After more than a decade of waiting, a new Age of Empires game is finally here. With the originals developed by the late Ensemble Studios, Relic Entertainment has taken on the challenge of creating a game that will appeal to both existing fans and new players alike. From what I can tell after playing for the past few weeks, they’ve certainly managed to develop a nice real-time strategy game that many players will embrace, but there are also a few annoyances that I think the games have to offer. older people simply did better.
For those new to the game or series, Age of Empires IV is the spiritual successor to 1999’s Age of Empires II, which also takes place in the Middle Ages, and stays pretty close to classic elements of the real world. Time Strategy Games: Build your base, train villagers to extract resources such as wood and gold, and quickly build up an army to fight your enemies. Military units follow the rock-paper-scissors principle, with lancers against cavalry, cavalry against archers, and archers against lancers. Age of Empires also has an age system, in which you progress from the lowest “Dark Age” to the highest “Imperial Age”, allowing you to gain a technological advantage over your opponents as you invest in your economy.
Age of Empires IV launches with six playable civilizations with unique perks: English, French, Holy Roman Empire, Abbasids, Sultanate of Delhi, and Russia. There is a core of shared buildings and units, but with civilization-specific skins, and unique units such as Mongolian Cavalry Archers Mangudai, Armored Elephants of Delhi, or English Longbowmen. All of the unitary taunts are in a historical language such as Old French or Mongolian, which together with the music adds to the immersion of a historical game. Age of Empires IV runs on Epic’s latest Essence Engine 5, offering highly detailed and colorful buildings and units, including the ability to rotate the camera 360 degrees to take in the scenery.
The first thing I did when I first started playing was to try out single player campaigns. And really, I think Epic has done an amazing job here because the campaigns are really well done and enjoyable. They allow you to relive the struggles and conquests of the Normans, French, Mongols or Rus, offering a great combination of concise, high-quality documentary videos telling the story of the campaign and the missions that immerse you directly in the world. action to play events. Watching the actual Hastings battlefield site in the video first and then playing the battle just was very immersive for me. Other times, important figures or events are illustrated using contemporary designs such as the Bayeux Tapestry. The combination of excellent visual storytelling and immersion in action during missions makes it feel like playing an interactive documentary, which I really enjoy.
Besides the videos that advance the campaign story, there are additional videos that zoom in on specific topics relevant to the campaign you are playing. There’s content on castle building, horseback archery, and Mongolian war drums, for example, that do a great job of amplifying your campaign experience. Even as a historian who has read a lot of books and articles on history, I feel like I have a new emotional experience playing the Mongolian conquest campaign, for example. The fact that the units speak their authentic languages and the music and game visuals add to the experience while playing. Overall, I think campaigns are definitely a highlight of the historic strategy game.
I also have a great time zooming in and looking at my units and buildings. Relic’s new Petrol engine does a great job of delivering a highly detailed environment, colorful buildings, and authentic looking units. I found the unit’s weapons to be a bit too cartoonish at first because they are relatively large compared to the units, but it’s something you can get used to very quickly. It is also quite easy to discern different types of units on the screen. Buildings that are damaged also have neat destruction animations and the camera lets you rotate freely, so there is a lot to like. The UI is very minimalistic and could have used more historic bells and whistles, besides not clearly distinguishing units or buildings, but those things probably don’t matter in the long run.
There are also things that I don’t like, things that also don’t seem to match the legacy of the Age of Empires game. When I play multiplayer maps or AI skirmishes, the maps in the game often seem very small. When building your base, there is only limited space available to place buildings. Civilization bonuses also require you to race your buildings against each other. So the basic building block of the game is more like that of Starcraft 2 and is a clean break with Age of Empires II. Coupled with a lower zoom level, the map sometimes feels cramped. I also think this will have an impact on the multiplayer part of the game. Longer multiplayer matches in AoE II often result in “garbage wars”, where players build lots of military buildings, sending cheap units to a field. of battle that comes and goes. The lack of buildings in this game means that you are unlikely to rebuild an army soon after a lost battle, especially since buildings are destroyed much faster than before.
Another thing I don’t like is siege weapons. The medieval catapults and arrow ballistae that are in the game move very awkwardly in my experience and take up a lot of space on small maps. Unlike previous Age of Empires games, they also don’t damage friendly units. This means that a melee fight is mostly won by the side throwing a few catapults without any penalties. Naval combat suffers from the same problems as siege weapons. The good thing is that the ships are clearly distinct between different civilizations and there are some very beautiful ones, like a big Chinese warship “Baochuan” firing cannonballs. Unfortunately, ships move in the same awkward way as siege weapons and quickly fill the screen in large numbers. It’s also a shame that they often turn left and right uncontrollably, as if they’re constantly wondering where to go next. There are other annoyances, such as the inability to target specific units with your fortifications, which often automatically target the less optimal units.
It would be unfair, however, to only see this game in light of previous Age of Empires games. Because as soon as I let go of the preconceptions of what Age of Empires should be like, I have to admit I’m curious to see how I’m going to fare in multiplayer when the game launches on October 28th. The pace of the game is going to be pretty fast based on my (limited) multiplayer experience so far. For example, the French are able to do a knight rush around the 6 minute mark, which moves the series more towards a “6 pool” Zerg rush in Starcraft 2. Depending on your civilization, you will need to prepare for this. what’s going to happen. of your opponents. Rushing to the Rus will be difficult for example, as they have quick access to good fortifications, while the Mongols can tidy up their base to collect new resources. So I think the asymmetry between civilizations that the developers claimed in the previews is definitely there and will lead to some interesting strategies and metas, but it’s something that will only show up when a large number of players start. to play the game. For now, I expect it to work well.
Relic has also added new items to the game. There are now neutral trading counters on the map, plenty of ways to boost resource gathering, and religious sites that trigger a timed victory, just like Relics and Wonders did in the old Age of Empires games. I felt annoyed when the AI won the first Skirmish match this way, but it’s a way to keep players on their toes by providing multiple means of victory. Aging is also more complex than before, requiring you to construct iconic buildings like in Age of Empires III. They can fit well into your overall strategy, as they can sometimes offer a strong defensive improvement for your city or an economic boost if you plan to boom and strike later in the game. Like the asymmetry between civilizations, I think it’s a nice challenge to master my favorite strategy in the coming months while playing online.
So what’s my final verdict on Age of Empires IV? From a historical immersion perspective, Age of Empires IV’s campaigns are definitely a highlight of the series. From a gameplay perspective, the game incorporates a lot of things from older games that perform well, while also upgrading the series to a visually pleasing game engine. However, it also does some things differently that I don’t like a lot, mainly the sense of smaller maps and clunky ships and siege weapons. On the other hand, looking at Age of Empires IV itself, there is a lot of depth to the strategies to be discovered in competitive play with the new asymmetric civilizations, strategic options for moving to another age, and a pace of change. faster game which brings it closer to other games such as the Starcraft series. Ultimately, I can’t wait to play multiplayer over the next few months, see what strategies players come up with, and find ways to beat them.