AGE OF EMPIRES III: THE WARCHIEFS (preview)


PUBLISHER: Microsoft Game Studios DEVELOPER: Ensemble Studios GENRE: Real-Time Strategy RELEASE DATE: October 2006

ODDS ARE, BEFORE AGE OF EMPIRES
III was so much as a twinkle in your local game shop’s endcap display, Ensemble was already plotting the expansion for the same reasons you can bet Batman Begins wasn’t titled Batman’s Only Encore. Consistently in the top fi ve best-selling U.S. PC games (and on plenty most-wanted lists before release), AOE III can certainly claim parity with its franchise brethren. Now with two Native American civilizations—the Iroquois and Sioux—nailed down for The WarChiefs expansion, about half of you message-board pundits can take a bow: That’s right, meet civilization numero three, aka the Aztecs v2.0.

Making their encore appearance after a brief stint in Age of Empires II: The Conquerors, these Aztecs are defi nitely not your papa’s pre-Columbian Mesoamericans. “The version of the Aztecs we had in The Conquerors really had just three unusual units,” admits War- Chiefs lead designer Sandy Petersen, referring to the Eagle Warrior (cavalry), Aztec Priest (infl uence), and Jaguar Warrior (infantry). “Everything else was an ordinary Old World–style unit—arbalests, halberdiers, and so on. The Aztecs even had trebuchets. In The WarChiefs, every Aztec unit is unique. Instead of trying to model them after Old World civilizations, we get to treat them as Native Americans, which is, of course, what they were.”

Dominating central Mexico during the European Renaissance, the Aztecs were a technologically
and culturally advanced civilization usually remembered for being subjugated by Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortés, but perhaps more salaciously for their practice of human sacrifi ce. With The WarChiefs, Ensemble is defi nitely aiming for greater cultural fi delity, but don’t look for bloody kill pits anytime soon. “Human sacrifi ce wasn’t really a military or economic aspect of their society,” says Petersen, pointing out that, likewise, the game doesn’t have Sunday Mass for the Roman Catholic European civs. “Human sacrifi ce does make a sort of cameo appearance in that the A.I. for the Aztec player is pretty ferocious, and the WarChief for the Aztecs provides double bounty for the soldiers under his command, rendering the Aztecs in general a pretty bloodthirsty lot when played right.” Since the Aztecs didn’t evolve along European lines or adopt European tech (as the Iroquois and Sioux did), they lack mounted and
gunpowder troops, but Ensemble promises a wide assortment of interesting infantry and technologies. “The Aztecs get two basic groups of units,” explains Petersen. “The War
Hut units are cheap, weak, and available early in the game, whereas the Nobles Hut is a
unique Aztec building similar to a more powerful War Hut, or perhaps even a mini-Fort.

It produces the various Aztec nobles or Knights.” War Hut units include the Macehualtin (an
inexpensive skirmisher armed with a sling), the Coyote Runner (a fast-racing footman who acts as a sort of cavalry substitute), and the Puma Spearman (heavy infantry with a good bonus against buildings). Nobles Hut units get the famous Jaguar Warriors (now renamed the Jaguar Prowl Knights), Arrow Knights (long-range archers armed with flaming arrows), and Eagle Runner Knights (fastmoving infantry armed with atlatls, a sort of dart-throwing device). In addition, the Aztecs get Skull Knights, elite warriors who move slowly but pack a killer punch. “You can’t train Skull Knights,” adds Petersen, alluding to their extra bang in a battle. “You only get them via shipments or technologies.”

The Aztecs’ main civilization bonus lets their priests contribute directly to Firepit ceremonies, allowing players to free up villagers from the dances to enhance production. “The natives in general tend to have powerful early attacks,” explains Petersen, adding that the Aztecs in particular are mighty late-age players. “Their warrior priests are able to dance at the Firepit and count as two settlers while doing so, which means the Aztecs have potentially the most powerful Firepit in the game.” The longer the game lasts, the more important and powerful
the Firepit gets.

Compared to those of the Sioux and Iroquois, your main challenges when mastering the Aztecs will unsurprisingly hinge on early- vs. late-game timing. “The Aztecs have a strong economy but aren’t as deadly in the early game as the Sioux or Iroquois,” says Petersen. “But they have a very strong late game and can hold up to a fourth-age european civilization quite effectively.” What’s stronger than a fourth-age European civ? Your expectations. See if they hold up in a few
short months.

“HUMAN SACRIFICE DOES MAKE A SORT OF CAMEO APPEARANCE IN THAT THE A.I. FOR THE AZTEC PLAYER IS PRETTY FEROCIOUS.”

“Unlike the Iroquois and Sioux, the Aztecs lived in sprawling urban areas similar to European cities. “We feature such a metropolis in the view of the Aztec ‘Tribal Council,’” says Petersen. “So you don’t actually see the Messenger or Wise Woman in the city view. However, they still control which shipments you receive, and the politicians controlling your rise through the Ages.”

“A number of infi nitely repeatable fourth-age home-city shipments help support the Aztec bounty bonus. “You can use all the extra shipments that are generated,” says Petersen, “and you don’t run out of shipments in the way that some other civs tend to.”

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