March 17, 2006 - The other real-time strategy franchises have their fans around the office but, for me, the Age of Empires series is at the top of the RTS pyramid. It's not that I have anything against Command & Conquer or Warcraft; they're both awesome series. For my money though, nobody provides more pure RTS joy than the gang at Ensemble. And when it comes to great expansion packs, Ensemble really knows how to deliver.
Last week Ensemble announced the first expansion to their wildly popular real-time strategy game. Age of Empires III: The WarChiefs, due out this fall, will focus on three new Native American civilizations and add a brand new campaign. Loads of new gameplay elements will be added as well.
To find out more about the expansion, we decided to check in with the game's lead designer, Sandy Peterson.
IGNPC: We're pretty excited to hear about this new expansion. What's the basic premise of The War Chiefs?
Sandy Peterson: Well, we are creating an expansion pack that will live up to the high standards we have at Ensemble Studios. The overall theme is the Native Americans, and the three new civs are all native, but there is new content for the old civs too.
Sandy Peterson: Early on we considered adding other civilizations but felt they wouldn't play as different as what we believe we can do with the Native Americans. We also felt there were good stories from the Native American point-of-view that we wanted to tell and hadn't seen in a previous game. In light of the sensitivity, Ensemble has always tried to portray the "underdogs." For instance, in Age 2 we presented the Crusades from Saladin's point of view. In effect we are now giving the native nations full control of history. So in some ways we're empowering them.
IGNPC: There will be three new civilizations included in the game but so far you've only announced the Iroquois Confederacy. What about them made them a good choice for the game? How do they play differently than the European powers?
Sandy Peterson: The Iroquois controlled a large confederation that sprawled over a wide area. They actually expanded their territory and became more powerful after contact with the Europeans, making major conquests among other tribes. They enthusiastically adopted European technology and their military is the most "European-like" of our three native nations. So they are an interesting combination of a fairly contemporary army (for the 1700s) backed up by a native economy and a strong tradition of mysticism.
The Iroquois really focused on their harvest, their domestic food plants, and their agricultural way of life and we've tried to reflect that in their in-game economy.
Sandy Peterson: Well, each native nation actually has its own unique set of units. Returning from Age3 are the Iroquois Tomahawk and Mantlet units, although their stats have changed and now all Iroquois units will cost population slots. There are about 6 new military units including the Aenna, the classic foot-archer unit, and the Musket Rider which is a musket-carrying cavalry unit representing the European influence on the Iroquois. It's a bit early to talk about technologies since these can change often throughout production, but we hope to share more in the near future.
One feature of Iroquois military science was an emphasis on siege. Most of their enemies lived in fortified towns, and most Iroquois campaigns came down to siege warfare at some point. In the game, they have an excellent siege capability, partly reflected by special units such as their battering ram.
IGNPC: The campaign has been described as a fight for the Americas. Who exactly are the Native Americans fighting? Each other? Invading Europeans? What's the overall shape of the campaign?
Sandy Peterson: The campaign is going to expand the Black family saga, but it hews much more closely to historical events. Thus, you will have members of the Black family involved in actual well-known happenings.
IGNPC: Some of the early materials for the game have hinted at changes for the existing European powers and the overall gameplay. Can you give us some examples of what's changing and why?
Sandy Peterson: It's not so much that things are changing as that we're adding lots of stuff. There are new random maps in new locations in the Americas, new native allies, new units, new Home City shipments, new civs, and new ways to win the game or break a stalemate. Of course, these new features do change the game, but it's in an additive way.
IGNPC: What stage is the expansion at now? When is it due out?
Sandy Peterson: Hmm. I'm not sure I'm supposed to answer this yet. I guess it's safe to say that everyone wants to put out the expansion as soon as possible, but we also have a lot of content to cram into this one! I can promise that it will be available sometime this fall.
IGNPC: Thanks for your time, Sandy.
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Community site for Age of Empires III: The WarChiefs:
ESRB Content Descriptors: Blood, Violence
This expansion pack requires the full version of Age of Empires III to play.
Requires Age of Empires III to play
Microsoft Windows XP or higher
PC with 1.4 GHz equivalent or higher processor
256 MB of system RAM
2 GB available hard disk space
32x speed or faster CD-ROM drive
64 MB video card with support for hardware
transformation and lighting required
DirectX 9.0 or later
56K dial-up Internet Access or LAN required for online/multiplayer
Sound card, speakers or headphones required for audio
Microsoft Mouse or compatible pointing device