Age of Empires 4 Review

Age Of Empires 4 Review – Go Fourth And Conquer

Long gone are the days when you used to get CD-ROM games with your boxes of cereal; so too are the days where RTS was the king of the gaming space and everywhere you looked it was the most popular thing. But in the past few years we’ve been able to dust off the rose-tinted glasses and get a fond recollection of yesteryear, with remakes of the first three games in the Age Of Empires series gracing PCs once again. In 2017 however, we got an announcement of a long-awaited sequel to the series, one that would head back to the Middle Ages and recapture that same gameplay style that the series is so well-known for. And finally, here as 2021 closes out, we welcome the newest exciting entry into the series, with Age Of Empires IV.

The game opens with a tutorial on how to play, and from here it is immediately apparent that this is not just another instalment into the Age franchise, but one that respects the history that came before it. World’s Edge and Relic Entertainment not only used Age Of Empires 2 inspiration to create a successor, but wanted to return to what it was that made the real-time strategy games so addictive. Take nothing away from AOE3, it was a great entry into the series, but it almost tried to pivot rapidly away from what players knew and loved, muddying up the formula in the process.
Age of Empire 4 Review
At its core, the game plays very similar to its predecessors; starting with a Town Centre, some villagers and a scout unit, you build your empire from the ground up by harvesting resources, creating an economy, and growing your way to victory. The Skirmish mode gives you free reign to do this, throwing you into an open world that is there for you to explore and build as you see fit. Skirmish is great because it allows you to play and learn at your own pace; understanding how the different civilizations play and build, where their strengths and weaknesses lie, and how the AI will attempt to thwart your attacks or divert your attention away. The 8 different playable civilizations all have unique abilities; take for example the Mongols, whose nomadic existence allows you to pack up entire towns and migrate to locations with better resources at the cost of not being able to mine for stone. Or the Rus, who focus heavily on hunting and defense with a high return on resources.

Each civilization has its strengths and weaknesses, and how you play and micro-manage your constituents will turn the tide to victory or not. Some of the combat mechanics are a little more frustrating from here however; there’s a rock-paper-scissors element (for instance, spears are good against horsemen) that is worth remembering otherwise you’ll lose a lot of your army when heading into war. There’s also a few strange quirks over previous titles – for instance, sheep will attach to your Scout as it wanders, so it is common to find an army of sheep bounding along with your Scout as it explores.

Age of Empire 4 Review

Where Age Of Empires IV really shines is the Campaign mode; throwing you into a part-documentary, part warfare scenario that plays out with some amazing vignettes. Basically, imagine you’ve just turned the TV on to something on the History Channel – you hear about a historic battle or war, you see the location where it took place (albeit in the modern day) and then you get to play it out in-game. From the Mongol invasion of Europe to the Norman conquest of England, the Campaigns let you take part in the shaping of historic events, whether it be defence of lands or conquering others. The vignettes between gameplay are eye-wateringly stunning, a blend of high-def footage goodness coupled with stylised CG overlay – you could almost sit back and watch these exclusively, without having to play. They do more than look good, too – they actually give you great depth to the story you’re about to play, and an understanding of the event as well.

For players familiar with the franchise, the shortcuts and keypresses are essentially identical to AOE 2, but for newer players the tutorial gives you all you need to get started and learn along the way. You are able to shift the field of view and the direction which the camera faces, but this frustrated me a tad as sometimes I wanted to zoom out further than I was able to. The building animation gets a really cool update in that you see ‘ghost’ villagers constructing the building as it rises, and progress bars appear above everything too, for both tech upgrades and unit creation. While not ultra-detailed, the visuals are really nice too – you see more detail the closer you zoom, buildings are detailed and sometimes overwhelming (castle walls really look the part now!) and even the sound just has that classic AOE feel, from villager calls and military units to the carefully-crafted background music.

Age of Empire 4 Review

Even running a 2060 Super with a Ryzen 5 3600, I did get moments where the sheer number of units on the screen would slow the framerate down a bit. One of the biggest things to realise however is that unlike the previous three instalments, this Age of Empires title won’t be hindered by a singular release with updates to come in expansion packs – now that games can be patched and updated, we can expect to see swathes of updates and content to come in the near future to improve on what is already a pretty solid experience.

At the time of writing the online multiplayer is very limited and harder to find matches, but will be more accessible on release on October 28th.

Age of Empires 4 Review
Weaving a tried and true gameplay style with a historic documentary twist, Age of Empires IV reminds us not only how great the series once was, but how much better it can be going forward. Bringing back the excitement of real-time strategy, it keeps both the past and the future in mind - and with that, World’s Edge and Relic Entertainment have created an experience that fans of the original games will love, that is also accessible to newcomers of the series as well.
Familiar yet deep gameplay style
Unique civilizations and gameplay styles
Stunning visuals and vignettes in Campaign mode
Limited field of view when zooming in and out
Difficulty levels can be all over the place
Limited to 8 civilizations to start with.