 comes out, I'll probably get myself a late Christmas present. A very late Christmas present.

While there are some screenshots of scenery taking place in warm summer plains and and others in colder snow covered wintery places, it's not clear if there is a weather or season simulations of any kind, or if these two scenes take place in completely different (and isolated) maps. There does seem to be a day/night time cycle, but no details yet on how that might affect gameplay. All in all, this looks to be a very exciting release, scheduled for the second half of 2005.

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