We managed to get our hands on Age of Empires III at E3 2005. The upcoming strategy sequel seems to be coming along well enough, and although we weren't able to see much of the game's final content, we came away with a good idea of the basics. Our first task was commanding a field battle of musketeers, cavalrymen, and cannon. Like in the previous Age of Empires games, you can group-select or select individual units, then give them move and attack orders.
As we've mentioned in our previous coverage, ordering large groups of soldiers to attack single targets will cause them to automatically attempt to flank them. Facing will be a more important concern than in previous games, since flanking and rear attacks will be especially effective. And as with previous games in the series, different units will have counterunits in a rock-paper-scissors balance scheme, so cannon will overwhelm infantry (who must remain in place and in some cases take a knee in order to provide the most effective musket fire), while cavalry will be difficult to target with cannon and can sweep in and swiftly neutralize cannoneers. Of course, we're talking about an Age of Empires game, so you'll have various tactical options for specific units. All units in formation can be ordered to swivel to the left or right or continuously fire on a position, for instance, and musketeers on foot can be ordered to fire continuous volleys at enemies or go charging in to perform melee attacks with their bayonets. Killing off enemies nets you experience points that fill up a meter that, when completely full, will let your home city advance in power.
As we've mentioned previously, Age of Empires III will have an all-new concept of a "home city." Because the game takes place during the colonization of the Americas by major European powers, you'll also be able to communicate with your European capital city, which will advance through various ages of technology persistently throughout the single-player campaign, much like a character in a role-playing game. At the end of every mission, you'll receive a score listing that will net you bonus points for completing specific objectives or for being the most successful player in terms of collecting resources, building structures, or destroying enemy forces (for example).
These points will translate into "cards"--which are essentially free technology upgrades that you can choose for your home city. These upgrades come in the form of enhancements you can make to basic structures in your city that roughly correspond to commerce, economics, military, religion, and a harbor, though each civilization will have different names for these structures as well as different technologies. While you'll still choose technology upgrades from a branching "technology tree" like in most real-time strategy games, in Age of Empires III, many branches of technology will be mutually exclusive (so you won't be able to create a home city with every single tech in the game). The idea is not only to provide more strategic choices, but also to provide more variety; two players who both decide to play as the economic superpower of colonial England may actually have very, very different civilizations at the end of their careers, depending on which technologies they've chosen.
Age of Empires III continues to look like a solid and visually attractive game that will offer plenty of depth in the form of its persistent home cities. Expect to see more updates on the game as we approach its holiday release later this year.