One of the great things about any remaster, but especially Age of Empires 3, is how they give you the chance to make the game really shine. And I’m not just talking about the graphics.
Unlike the campaign mode from previous Age of Empires titles, Age of Empires 3 split the story mode into three acts. The second of those acts, Ice, followed the Black family on their journey through the Carolinas.
Part of that act naturally sees the player getting attacked by Cherokee raiders. As you’d expect for a game 15 years old and game developers of that era, the depictions of the Native American tribes and First Nations people weren’t exactly the most authentic depictions.
So when making Age of Empires 3: Definitive Edition, developers World’s Edge reached out to cultural consultants to correct the record. That effort resulted in Anthony Brave, a Sicangu Oyate and Chippewa-Cree descendant who served as the chief cultural expert on the game’s indigenous tribes, helping to rewrite elements of the second act.
“Before we started working on the DE with our Native American and First Nations consultants, we didn’t know that the names Sioux and Iroquois were given to them by European settlers,” World’s Edge said on the Age of Empires website. “So we have changed those civ names in the DE to their Indigenous names—Lakota (Sioux) and Haudenosaunee (Iroquois).”
Some mechanics and other elements have been changed, too, because they no longer made sense. The Fire Pit, for instance, was a special building unique to the Native American civilisations in Age of Empires 3. When villagers and the Aztec’s Warrior Priests danced around it, they would receive special bonuses that ranged from spawning warriors, to increasing all melee and ranged attacks, to spawning skull knights or growing population (depending on the civilisation and age).
That’s been removed in the Definitive Edition of AOE3, given the obvious insensitivities around depicting native tribes as people dancing around a fire. “With its presence, it subtly says, “it’s okay to utilize these kinds of images of Native people.” Unless we change these kinds of representations—big or small—in a way, we will all be stuck dancing around a Fire Pit,” Brave explained.
The Native American civilisations also don’t mine anymore, gathering coin through the Tribal Marketplace instead. Similarly, some characters have been replaced in the original storyline to be more authentic, or changed so have a better understanding of the environment around them.
So it makes sense that, because of all of this, World’s Edge is pretty upfront about the changes when you first open the game. The note begins with “To learn from the power of our own stories is uniquely human,” and then briefly thanks the cultural consultants for their time and expertise to make AOE3: Definitive Edition more accurate and authentic.
If you can’t open the image separately or read the text more easily, here’s the note in full:
To learn from the power of our own stories is uniquely human. At World’s Edge, we value authenticity and respectful representations grounded in truth. The original release of Age of Empires III took liberties with the depiction of Indigenous civilisations, as well as the depiction of events and personages from American history. As we developed the Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition, we collaborated with Native American and First Nations consultants to correct these errors.
We are immensely grateful for the time, patience and faith shown to us by the members of the Lakota and Haudenosaunee Nations. We have replaced inaccurate or stereotypical depictions, created new voiceover using authentic speakers, and addressed problematic and harmful mechanics and storylines. We hope that you, the Age III DE player, will join us in celebrating the rich and vibrant cultures represented in the game. We have increased our resolve going forward to live out the values of “Gaming for Everyone” — a commitment to a journey, not a destination.
The developers could have so very easily just focused on the graphics and cute capybaras, optimised the UI and done largely the basics. But they didn’t just address the original writing and mechanics, but even hired new voiceactors to redo the original VO — not out of disrespect for the original work, but to properly honour the series’ commitment to capturing history and doing that in an authentic way — is something else.
There’s been a lot of really, really good remasters over the last couple of years. The RTS genre especially has been fortunate. And the Age of Empires series has just been special in its own right, not only for how the community has kept it alive, but how it’s gotten remarkably better over time.
That’s all I can say about Age of Empires 3: Definitive Edition for now. The proper embargo doesn’t lift until later tonight, although I’m sure Microsoft won’t crucify me for saying that I’m having more fun with it now than I did when the game was originally released. A modern UI does wonders for a RTS.
Age of Empires 3: Definitive Edition launches later this week through the Microsoft Store, Steam and Xbox Game Pass. And extra fun fact: Tantalus Media, a Melbourne-based studio that was more recently working on the console versions of Stellaris and Cities Skylines expansions, are credited on AOE 3: Definitive Edition as well. Nice.
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