Age of Empires IV Review: A Classic RTS Series Returns In Style
There’s a big part of me that’s just happy to see Age of Empires IV exist at all. In an era where big-budget RTS games have become borderline extinct, it stands proudly against modern trends and provides an excellent, well-crafted title that will more than satisfy genre fans. In many ways, it’s a bit by the numbers, but almost everything it does, it does well.
More Of A Good Thing
If you’ve played an Age of Empires game before, you’ll feel right at home. The core gameplay loop here is as you remember it. First, build up your civilization by farming, gathering resources, and starting to produce villagers and an economy. Once you have that going, start building defenses and warriors who you can take into battle or who are capable of defending what you’ve built. Over time you’ll create buildings, more resources, and more units. New technologies allow you to improve on what you’ve already gained.
All of this builds to three methods of actually winning a game. You can destroy all of your opponents’ landmarks, including their town centers and the additional ones created as they move into later ages. You can also capture the three sacred sites set around the map. Doing so requires a religious unit to help control them and spreads your forces thin, but it can also be an unexpected option in some games. Finally, you can choose to build and defend a wonder, the final landmark which takes a long time, and your opponent will be notified of. When this happens, expect them to throw everything they have at you. If you’re ahead and able to defend it, though, you’ll be operating from a position of power while they’ll be in desperation mode.
Keeping Things Fresh
The variety on offer here is excellent, with so many strategies to choose from. Facing humans or even the game’s solid AI opponents provided me with so many paths to follow. The eight civilizations you can choose from help that, though too many of them feel a bit basic. The English, the French, and the Holy Roman Empire, in particular, are all easy to play and good for beginners, but their few differences don’t really feel that distinct. Players will certainly have a favorite, but I could have done with each feeling a bit more unique.
Thankfully, there are civilizations on offer that have more of a unique feel. The Rus, for example, use wood as their primary means of building defenses and have no access to stone. They’re able to make gold more easily than other groups, though, giving them a lot of early resources other groups simply won’t have. The Mongols may be the most unique civilization in the series’ history. These nomadic warriors can move almost everything, including their buildings. They don’t build walls, so turtling won’t work, but if you want to constantly stay moving and keep on the attack, they’re a wonderful option.
A Look Through History
While series veterans may want to jump right into online matches, which performed great during my time with them, newer players will be well served by the wide variety of single-player content on serve here. The Art of War training missions do an excellent job of helping you get used to playing a game like this if you’re unfamiliar with the genre. Those who are a bit more comfortable should jump right into the game’s campaigns.
Age of Empires IV features four campaigns, made up in total of an impressive 35 missions. Each follows a period of history, up to a few hundred years, and watches events unfold and how one event in history leads into another. The Normans has you helping the Normans take control of England and then try to hang onto it. The Hundred Years War pits the English and the French against each other. The Mongol Empire gives you a great into to the Mongol playstyle, while the Rise of Moscow does the same for The Rus.
Missions here are much more streamlined than a full game of Age of Empires IV, with a strong focus on combat. You’ll at times need to build up cities and focus on economies, but generally not from scratch the way you do in a normal game. For those who prolonged battles and troop building bore, these could be a great option, though at times, this streamlined version of the game grew a bit repetitive.
Perhaps the best part of the campaigns are their presentation. Footage of the modern sites of these battles animates ancient forces into modern footage, creating striking visuals and helping to truly bring these moments in history to life. They’re excellently directed and look great. As you move through the campaigns, you’ll even unlock more videos to provide context for these battles. These optional documentary-style videos are well worth your time if you have an interest in the history of the era.
While not particularly impressive visually, Age of Empires IV has a nice style to it. Not too realistic, but also not over the top. I enjoyed the overall look. Its sound design is out of this world, with fantastic mixing bringing various sounds to life without ever threatening to become overwhelming. It makes a huge difference during some truly epic battles.
While there’s very little wrong with Age of Empires IV, this is a game that could definitely have been used to take more risks. A part of me wondered what a modern Age of Empires game would feel like. It turns out, like more Age of Empires. You may at some point wonder why you didn’t just go back and play the series’ earlier titles. Excellent production values help to make the case, however, and there’s just so much to do. I fear I’ll pour far too many hours of my life into this game in the coming years. Fans who have been waiting for more Age of Empires or a good RTS that doesn’t feel like it had to be developed on a shoestring budget will find what they’re looking for in Age of Empires IV.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed); Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios; Developer: Relic Entertainment, Microsoft Game Studios; Players: 8; Released: October 28th, 2021; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of Age of Empires IV.