Age of Empires 4 gaming review

The average gamer spends over 7 hours each week playing video games though you may be reading this and spend that a day! Well Age of Empires 4 will keep you busy!

With 8 eight unique civilisations are the stars here, showing that sometimes less is more.

On the evidence of its timeless tyranny over the RTS genre, there’s a case to be made that there’s no surpassing Age of Empires 2—now in its ‘Definitive’ form.

Its competitive scene is thriving, people are lapping up its ongoing DLCs like bread loaves dished out by a benevolent ruler, and its gorgeous sprites have a cleanliness that 3D graphics just can’t quite seem to match.

So on the one hand, it makes sense that new series developer Relic has decided to loosely model Age of Empires 4 on the beloved second entry. It strips away some of the complexities of Age of Empires 3, returning to that lovely exploration-economy-conquest loop while adding mostly welcome touches of its own. Chief among these are the asymmetrical factions, which will almost certainly elicit screams of bloody imbalance but nonetheless count as the game’s greatest success.

On the other hand, reverence to the past can be restricting, and I can’t help but feel that Age of Empires 4 could have been something more. While I respect Relic’s decision to play things fairly safe, that should result in making what’s already there really shine; polish those mosque minarets and Moscavian onion domes, pump up those population limits, let bodies fly with physics-y abandon upon impact from cannonballs and elephant heads.

Instead, there’s a staid utilitarianism throughout much of Age of Empires 4—everything in it works much as it ever did, but without the flair that could have made it a grand celebration of that timeless AoE formula.
Those menus make a good first impression though: a triumphant take on the Age of Empires theme explodes in your ears while the golden lines of a medieval world map gleam in the background. Here you have your classic Skirmish mode, of course, as well as four campaigns and a series of Art of War tutorials that time you on various economic and military challenges. Sadly, there are no historical battles, with the several skirmish ‘presets’ feeling like a poor stand-in for a classic series feature.


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The campaigns follow the Normans, Mongols, Rus and English across three distinct eras each. Interposed throughout each campaign are crisp documentary-like videos showing footage of significant castles, towns, landscapes and battlefields as they are today, superimposing hundreds of wireframe soldiers over them; the close-up of the Bayeux Tapestry is so detailed that I could practically floss my teeth on its coarse clothy threads.

The documentary style permeates into the campaigns themselves, with most of the stories told through a narrator rather than in-game characters. It kind of keeps you at a distance from Genghis and Kublai Khan, Henry I, Ivan the Terrible and the other movers, shakers and razers of medieval history, which is a tad disappointing given Relic’s history of great RTS storytelling with Dawn of War.

Age of Empires 4 might not have the balanced esport appeal of AoE 2, but damn is it fun to experiment with the different civs and learn their unique ways. The Mongols are the biggest wildcard, capable of packing entire towns up into carts and relocating to anywhere on the map. I had a real blast with the Delhi Sultanate too, stomping my hapless AI enemies with War Elephants they had no answer for. Delhi’s use of garrisoned scholars instead of resources to research technologies turns the blacksmith into a kind of persistent research lab ticking along in the background while you get on with other stuff. Even the relatively vanilla English have no less than 10 unique traits, in their case focused largely around agriculture and establishing defensive structure networks that grant speed bonuses to your units.

A couple of the civs even have their own twists on age advancement. The Abbasids add wings onto their House of Wisdom instead of erecting new landmarks, while the Chinese can build two landmarks per age and found dynasties which will grant you different bonuses for the rest of the game. You can even ‘build tall’, with Abbasids and the Holy Roman Empire gaining bonuses based on buildings you place near their central structures.

While the core mechanics and loops will be familiar, the carefully designed civs and age-advancement choices offer an intricate new web of strategies and approaches to each match. It’s Relic’s bravest evolution of that precious AoE formula, and it really diversifies the game even though wide-scale online play will probably reveal tons of balancing issues over the coming months. But hey, that’s all part of the process in a series where a single title can be improved and iterated over many years.


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Upon starting a new game, returning players will immediately settle into the rhythm of resource-gathering, villager spamming, scouting and outrageous forward-settling (particularly effective with the nomadic Mongols). Victory conditions have been smoothed out to keep matches pacey, with military conquest now only requiring you to destroy an enemy’s landmarks, the number of which increases with each age.
In a series where a single game can manifest into its best form years, even decades, later, the only thing really standing in the way of Age of Empires 4’s growth is the ongoing success of its predecessors. It offers enough new ideas amidst the sturdy old foundations to rank among them—even if it’s not yet ready to rule.

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Lee Clarke
Lee Clarke
Business And Features Writer


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