Age of Empires IV feels familiar for both RTS fans and AoE players. In almost every way, it’s like an Age of Empires 2 overhaul: better graphics, smooth user interface, smart AI, and superb performance.
More importantly, they left the homogenous civilization behind in favor of less but more unique factions. Other minor tweaks improve the user experience while retaining the classical elements you’d expect.
The latest Technical Streess showed AoE4 is a flawless RTS. It takes us back to the genre’s grandfather roots. By all means, it’s perfectly simple and simply perfect.
The game will be available on Xbox Game Pass for PC on release day.
The price for the base game is $59.99 on either platform.
The Digital Deluxe Edition sells for $79.99. It includes some extra digital content like the OST, a unit counter chart, an art compilation, a player profile portrait, a Coat of Arms, and a Monument.
Age of Empires IV is a Windows exclusive, so it’s only available for Windows PC. Here’re the system requirements:
- OS: Windows 10 64bit
- CPU: Intel Core i5-6300U / AMD Ryzen 5 2400G
- Ram: 8GB
- GPU: Intel HD 520 / AMD Radeon RX Vega 11
- Storage: 50 GB
- DirectX12: Yes
- OS: Windows 10 64bit
- CPU: 3.6 GHz 6-core / AMD Ryzen 5 1600
- Ram: 16 GB
- GPU: Nvidia GTX 970 4GB / AMD RX 570 4GB
- Storage: 50 GB
- DirectX12: Yes
As a medieval real-time strategy game, we recommend AOE 4 to players above 13 years old. The game has an ESRB TEEN / PEGI 13 rating.
Graphics, Performance, and Interface
The first thing we should say about the graphics is the cartoony style. By that, I mean big character models, oversized weapons, exaggerated structures, and a wide color palette.
Most would think it looks silly and saturated, and thus the visuals have received a fair amount of criticism. Nevertheless, it seems Relic toned down the saturation and character models for the test.
Also, the design choices have two advantages. First, because weapons are oversized, it’s easy to identify all your units on the battlefield.
Also, combat animations are superb. It’s not very realistic, but it works as intended. By that, I mean everything is clear and easy to see from a distance.
If you go past that issue, you’ll realize the game looks and behaves quite well. You can reach about 60fps on an Nvidia 1080 Ti, 1080p at Ultra. A 1060 could get 60 FPS on medium settings, while newer GPUs can easily go 144fps. Also, the Technical Stress showed no significant bugs, glitches, or performance issues other than minor frame drops.
Then there’s the matter of the user interface. It’s simplified, smooth, and easy to see. As I said, there’re clear indications of how many settlers you have per resource, which is an incredible addition.
Moreover, buildings, techs, formations, and movements come with new icons, clear explanations, and a clean look.
If there’s one thing that could improve, graphics-wise, it is the camera. It’s always too close. So, when big naval or castle battles begin, moving across the battlefield is hard. We expect the game will release with zoom-in / zoom-out features.
Lastly, graphics are in full 3D, with realistic environments, pronounced elevations, water physics, and cute forests. Similarly, an AI will procedurally generate every map.
Here’s the fan preview for extra sights:
The fourth entry in the saga closely follows AOE II, which is still fairly popular as an online RTS title.
You pick a faction, enter a match, and start from scratch. You gather wood, food, gold, and stone (like usual). Likewise, you can advance through four ages to unlock higher-tech trees (Dark Age, Feudal Age, Castle Age, and Imperial Age).
Small changes include the need to gather gold to advance to the second age. Similarly, you can see the number of settlers on each resource on the lower left screen, a neat addition. Another important change is Landmarks. These are special buildings for each faction, and they offer faction-unique bonuses.
You need Landmarks to age up: instead of clicking the aging icon on the Town Center, you build one of the available Landmarks. When settlers finish the building, you advance. There’re various options to choose from, but you can only build one per age, thus leaving other bonuses behind.
Another key difference is the number of self-sufficient mechanics. Much like AoE 3, every civ has ways to generate gold either passively or automatically. That means your end-game matches won’t heavily rely on controlling gold sources. Rather, improving your city is the best option.
Similarly, farms look different. Mills come with a series of pre-layered farms, so the building layout turns out smoother.
There’re new grouping mechanics that make the game easier. You can now select all available military units of a type by double-clicking one of them, even if the rest are not on your screen. Moreover, the game sorts units by group cards, which means the max number of units per control group is no longer 60.
That said, the most significant difference relies on the civilizations (factions). Each one offers a distinct set of technologies, units, and requirements to make them special.
AoE II offers very similar civs with some key differences (civ bonuses, castle unit, castle tech, and sometimes other unique units like the Eagle Warrior).
The army units for each faction are simpler than previous entries. It makes the game easier to grasp. For now, there’s a few ranged troops, a few cavalry soldiers, various infantry units, and a nice selection of siege weaponry.
Other than that, there’re two significant changes, battle-wise. First, units can hide in the forest. That allows you to ambush your enemies as they travel or escape.
Secondly, infantry and cavalry units now throw torches at buildings to destroy them. Ranged units, in comparison, tickle buildings with their rifles and bows.
This small change makes stone walls incredibly resistant. In fact, only siege units can attack stone walls. I believe the game encourages defensive playstyles and epic battles rather than rushes and cheese builds (like a Scout Rush).
Another minor difference is how high ground is more significant now. Maps are full of cliffs, mountains, and elevated lands you can use to your advantage. As before, units fighting from higher ground get extra damage.
Lastly, archer units now can either specialize in archers (good vs. unarmored units) or crossbowmen (good vs. armored units). Additionally, you can put archers on top of walls, and they have defensive and offensive bonuses.
All of this put together still feels like the 1999 game. In essence, the game features the classic Rock, Paper, Scissor rules as every unit has its counter, natural preys, and equals. You win through unit composition, formations, and micro-management.
Other than that, you can build one unit at a time, and the population cap remains 200. That includes settlers, military units, and ships. Moreover, the economic balance is similar, so you’d want to keep about 40% of your population as villagers.
So, it’s almost the same as before. I’ve seen some reviewers sad because “it’s not Total War.” How could it be, though? You wouldn’t be able to manage both a massive war and a city.
For better or worse, AoE IV plays like AoE II. You could even win with similar build orders like a Feudal Age archer rush.
Another change is how the game is faster, thus easier for newcomers. In particular, going past the Feudal Age is faster. This is because more villagers and resources come faster than AoEII.
Moreover, villager AI is better, so they are more efficient at gathering resources. Also, you can create villagers while advancing, as you advance with a Landmark instead of a Town Center tech.
The first age can be a mess on the older game if you don’t follow a build order. Some people still like the longer, complex mechanics of Age of Empires II. However, the newer game comes to offer a similar but faster start.
The whole game is not faster, though. In particular, if you’re starting, you’ll probably spend most of your games reading tech and unit descriptions.
Additionally, mid to late game mechanics favor macro-management rather than micro. As I said before, all civs have some auto-resource mechanic, so the game relies on growing cities rather than skirmishes.
That said, most techs and units take more seconds to research or create. That means you need large bases just to spend your resources efficiently.
The recent Stress Tests showcased four factions, albeit the game will come out with 8 civs:
- Abbasid Dynasty
- Holy Roman Empire
- Delhi Sultanate
The first four were present on the technical beta.
The developer intends to make factions asymmetrical. That means each one features distinct mechanics, technologies, architecture, units, and advantages.
Think of the Starcraft design, where there’re only three factions, but each is completely different.
On AoE4, there’re 8 factions, which are somehow different. That’s because core issues like the core combat triangle (pike, sword, and ranged) remain intact.
We’ll talk about the four civs we’ve seen, as everything else may change when the game debuts.
The English faction is the most familiar civilization. It plays almost exactly like the typical AoE II European civilization.
Speaking of which, their special unit is the Longbowmen, the same as before. These are the archers with the most range in the game. Also, the English have easier access to the Man-at-Arms.
Other than that, the English buildings offer a ton of military techs. In particular, their Keeps act like a barrack, archery range, and stable at the same time.
They have a defensive bonus as well, and I expect it will be very popular for beginners. When units are close to defensive structures like towers or the Town Center, they get a temporary attack bonus.
Abbasids encourage dense urban cores and heavy infantry units. For each building connected to the main tech center (the House of Wisdom), you unlock economy boosts known as Golden Ages.
The House of Wisdom also offers a series of unique upgrades that impact your core gameplay. More importantly, it allows you to adapt quickly to offensive, defensive, and economic strategies.
The idea is simulating the “Golden Age of Islam.” Naturally, you will see a lot of economic techs. For your information, the Abbasid Dynasty covers the Abbasid Caliphate (modern-day Iraq). The powerful empire spawned between 750 – 1517 CE.
Now, combat-wise, the Abbasids can research Phalanx tech’s mightily Phalanx.
Chinese is currently the most distinct faction. They specialize in gun powder units and artillery.
The Imperial Official is one of their best unique units. They passively increase your gold income by collecting tax. Tax builds up as your city grows. On top of that, they can improve the efficiency of each building.
You can create an Imperial Officer at the Town Center for 150 food. Still, you can only have four Imperial Officials at a time. More importantly, the AI can handle the Officials independently, so the game won’t punish you for lack of micro-management.
The Chinese special unit is the Zhuge Nu, a crossbowman with a higher fire rate (like the Chu Ko Nu).
Holy Roman Empire
The Holy Roman Empire is somehow similar to the Abbasids. The faction also features heavy infantry units plus a lot of technological advances.
In particular, their landmarks increase the HP of nearby structures. Moreover, Town Centers have an Emergency Repair option that restores health to nearby structures without settlers.
They also have a special religious unit, the Prelate. It makes nearby infantry units stronger. Also, Prelate units can speed up villagers for faster growth.
Similarly, they have early access to religious units to heal and convert enemy players.
Combat-wise, the Holy Roman Empire has access to Germanic-style warriors, like the Landsknecht. This is a heavy swordsman capable of beating almost every infantry unit.
Lastly, there’s one late-game building available for the Holy Roman Empire that can build five teams at a time.
Age of Empires 4 has single-player campaigns, as well as multiplayer modes.
Multiplayer includes 1v1 matches and team, co-op battles. Currently, these work through the Quick Match button. However, when the game launches, we expect a similar rank mechanic as AoE II, in which the game puts you against similarly skilled players to earn points per win.
Lastly, the max number of players per match is 16, on crazy 8v8 games.
Age of Empires 4 is returning to the historical campaign formula. But instead of following a single conqueror like on AOEII, you’ll play a longer period for each campaign.
For example, the Norman Campaign starts with William the Conqueror. Eventually, though, you’ll witness the family conflict across various generations.
The game will have four campaigns for a grand total of 35 missions. These story arcs are::
- Norman Conquest – English
- 100 Years War – French, English
- Unconfirmed Khan-related campaign – Mongols
- The Rise of Moscow- Rus
- EXTRA: Tutorial Campaign
Overall, it seems like Relic has put a lot of effort into the single-player mode. They assure they’re offering “humanized histories,” whatever that means.
Things I Wish Relic Improves
I’ll end the article with a couple of nitpicks. I believe Relic will come around and fix these issues:
- There’re no ballistic mechanics: Projectiles will follow an arc as much as they need to hit a target after the unit shoots.
- No hotkey customization: You can’t customize the game’s many options on your keyboard. Also, the game doesn’t recognize extra mouse or keyboard buttons. These are basic quality-of-life improvements every RTS needs.
- Lack of camera control: most players would prefer to zoom in and zoom out during battles.
Are Mods Available?
Relic and Xbox Box Game Studios are supporting mods for the game. These are community-made tools, graphical changes, or UI tweaks. Mods will become available in “early 2022.”
It seems your ability to enjoy Age of Empires 4 depends on how much you like the franchise’s all-time classic, AoE2. If you’re expecting a well-polished, smooth, and fun modern AoE2, this game is for you. But if you were expecting an RTS revolution, it may disappoint you.
You could also approach this as a newcomer looking for a modern RTS. There’re not many modern games in the genre other than Total War titles. However, these two follow a different formula. I believe AoE4 is immediately fun, easier to grasp, and quicker to reward you.
Other than that, we’ll have to see the amount of support the game gets from the community, professional AoE players, streamers, Twitchers, and developers themselves. More importantly, Relic and Game Box Studios need a clear post-launch map to keep improving and balancing the game, also potentially adding more civilizations. These elements will determine the success or failure of the game.
Relic did an outstanding job in bringing the franchise to the modern days. It feels like a reboot of the series as a whole, but I believe this is more or less what the fans were expecting.
Relic didn’t need to reinvent the wheel, as AoEII is one of the best RTS games of all time. They just needed to perfect it. If this is the measure we take, Age of Empires 4 is a masterpiece.