There's something rather childish, cynical even, about Age of Empires III. Playing it I'm reminded of a girl at school that started giving me presents (chocolate mainly) on a daily basis. She was, I guess, trying to win my affection. Being confused (it was the first time I'd ever been actively pursued) and being greedy I took the bars for a couple of weeks before guiltily asking her to stop. Right now I feel like I want to say to AoE3 "Stop with the gifts! To win my heart you don't need to sprinkle every map with silly treasure troves. You don't need to let me flick to a 'home city' screen every few minutes so that I can select a free unit or resource windfall. I'm not some spoilt toddler that needs to be bribed with endless sweeties."
Somewhere along the line Ensemble seem to have lost sight of what's important in a real-time strategy game. AoE3 looks and sounds fantastic yet its economics are dull, its factions are bland, and its combat is crude and fiddly. Without the addition of that novel home city concept (more on which in a second) this would be a startlingly unoriginal creation.
Before I flesh-out those comments, pushing the critical bowie knife even deeper, here's some background and some basics. This is the fourth episode of one of the biggest strategy franchises around. Taking-up where Age of Kings - the second episode - left-off and ending where AoE4 will one day doubtless begin, it plunders the period between 1500 and 1850 for it's unit type and tech inspirations. The stage is the New World, the playable powers - eight squabbling European states supported by various indigenous tribes. Skirmish and multiplay fit the traditional 'gather, build, battle' pattern to a tee while the twenty-four episode sequential campaign, though well-written and imaginatively framed, offers exactly the same kind of challenges that RTS campaigns have been offering for years. Destroy that town, hit that resource threshold, hold-out for this many minutes... perhaps if there was a choice of hoops occasionally or they were little less obvious, then jumping through them would be more fun.