It’s been a long wait but Age of Empires IV is finally here.
For its first three iterations of the Age of Empires franchise, a span of eight years separated it. It’s been a mammoth 15 years since the last iteration launched. However, Microsoft hasn’t rested when it comes to the franchise. There has been quite a few DLCs released for Age of Empires II, with the game itself now available as a Definitive release.
A lot can be said about the third iteration, which hasn’t seen the same amount of love from fans due to its overly complicated game dynamics. It’s no wonder then that new developers, Relic Entertainment, has reverted back to the base from the 2nd instalment for the newly released Age of Empires IV.
If you don’t already know, Age of Empires IV is a real-time strategy game.
The RTS genre has been dominated by three major franchises, Age of Empires, StarCraft and Warcraft. However, it has seen a decrease in numbers in recent years thanks to the free-to-play Battle Royale titles which have become extremely popular. That said, the explore-build-conquest gameplay is still quite popular among die-hard fans, as well as others who have waited quite a while for this latest iteration.
With Age of Empires IV going back to basics and what endeared to fans over the 20 years, there’s a lot to love about it.
There are four main campaigns within the game. This is spread between the Normans, English vs French wars, the Mongol Empire and the Rise of Moscow. And there’s a lot to discover here.
The storylines span a few hundred years between them, with the campaigns, which often double as tutorials, offering players the chance to hone their skills across each faction. This will allow you to make it easier to choose your best faction when eventually switching to the online mode to play against others around the globe.
Each of the factions in Age of Empires IV brings with it a unique flavour, allowing you to approach your strategies differently. Some civilisations allow for better rushing tactics for early game gains, while others require a more defensive approach, gathering and planning for that late-game push to victory. Depending on your preference you’ll get to pick which works best.
However, while this creates a uniqueness to the game with a great mix of options in tactics, it may also become controversial. This will be inevitable once Age of Empires IV starts competitive online gaming, where choices may be random. So, knowing and understanding each of their strengths will be key to winning these tournaments when it comes down to it.
In total, there are some eight civilisations to choose from in Age of Empires IV. These are the English, the Chinese, the Mongols, the Delhi Sultanate, the French, the Abbasid Dynasty, the Holy Roman Empire, and the Rus.
Some of the more notable differences in tactics from the civilisations are that, for example, the English can start farming gold without the need of a mine in the game, while the Mongols, being a nomadic people, are able to pack up their building and relocate to areas where there are more resources in the surrounds. This is great. Managing and perfecting these techniques will be great fun.
Back to the campaigns. The Age of Empires franchise has always been a great source of reliving history. While there was an element of creative liberties in previous titles, the underlying history always remained intact. So much so that the game was often used as a teaching opportunity to gamify lessons. And that’s no different here.
During the playthrough, there’s quite a bit more narration in-game, talking you through what happened in documented historical moments, even as you’re well into the battle at hand.
The four campaigns cover the below historical periods in Age of Empires IV:
- Normans: The Norman conquest of England
- Hundred Years War: The war between England and France
- Mongol Empire: How one of the largest empires in history expanded during its heights
- Rise of Moscow: The rise of the Grand Duchy of Moscow (and others)
For many, these moments are painful and annoying but, for others, it’s a great way to unpack vital moments in history while participating in it as you learn.
One of the downsides to the potential of using the game as an education tool is that there isn’t a lot of violence. Perhaps there isn’t a need for it in the end, but there would be quite a bit more gravitas to actions taken on the battlefield knowing the impact of real-world wars. Perhaps there could be a toggle to enable this. It doesn’t have to be gratuitous violence, but the addition may add more tension or consequence to the game.
There aren’t many major changes in the gameplay if you’re familiar with the AoE franchise. Even though it reverted back to the base AoE II game, it’s not a difficult learning curve by any means.
If you really wanted to, you could easily skip all the tutorials in Age of Empires IV and move directly to the custom games against the AI or take your gaming online. For returning fans, this is a big relief. After waiting 15 years for a fresh title, the last thing you want to do is relearn the totality of the game to start making inroads.
While there have been clear enhancements in the graphics over its predecessors, I didn’t find it quite the overhaul I was expecting. It wasn’t the migration of StarCraft to StarCraft II. That said, it did feel less clunky than it did before, making gameplay all the easier with snappy responsiveness.
However, where Age of Empires IV really made massive strides is through the sound effects. This, along with the weaponry on display, makes the game all the more engaging. From the marching army, the synchronous arrows leaving their bows, stamping of hooves and the whips of the trebuchets. It’s an impressive range of sounds, even without taking into consideration the music and the rest that make it a complete experience.
There’s quite a lot more to explore and unpack about the game. Its depths are also impressive. From how you manage your army, being able to rotate or line them up in attack or defensive formations, the grouping of units, planning of buildings and workers and much more. There’s a lot to keep you busy and exploring, beyond the tutorial and campaign stages of the game.
Overall, Age of Empires IV may not be the huge leap in terms of gameplay and the likes over previous iterations of the game, with the developers opting to err on the side of caution instead of upsetting the apple cart again as it did with AoE III. There’s still a lot to work through that’s new and unique, making it all the more fun to reengage.
And if you’re not one for tutorials, you can easily jump straight back into the action, even after more than a decade since you’ve last played any of the games in the franchise.
Age of Empires IV is available for free on Xbox Game Pass for PC. However, the game is available for purchase from the Xbox Store and Steam.
Age of Empires IV
There’s a lot to enjoy about Age of Empires IV, especially if you’re a fan of the first two games in the franchise. This back-to-basics approach is refreshing, allowing players to simply jump in and battle. This lack of evolution, however, may not be what some were expecting after a 15-year wait.
- Loads of historical campaign playthroughs
- Sound effects are great
- Back to basics of AoE II
- Unique gameplay per civilisation
- No great graphics enhancements
- Campaigns can be tedious for some players
- Very PG
Sound and Music