Age of Empires III: The WarChiefs Updated Q&A - Multiplayer, Native American Tactics, and More

Lead designer Sandy Petersen returns to give us the latest details on the upcoming expansion for Age of Empires III.

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Age of Empires III will get a bit bigger next month when Age of Empires III: The WarChiefs is released. This expansion to last year's popular real-time strategy game adds a slew of new features and content, not the least of which are three new Native American tribes. Now you'll be able to play as the Native Americans against the European civilizations, or battle other Native American tribes. Existing European civilizations will also get new units, but even more exciting are some of the gameplay additions, such as the trade monopoly victory condition. For details on these, we caught up with lead designer Sandy Petersen of developer Ensemble Studios.

The WarChiefs adds new factions and units to play with, along with new victory modes.
The WarChiefs adds new factions and units to play with, along with new victory modes.

GameSpot: We've covered the extensive new single-player features in WarChiefs, but what can you tell us about the multiplayer in the expansion pack? What are the key new features in multiplayer?

Sandy Petersen: First and foremost, you will get one free reset of an old home city. This means if your current home city in Age of Empires III is, say, level 79, and you buy the expansion pack, you can push the reset button and the number of cards you have chosen will be returned to zero. This allows players to get the cool new cards made available in the expansion pack.

GS: Could you describe the new trade monopoly victory condition for us, and how it comes into play in a multiplayer game? Based on your testing, has it had a disruptive effect on the popular strategies for playing the game?

SP: Here's how it works. Your team must build a trading post on more than half of the trade sockets in the game. It doesn't matter whether it's a settlement or trade route. For example, if you're playing on Bayou, which always has four trade sockets, your team would need three trading posts to activate trade monopoly. A timer starts up, and you win the game if you still own more than half of the trading posts in five minutes. Once you activate the timer, your team can construct no more trading posts until the timer is ended, one way or the other.

Our experience has been that trade monopoly is all about map control. You need to have and hold more than half of the map and be able to defend it against the enemy. If one side holes up in a corner and builds heavy fortifications, then the other player launches trade monopoly. It works almost exactly the opposite way from the old wonder victories in our previous games.

GS: Tell us a bit more about the revolution system that allows you to turn all your workers into soldiers, but at the price of not being able to build new workers or gather more resources. How has it been turning out in multiplayer testing? Revolution is something of an all-or-nothing gamble, after all, so we imagine that testers have had egg on their faces after declaring revolution a bit too early.

SP: Revolution is definitely a high-risk option. It's probably not very wise to use it if the enemy is already well on their way to the Imperial age, but if you're a little ahead of them and afraid they're going to close the gap, it's an effective way to shut an enemy down. And if you feel you're behind anyway, you have little to lose.

GS: What sort of players will be drawn to the various Native American tribes? For instance, the Sioux, with their fast horse units, seem ideal for hit-and-run players, but what do the Iroquois and the Aztecs offer to other types of players?

We see plenty of wolves, but where's the dancing?
We see plenty of wolves, but where's the dancing?

SP: The Iroquois and Aztecs also have strong early games, so all three native tribes are perfect for someone who likes to attack early. The Aztecs reward meticulous play. The Sioux reward thinking on your feet. And the Iroquois reward players who love options--they have a well-balanced military, a powerful economy, and the handy travois units to let them build an entire base all at once, almost on a whim.

GS: What will be the counter to the various Native American tactics? How do you stop the Sioux cavalry from stomping all over you if you're the Europeans? Or how do you counter the hard-hitting Aztec infantry? Meanwhile, what about the WarChief units, as they're more powerful than other units in the game?

SP: Well, of course every tactic has a countertactic. The Sioux can't rely exclusively on cavalry, or their enemies would just pump out dragoons and pikemen. Both the Aztec and Sioux find artillery a challenge. They can deal with artillery but they need to plan ahead. If they're caught off-guard by a mass of well-guarded field guns it can be a real problem. The Iroquois, on the other hand, have their light cannon.

A European player who is really worried about the enemy WarChief can handily dispose of him by constructing a church and training a spy or two. Spies really do a number on a WarChief.

GS: Will there be any improvements to Ensemble Studios Online (ESO), the matchmaking component of the multiplayer game? Will there be any improvements in terms of community or matchmaking?

SP: We plan to continuously upgrade ESO. In fact, we have a patch in the works this very minute for just that purpose.

GS: What are the plans for support after the WarChiefs ships? Will you continue to balance and patch the game? Do you plan to add new features over time, new modes, or new maps?

SP: We will continue to balance and patch the game. As for other aspects, time will tell.

Walls can keep out those pesky Apache raiders.
Walls can keep out those pesky Apache raiders.

GS: We know that studio policy is that everyone at Ensemble must play at least one multiplayer match per week. At this late stage in development, are testers still discovering new tactics in multiplayer? Are you surprised by the things that testers discover? If so, can you give an example?

SP: Sure. Just today I saw a player attempt to build an artillery depot right in the middle of the enemy town, so he could train petards from it and wipe out his enemy's factories. I thought that was a pretty brassy tactic! It failed.

GS: Finally, will this be the end of the line for the Age of Empires III series? Can we expect to see more expansion packs, or should we brace for bigger and newer things? Age of Empires IV, perhaps?

SP: Future cloudy. Ask again later.

GS: Thanks, Sandy.

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