Not long ago, Age of Empires was a dormant franchise, forgotten and left behind as Microsoft shifted its focus to Xbox. The last mainline game, Age of Empires III, released back in 2005 and for well over a decade, it looked like we would never get a sequel. That changed back in 2017, with Microsoft partnering with Relic Entertainment to modernise the series and deliver Age of Empires IV. Now, this long-awaited sequel has finally arrived – was it worth the wait?
As a 90s kid, many of my early PC gaming experiences came from RTS games and many of those hours were spent playing Age of Empires II and eventually, Age of Empires III. It is a series I’ve enjoyed and revisited many times over the years. I am by no means an RTS expert, I couldn’t tell you anything about esports-level strategies, or how to dominate online leaderboards. Most of my fun came from custom skirmishes and private games between friends. However, I have been around the genre enough to know and be comfortable with the core mechanics.
Immediately upon launching Age of Empires IV, I felt right at home. The initial tutorial quickly gets you up to speed with resource gathering, building, scouting, and creating a small army with basic ground units, cavalry, and archers. The tutorial also introduces you to things like creating hot keys for unit groups, so you can quickly organise your forces when heading into battle.
Age of Empires IV does not reinvent the RTS formula. If you have played Age of Empires II in particular, you’ll be able to dive in headfirst with very little learning curve. This game recaptures that magic and presents it with a fresh coat of paint.
Age of Empires IV launches with eight playable civilisations – English, French, Mongols, Chinese, Delhi Sultanate, Rus, Holy Roman Empire and Abbasid Dynasty. As usual, when playing with each civilisation, your main goal is to stay alive and progress through the ages, moving up to the Feudal Age, then the Castle Age and then the Imperial Age.
Moving up to each age works a little differently in this game. While previously you would upgrade through the town centre, in Age of Empires IV, you’ll upgrade by building landmarks with your villagers after reaching certain milestones. You have a choice between two landmarks with different bonuses for each civilisation, so you can pick one that best suits your strategy or playstyle. Each civilisation is unique from the next, with different architecture, units, and technology. There are some similarities that carry through, but you will want to spend some time figuring out what each one does best and building around that.
AI has received an upgrade compared to previous versions and you’ll now find it easier to position your troops and set up defences. Some major quality of life changes, such as being able to put units on walls, have also been implemented.
The crown jewel of Age of Empires IV, in my opinion, is the new campaign mode. There are four campaigns at launch – The Normans, The Hundred Years War, The Mongol Empire and The Rise of Moscow. So far, I’ve only played The Norman campaign, but I was immediately impressed by the presentation.
Campaigns in Age of Empires IV are presented like an interactive history documentary. You get high-quality commentary from a narrator walking you through these events and battles. Between each battle, you’ll have a cutscene further detailing the impact of each battle. There has been a clear focus on education while creating these campaigns and it shines through. If you have an interest in medieval history, this is a must-play and it will even be accessible to those who don’t have much experience with RTS games, as there are multiple difficulty levels, including a story-only mode specifically for those looking to experience the historical events first-hand without the challenge.
The last Age of Empires game came out back in 2005 and the industry has come a long way in terms of graphics since then. Age of Empires IV does not go for true-to-life, photorealistic visuals and instead uses a more stylised, almost cartoony art style. Personally, I think it looks nice, but its not for everyone. You aren’t going to be blown away by the graphics, but the game makes up for it with a focus on fun, tried and true gameplay mechanics, with a very well scripted campaign.
We recently reported on Age of Empires IV’s PC system requirements, which pointed to the game being incredibly accessible on a wide range of PC hardware. The absolute minimum spec only calls for a CPU with an integrated GPU, meaning laptops and non-gaming PCs should run this game without issue. My PC does not fall into that category, as I have an Intel Core i7-8700K, 16GB of RAM and a GTX 1080 Ti. It’s not the most up to date gaming rig, but it gets the job done and I had zero issues running this game at 1440p/144Hz with high graphical settings.
My only real complaint with the game so far is draw distance and the ability to zoom in and out. With today’s high resolution, larger gaming monitors, it would be nice to be able to zoom out a bit further and see more of the battlefield. Other RTS games also have a closer zoom-in level, so you can get much closer to the action and really appreciate the animations put in place. Given the animation improvements in this game, I think being able to zoom in a bit further would also be a nice change.
Other players have also expressed disappointment with the 200-unit population cap, the lack of blood or gore, and the inability to rotate buildings. I wasn’t going into this expecting huge changes from classic gameplay, so these issues don’t really stick out to me, but its something to keep in mind if you are after something with deeper building mechanics and larger-scale battles.
With all of that said, given how close this game sticks to the classic Age formula, I’m not sure I would purchase this at its launch price of £49.99. To me, £30 seems like a more reasonable price point. However, it is also worth noting that this game is available day-one through Xbox Game Pass. I still consider Game Pass to be the best deal in gaming and I would encourage anyone to try it out. As an inclusion to the Game Pass library, downloading and playing Age of Empires IV is an absolute no-brainer.
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KitGuru Says: Have any of you picked up Age of Empires IV already? What do you think of the sequel so far?