Review: Age of Empires IV

Overview

Developer Relic Entertainment, World's Edge
Publisher Xbox Game Studios
Genre Real-time strategy
Platforms Microsoft Windows
Release Date October 28, 2021

The Age of Empires franchise has existed since 1997, bringing twenty-four years’ worth of stories, historical characters, and battle reenactments for fans to enjoy. The series is a revered favorite for any real-time strategy gamer, especially those who enjoy playing in different historical settings. I have very fond memories of playing Age of Empires II: The Conquerors as a small child and learning for the first time about famous historical warriors such as El Cid and Attila the Hun; getting to relive these historical events, however embellished for the purpose of entertainment, introduced me to a life-long love to history that I still possess today. The previous entry for the series, Age of Empires III, was released in 2005, leaving sixteen years without a main-numbered entry. With such a long gap in its wake, is Age of Empires IV a worthy entry to this beloved real-time strategy franchise that has brought history to life time and time again?

Content Guide

Spiritual Content: Units called monks, also called shaman or imams depending on the civilization, can be created in different civilizations. These hold no religious or spiritual attributes and are meant to collect relics found on the map and heal other units when they take damage.

Violence: Standard real-time strategy warfare and killing animals for food/protection. No gore or gratuitous amounts of blood.

Positive Content: Great educational thought and value placed in the gameplay and story presentation of the campaigns and tech of civilizations present.

Review

To begin with the obvious, Age of Empires IV looks really, really good. To put it simply for long-time Age of Empires fans, the look of this game best resembles Age of Empires II with an updated coat of paint. That is not necessarily a bad thing, as this update and the extra aesthetics available for our modern PCs help bring the maps to life like never before. The graphics are shiny and polished, and the movements of units such as villagers and fighters are fluid. The zoom-in camera feature allows players to pan into the details of the map and movements more closely, or to expand and see what’s happening across the screen.

Learning the gameplay is simple enough so that players new to the Age of Empires series, or real-time strategy games in general, will be able to find the swing of things in no time, as the tutorial gradually highlights how to find resources and build an economy and an army. Newcomers will be able to experiment through this tutorial or learn as they go through the campaigns and standard matches that can be created to face against other players or the computer AI. Returning veterans to the series will find enough features in the gameplay to sate their appetite for what they enjoyed the most from these games. One new feature that caught my eye while playing the game was that Hero units, based on historical characters, had special abilities that would be able to influence their surrounding units, such as creating an extra shield to protect them or helping them raise their attack rates when confronting enemy units. Players can upgrade units into more powerful units that can withstand more damage, and as more resources are cultivated and more Ages are researched, more units can be offered to players, which can build quite an advantage when creating a large army.

One downside that I noticed right off the bat was that there were fewer civilizations and single-player campaigns to explore and complete. The civilizations that players can utilize are the French, the English, the Chinese, the Abbasid Dynasty, the Mongols, the Holy Roman Empire, the Delhi Sultanate, and the Rus. While this is already a decent number, and each of these civilizations rightly stand out from one another, I remember enjoying the chance of playing through thirteen different base civilizations of my choice for Age of Empires II, eighteen in total including the Conquerors expansion. My hope is that this means that more civilizations may be added at a later date, and that even more variety will be introduced.

There are also not a great number of campaigns currently available to enjoy. There are four campaigns available at the time of this review for the base game: The Normans campaign, which follows the Norman conquest of England with William the Conqueror and his descendants’ continuing struggles while ruling, The Hundred Years War, which follows the eponymous conflict between England and France, The Mongol Empire, which focuses on the expansion of the titular empire, and The Rise of Moscow which focuses on the Rus’ principalities, including the Grand Duchy of Moscow. While these campaigns are enjoyable on their own, I felt that more can definitely be added than just these four on their own. I played on an easy setting and was able to complete The Normans campaign in one to two days of continuous gameplay. That does not mean that these campaigns are all that Age of Empires IV has to offer you. There is a multiplayer feature, which was not explored for this review, and standard matches can be created with various terrain and options that players can use to create their own unique challenges. These options keep the game fresh and engaging even when the campaigns are completed.

I’ve always loved the historical aspect that Age of Empires has to offer, and this entry is no different. The historical backgrounds of texts and short documentary videos about the various features of medieval life and warfare were very engaging for me, and I enjoyed learning more through these experts featured in these videos, such as how paints were created and used to decorate the interiors of castles. Warfare and weaponry and their changes through history were featured as well, such as showing the evolution of the bow and arrow to the more powerful crossbow, and how they may have been used during sieges and battles. These real-life videos also bring a new dimension to setting up the campaigns, showing the real-life locations of where the conflict will take place that the player will be taken to, as well as simulating what the battle may have looked like just before the player enacts the conflict themselves. I found that I learned a lot from these additions, and they helped bring to life the seamless conflict and changes that history often wrought on the world.

In conclusion, there is a lot to enjoy from Age of Empires IV. Longtime fans will love seeing the returning elements that we’ve grown to love from these games, while also enjoying the new dimension that helps bring the series to life like never before. My hope is that with time the developers will release more content in the form of expansion updates and DLC to keep this game fresh and engaging for a long time once players have had a chance to familiarize themselves with the base civilizations. If you’re a longtime fan of the franchise like myself, you will definitely appreciate this entry and what it has to offer. If by chance you happen to be new to real-time strategy games in general and are curious, Age of Empires IV is a great game to get your feet wet with.

The Bottom Line

 

Age of Empires IV has a lot to offer longtime fans and may entice new fans to explore history in a deeper way than the series has ever done before.

 

8.0

Andrea Racoti

Born in a Romanian-immigrant family and brought up in Central Texas, Andrea loves the art and importance of story-telling, especially when it comes to video games. Her favorite games include rich world-building and character growth, and it's a joy for her share her passion with other gamers.

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