Age of Empires has been the staple of the RTS genre for decades. It is followed closely by Starcraft and the Command & Conquer series. Ever since, AOE came out in 1997 and garnered a fanbase that could not be erased by time. Over the last several years, developer Forgotten Empires was tasked with creating definitive editions for the 3 games made by Ensemble Studios. However, something was different with the release of the new AOE3 Definitive Edition this year.
In an unprecedented move, FE decided to effectuate what can only be described as a minimum effort PR stunt. To understand the context, we first must understand some concepts from AOE3.
Unlike previous games in the series, AOE3 gained its uniqueness from a mechanic that cannot be found in any other RTS game. This is known as the home city. Each civilization has one, and it is your base of operations from your homeland. They act to give you reinforcements and benefits as you progress not only through a match, but through multiple playthroughs. They serve as a means of progression so that every match feels like you’re continuing towards an end goal. This will be important for later.
The base game came with 8 European civilizations. Its first expansion, the Warchiefs, came out almost a year later to the day of the base game. It featured 3 Native American civilizations. A year later, 3 more civilizations were added via the Asian Dynasties expansion. Furthermore, there are 22 “minor” civilizations within the game. They’re mostly Native American or Asian, that you can ally with in certain circumstances for benefits and reinforcements. Its similar to the home city as a game mechanic but more focused on your specific match.
For the definitive edition, FE took it upon themselves to correct “stereotypes and inaccurate representation” within the game. This would be fine by itself. But the absolute bare minimum effort that was put into this policy is what makes it clear to be no more than than a marketing ploy. The game was now up to 16 official civilizations. With 2 new ones introduced in the DE, there are plenty of stereotypes and inaccuracies to go around. However, FE only decided they would correct 2 of them. They changed the name of the Sioux civilization to Lakota, and the Iroquois Confederacy to the Haudenosaunee. Why? To provide “Authentic and Respectful representation” and call them how they would have called themselves during the era. They also renamed a native american building, the Fire Pit, to the Community Plaza. And that’s entirely it.
Beyond that, the lack of effort is instantly apparent. One of the 9 campaigns within the game is entirely about the Iroquois Confederacy during the Seven Year War. They couldn’t even be bothered to change the voicelines from Iroquois to Haudenosaunee. So, there are still plenty of instances you’ll hear the “incorrect and unauthentic” original voicelines.
The same happens with the Sioux, though they don’t have their own campaign. They only show up in select missions during the Knights of Saint John campaign. They couldn’t even get the only two civilizations they changed right. Let alone the glaring disparities in all the other civilizations. For example, the Dutch would have called themselves Nederlanders during this time period, but that was overlooked. They’re also stereotyped in game as being good with money. One of their civilization bonuses is the unique ability to build banks. The worst offenders are by far the Asian civilizations. They are filled with stereotypes but didn’t get the PR stunt treatment. Why? Because Asia wasn’t the focus market for the game to be sold in.
If they wanted to bring more representation to the game? They could have easily done this via the previously mentioned Home Cities. All 8 European home cities had a high degree of customization that you unlocked as you leveled up with that civilization. However, the 3 Warchiefs civs, the 3 Asian Dynasty civs, and the 2 newly released DE civs do not have any customization whatsoever. This puts them at a severe imbalance with the original civs. Being able to customize your native tribe should be the bare minimum in helping with representation. As it stands there is a huge discrepancy between even the Swedish home city and the other Europeans who were introduced in the base game.
Oh yeah I almost forgot 2 important points.
There’s 4 native american civilizations in game but they only remade the North American ones. Because again south america isn’t the focus market. Though to be fair, 1 of the 2 South American civs were introduced in DE. But they play almost the same as the Aztecs who were the other south American civ already in game untouched.
Also, they hired one native american consultant. This one person is supposed to know the history of both the Lakota (Wyoming-SD area) and every tribe in the Iroquois Confederacy (New York-Great Lakes area). As if they’re going to be able to be experts on tribes who aren’t their own. This is the equivalent of asking a Korean to explain the history of Japan. Just because they’re Asian so they must know about all things from Asia.