Age of Empires IV review – return of the king

Actual-time strategy games have by no means actually gone away, however the previous decade has seen their glory a lot diminished from the heady days of StarCraft’s peak. Age of Empires IV arrives like a long-lost claimant to the RTS throne – one whose titles have since been absorbed into neighbouring kingdoms. Whether or not there’s room left for a demanding, macro-driven collection like Age within the fashionable panorama could be very a lot an open query, however one factor is obvious: that is Age of Empires nearly precisely as you keep in mind, and a few extra apart from.

Given the backlash Relic confronted just a few years in the past over its experiments with Dawn of War 3, it’s maybe not stunning that this day out, the studio has hewed a lot nearer to the established order. Age of Empires IV feels nearly shockingly like Age of Empires II. Every bark from a specific employee and thud of a battering ram towards fortress masonry feels simply how I keep in mind in Age II, albeit filtered by means of greater than twenty years of nostalgia.

For readers new to the collection – and there ought to be fairly just a few of you given it’s been 16 years for the reason that final numbered entry – Age of Empires is a historic real-time technique collection about constructing and defending a settlement. In a regular recreation, you’ll extract assets and make investments them in buildings and troopers, which you’ll then use to knock down no matter your opponent is constructing. There are different paths to victory as effectively: you may win by controlling all of a map’s sacred websites for a set period of time, or by constructing and defending a marvel.

Age of Empires IV includes eight civilisations, and so they’re a mixture of previous and new. The English, French, Chinese language, and Mongol civilisations return from previous video games – with slight alterations – whereas the Delhi Sultanate, Abbasid Dynasty, Holy Roman Empire, and Rus are all new. Whereas each civilisation shares primary models, buildings, and expertise, every has distinctive mechanics and models to grasp.

English soldiers attempt to repel an attack on their castle in Age of Empires IV.

The important thing to success is studying the place to direct your consideration at any given second. Beginning with a city centre and a few villagers within the Darkish Age, you’ll need to forage for meals and constructing supplies whilst you scout the map. I really like this preliminary section: my fledgling city feels fragile and uncovered, and each motion I take is important. The place I determine to construct my first mill will decide the form of the fortress partitions I’ll (hopefully) be establishing in a while. After I’ve saved sufficient meals and wooden, I can construct one among two culture-specific landmarks that advance my civilisation to the following age, unlocking new applied sciences and army models.

Its painterly visuals are nice sufficient, however textures and animations can look fairly dated in locations

As soon as the second age dawns, issues get busy quick. There are at all times a number of duties that want my consideration at any given second, whether or not it’s raiders harrying my merchants, palisade partitions in want of restore, constructing new homes for my booming inhabitants, or balancing army recruitment so I’ve received the correct mix of ranged, melee, cavalry, and siege models to assault the enemy’s settlement. When the whole lot’s working as deliberate, Age of Empires IV feels bustling and alive: archers are dashing to take positions alongside my partitions, lancers and lightweight cavalry take their locations in formation, and men-at-arms hurry to construct battering rams that can crack open my opponent’s battlements and let my military flood in to burn their city to cinders.

4 civilisations get a single-player marketing campaign. These may be performed in any order, and serve to show the sport’s wider mechanics in addition to the distinctive traits of those 4 civs. England’s marketing campaign, which begins in 1066 with the Battle of Hastings, hits the excessive factors of the Norman conquest whereas introducing the fundamentals of siege fight. The French marketing campaign is about within the Hundred Years Conflict, and flips issues round to give attention to defence and constructing your economic system.


The Mongol and Rus campaigns really feel a lot brisker by comparability. Beginning out because the Mongol common Subutai, I’ve entry to a formation of fearsome Mangudai horse archers. These warriors can fireplace whereas on the transfer, making them excellent for vanguard actions. It additionally permits them to mercilessly abuse the sport’s default unit behaviour, which is to assault something inside a sure vary until explicitly ordered to face floor. My Mangudai may method a formation of spearmen – usually a tough counter to mounted troops – and bait them into pursuing. After a brief distance, they’d fall again to their authentic positions, however the Mangudai may proceed to rain arrows on them from simply out of attain.

Age of Empires IV feels bustling and alive when the whole lot’s working as deliberate

This may make managing giant formations within the warmth of battle irritating: until ordered to face floor, pricey cavalry will cost headlong into onrushing ranks of low cost spearmen. Whereas the AI’s strategic resolution making is usually spectacular, models themselves are a bit dim and require quite a lot of babysitting.

Missions are usually enjoyable remixes of ordinary recreation mechanics with an added thematic purpose or problem. Taking part in as Prince Dmitriy of Moscow, I collect volunteers from villages alongside the river Don, the place I’ll make a last-ditch stand towards the Golden Horde, who intend to punish my failure to render tribute. The battle takes place within the waning mild of the night, and the reddening solar glitters throughout the rippling floor of the river and within the fall foliage on the bushes. Allied villagers construct fortifications at a fallback place on a hilltop whereas I wait alongside my military, which I’ve positioned throughout three shallow factors within the river to await the Mongol forces.


They arrive in waves, first bringing spearmen and archers earlier than escalating to lethal cavalry raids and ultimately siege engines. We fall again to the hill, and a few scripted cavalry reinforcements of our personal assist us maintain our floor earlier than we lastly retreat to the north financial institution of the Don for the final two waves.

It’s a enjoyable, edge-of-your-seat battle, however it’s additionally consultant of 1 ingredient that Age of Empires at all times struggles with: its makes an attempt to tie its model of RTS gameplay to particular historic occasions. Whereas situations will steadily try to recreate real-life battles, they often really feel extra like Renaissance truthful reenactments – a pair dozen costumed fighters per facet, quite than the 1000’s of levy fighters {and professional} troopers who had been current in the actual occasion. You’ll advance by means of ages each jiffy, which feels absurdly quick, and your peasants will construct a cathedral in about the identical period of time it takes a commerce caravan to make the journey to an outlying village. It’s all a bit goofy, and also you’ll see what I imply instantly within the downright dainty rendition of the Battle of Hastings that kicks off the Norman marketing campaign.

Age of Empires IV Age of Empires IV Age of Empires IV Microsoft $59.99 Buy now Community N earns fee from qualifying purchases through Microsoft and different packages.

Age of Empires IV acknowledges this with an impressively well-produced collection of documentary movies, which unlock with new missions as you play the campaigns. You’ll see consultants discussing the assorted sorts of crossbows utilized in feudal England, and demonstrations of Mongolian conflict drums out on the steppes. Introductions to missions function present-day footage of historic battle websites and castles, overlaid with line animations of army formations and fortifications. It’s all very effectively performed, and provides beneficial context for the abstracted motion you discover all through Age of Empire IV’s 35 single-player marketing campaign missions.

Whereas these missions illustrate how tech bushes and unit sorts work, they have an inclination to show classes that don’t apply as effectively to the long-term model of the sport, which is multiplayer. Thankfully, Age of Empires IV contains the Artwork of Conflict mode that has been so welcome within the Definitive Editions of its predecessors. This can be a collection of timed challenges that present hands-on classes in RTS fundamentals as utilized to Age IV, like how one can construct your economic system, conduct sieges, and handle models and counters.

There’s loads to dig into on the multiplayer and skirmish mode entrance, because it occurs. Along with the marketing campaign and Artwork of Conflict, there are additionally a number of single-player situations and customized skirmish matches you may play towards the AI. You’ll be able to arrange customized bot matches too, choosing the victory situations you need or choosing a extra open-ended sandbox recreation. At launch, Age IV contains 17 themes for procedurally generated maps, and you’ll set these to scale from tiny two-player battles to huge areas with room for as much as eight gamers.

These can all be utilized in multiplayer as effectively, which additionally permits you to arrange video games as co-op matches versus AI opponents, team-based battles, or eight-player free-for-all brawls. Whereas they weren’t usable in the course of the evaluate interval, a spectator mode, ranked play, and hand-crafted maps will probably be out there at launch as effectively.


Age of Empires IV stumbles in just a few areas. Its painterly visuals are nice sufficient, however textures and animations can look fairly dated in locations – siege gear turns awkwardly and stone buildings crumble in massive, low-poly chunks. The AI’s unit micromanagement may be atrocious at instances and, as famous above, is weak to exploitation. Nonetheless, it can be devilishly intelligent, sending scouts out early in matches to steal sheep from behind your settlement, or massing siege towers and rams in a secluded space of the forest so that you received’t spot them till it’s too late to react.

The enduring popularity of the Age of Empires series proves there’s a prepared viewers for Age of Empires IV, and this new entry doesn’t add something disruptive to the combination. Meaning it additionally does little to easy over the manic financial play that’s gone considerably out of vogue previously 20 years. Thankfully, World’s Edge and Relic have correctly included a wholesome suite of instruments to assist acclimate new gamers to the calls for of traditional RTS games: the marketing campaign contains an accessible ‘story’ problem that removes many of the strain, and the Artwork of Conflict classes are vastly useful for brand new gamers who need to perceive the nuts and bolts of profitable economic system administration.

Finally, Age of Empires IV’s worth to you is dependent upon what you count on from a historic technique recreation in 2021. Even with the informative video segments including color and context, battles in Age of Empires IV aren’t convincing historic recreations in any respect – significantly not after the spectacle we’ve seen in additional than a dozen Whole Conflict video games which have launched since Age of Empires II got here out. If, then again, you’re able to relive the sweaty glory days of climbing the StarCraft II ladder, Age of Empires IV is able to make its transfer for the throne.

Age of Empires IV Age of Empires IV Age of Empires IV Microsoft $59.99 Buy now Community N earns fee from qualifying purchases through Microsoft and different packages.

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