Age of Empires IV brings the franchise out of the dark ages and into a modern ultra HD utopia. With new-age graphics and better gameplay, the RTS genre just added a feather to its cap.
Developed by veterans of the RTS genre, Relic Entertainment, the developers have breathed new life into the franchise. They've taken the good from the past and merged it with the future. It has produced a miniature time capsule of memories for old school players while creating a wholesome experience for newcomers to the genre.
Like its predecessors, Age of Empires IV focuses on historical events that are etched deep in the annals of history and have shaped today's world. With four exciting campaigns to choose from, players will not only be playing missions but also taking a deep dive into history.
For returning users familiar with the genre, the Multiplayer and Skirmish modes will be a welcome treat. With half a dozen presets, custom game and map setups, and eight unique civilizations to choose from, the possibilities are endless.
Combat, Chevauchée, and Chivalry, it's an Age of Empire IV thing
Much like its predecessors, Age of Empires IV centers around historically accurate campaigns. The initial focus for newcomers and history buffs will be centered around four distinct civilizations:
- The English - Norman Conquest
- The French - The Hundred Years Wars
- The Mongols - The Mongol Empire
- The Rus - The Rise of Moscow
Each civilization has a distinct look and feel, showcased via the diverse architecture, unit diversity, and playstyles. Before the start of every mission, gamers get to enjoy a video shot at real historical locations with animation grafted on top.
This creates a rich and immersive gaming experience.
After completing each mission, bonus content will be unlocked for users to enjoy. This usually includes the cinematic video from the start of the mission followed by a clip showcasing an element from the period or a page from history detailing, in brief, the summary of events that occurred.
Although it's a legacy RTS well known for its lengthier missions, in Age of Empires IV, the game's pace has drastically increased. Players can, however, expect to face some stiff resistance from the enemy AI as per the chosen difficulty setting.
There are currently four campaign difficulty settings to choose from:
1) Story: This difficulty setting will be the best choice for newcomers to the genre or those looking forward to experiencing Age of Empires IV in all its glory. The enemy AI is docile and doesn't really put up a fight. Additionally, it will not probe the gamers' defenses and will mainly mount light attacks. These can be fended off with ease, thus allowing users to focus their attention on the economy and the beautiful landscape.
2) Easy: This is the optimal difficulty level for newcomers who want to enjoy real-time strategy. The enemy AI will probe defenses and mount single attacks from time to time, forcing players to stop micro-managing and focus on defense. At times, while progressing from mission to mission, things can get rather challenging. While the AI shouldn't be able to overpower gamers, it can wreak havoc on defenses and break into settlements if no defenders are present.
3) Intermediate: This difficulty level is meant for players familiar with the franchise or other similar RTS games. The enemy consistently probes defenses and launches multiple simultaneous attacks. Users are forced to constantly juggle defending their settlement, sallying out to complete objectives, and micro-managing resources. According to the developers, this is the way Age of Empires IV was meant to be played.
4) Hard: As the name suggests, things do get tough for players. The enemy AI mercilessly attacks on multiple fronts, keeping gamers on their toes for the game's duration. This difficulty is reserved for veterans of the genre, who enjoy facing impossible odds and coming out on top.
In addition to the beautifully crafted campaign, veterans of the series can dive right into custom battles from the get-go or plunge into a chaotic free-for-all on Multiplayer. With eight distinct civilizations to pick from, players will have their hands full for quite a while.
On the flipside, newcomers can opt to learn the basics of the game by playing Art of War. It features custom scenarios in which they can test their skills by completing objectives within a given time frame.
Living life easy in the middle ages
With Age of Empires IV coming into the modern-day, the developers have addressed lots of issues faced in previous titles while improving the overall game mechanics.
Here are a few improvements that players will enjoy.
1) Neat and responsive UI
The UI interface has been reinvented and provides valuable information to users during matches. At a glance, they can now see the number of villagers on each resource, resource gathering rate, and idle villagers enjoying life in the medieval ages.
The building panel has also been drastically improved, with the buildings available being shown under their respective age. Notifications have also cleared up and have become more prompt.
2) City planning for benefits
Some buildings now provide proximity bonuses called "Influence", which can be used tactfully to gain the upper hand in micromanagement. Rather than clump buildings together, gamers now have a valid reason to plan out their settlement carefully.
3) Special abilities in certain units and heroes
Specific units in Age of Empires IV now have special abilities. While not earth-shattering, they come in handy during combat. In addition to units, heroes come with special skills, which are helpful during tight situations.
4) Stone walls work as intended, and buildings now have gaps
Perhaps one of the biggest improvements is that units can no longer break down stone walls without proper siege equipment. Having a stone wall felt rather insignificant in the past, as units could use their melee weapons to break it down.
In addition to being able to adequately "stonewall" the enemy, units can now pass between a clump of buildings rather than having to go all the way around. While this may upset some old-school players who would use houses as early-game walls, this is a lot more practical.
5) Neutral markets
Multiplayer games and custom maps will now feature Gaia markets. Rather than waiting for teammates or the AI to set up shop to initiate trade, players can simply trade with neutral markets on the map.
6) Siege weapons and wall combat
Gamers can build basic battering rams and siege towers in the field. This is a significant change as they no longer have to do so from the workshop.
In addition to field siege engines, users can also build siege towers and storm the stonewalls of the settlement.
Performance and graphics
The review copy of Age of Empires IV was played on Steam and had the following system specifications:
- Processor: Intel Core i7-8700
- RAM: 16 GB DDR4
- GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060
- Hard Drive Space: 2 TB
Going back to its roots of having minimal requirements to enjoy the game, Age of Empires IV will work like a dream for anyone with an entry to mid-level rig. While it does take a while for missions to load up, everything works without trouble once loaded in.
Even with 200 units deployed on the field and sieging a castle, the game holds up well. The only time players may experience a bit of sudden lag is during different stages of the mission, though that shouldn't affect gameplay.
Age of Empires IV is everything old-school players can expect from a legacy RTS game that provides a fresh perspective for newcomers to the genre. From rich storytelling and in-game history lessons to distinct civilizations, suffice to say that the game has entered its own golden age.
It stands out in its own right but has a lot to contend with at the moment. With contemporaries churning out similar titles that have a cult following, acquiring new players may become difficult. While old-timers and veterans of the genre will surely enjoy the title, convincing a younger audience may be more challenging.
In conclusion, while Age of Empires IV doesn't reinvent the wheel, it does improve upon its design. Despite its minor shortcomings, the game has lots to offer, and users looking for a gratifying RTS experience are sure to find it enjoyable.
AGE OF EMPIRES IV
Reviewed on: Steam (Review code provided by Microsoft/Xbox)
Platform: Xbox Game Pass for PC and Ultimate (Day one), Windows 10/11 PC, Steam
Developer: Relic Entertainment
Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Release: October 28, 2021