To say I have some history with Age of Empires (AoE) is an understatement. I’ll never forget playing Age of Empires II at LANs in my friends garage – lively late night games with pizza and Pepsi. Two decades on, in a time where LANs are on hold, I find myself writing a review for Age of Empires IV. My expectations for AoE IV are, probably unfairly, extremely high.
Age of Empires IV brings much of what I love about Age of Empires II into the modern era. Despite my fun experience with AoE IV it lacks the special ingredient that makes AoE games unique and great.
Age of Empires IV: Single Player
The tutorial features a concise summary of the basics. For an extended introduction, the Art of War single player mode will help get players up to scratch with economy management, combat, and siege warfare. I recommend the Art of War training to all players, regardless of their experience level. It introduces a few new concepts, including infantry being able to build basic siege weapons in the field.
Other single player modes for AoE IV include Campaign and Skirmish.
Four campaigns, with 35 playable missions, will help players hone their skills while learning some history. I look forward to more campaigns being added to the game, hopefully in the future. The short mission cinematics, presented in a BBC history documentary style, were informative and polished. The voice overs featured in narrative sections and during game play were without fault. The menu, cinematic, and gameplay soundtracks add to the rich atmosphere of the game.
Skirmish mode brings a mix of A.I. versus options and scenarios that kept me entertained for a few hours.
Age of Empires IV: Civilisations
Age of Empires IV features eight civilisations; English, Chinese, French, Holy Roman Empire, Mongols, Rus, Delhi Sultanate, and Abbasid Dynasty. The civilisations included are well suited to a mix of playstyles. As a generally defensive player, I stuck with the English, Holy Roman Empire, and the Delhi Sultanate. Compared to other real time strategy titles, AoE continues to be a series where the player who can adapt to the map type quickly will see early success.
For those transitioning from AoE II, the choice of civilisations feels shallow. Civilisations all have unique unit types, traits, and landmark bonuses.
Age of Empires IV: Gameplay
For those unfamiliar with Age of Empires, it is a real time strategy game.
In the early game you work to build your economy, by allocating villagers to collect resources. Alongside your early economic development, you will need to create a small armed force to either rush your opponent, and/or defend your village. As your economy develops you will build a landmark, that will give you a bonus. Landmark completion also progresses the game to a new age (ie Feudal Age) providing access to new technologies. The person to win the game will be the first to wipe out their opponent, build a wonder, or secure all sacred capture points.
The gameplay in Age of Empires IV feels generally fast-paced, especially in comparison to its predecessors in the series.
Small changes, like farm reseeding no longer being a gameplay element, and being able to set a waypoint for villager deployment for them to start a resource collection task immediately on creation, allows a more “set and forget” approach to most economic building activity. Despite this, I’m unsure why the auto-scout feature was removed. In AoE II you would be able to set your scout to automatically explore the map. For newcomers (and #filthycasuals like me), this is a helpful feature that I am surprised is missing.
There have been some updates that may throw off veterans of the series. Updates to the menu system in AoE IV sees he build menus are categorised by Age they are available. For those who have mastered hot keys from previous games may need to consider remapping their key designations. The overall update of the menu systems from the tea-soaked parchment appearance to dark blue took a little time for me to get comfortable with.
While there has been some criticism of the cartoon-like design choices, it did not impact my enjoyment of the game. The overall design allows for the game to run well on below spec devices. The screen shot above was taken on a device using a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960, and there were no gameplay issues noted.
Expecting a new game to have the same amount of content, as a previous title that has had 22 years of love and attention given to it is unfair. AoE IV creates a platform to build great experiences. With Microsoft’s long history of supporting AoE development over the long hall, I’m sure there is plenty more content to come. AoE IV is recommended for gamers new to the series, and those who are ready to move on from AoE II.