The third entry in Microsoft's PC strategy series was "a huge mistake", according to a key member of the development team.
In an interview with Kotaku, Bruce Shelley, founder of series creator Ensemble Studios, explained that the developer had tried too hard to reinvent the series and broken the game in the process.
"With Age of Empires 3 we tried all of these new ideas," he said. "I think it was a huge mistake."
"We wanted to create something that was 30 per cent the same, 30 per cent borrowed and 30 per cent innovative. I think we tried to do too much."
Shelley added that late on in development Ensemble tried to backtrack and restore the series' traditional gameplay template. However, it was too late.
"It was like being a child changing all of the dials on a television and then trying to get that picture back. It just wasn't an Age game anymore."
The studio even asked Microsoft to take the Age of Empires brand off the game prior to its release back in 2005 but the publisher refused.
Eurogamer awarded the finished product 7/10, insisting, "Even with the new home cities, gameplay feels tired and characterless. Bombarding players with shiny baubles and inconsequential gifts can't hide that."
Following a couple of expansions for the game, Ensemble Studios went on to make Halo Wars for Xbox 360, before disbanding in 2009. Shelley now works for Farmville developer Zynga.
The Age of Empires franchise lives on though. Last year Microsoft announced that a new free-to-play reboot is under development at Robot Entertainment. A release is due later this year.