Age Of Empires 4 Review: "Incredibly Fun Game That You Can Get Lost In For Hours"
Real-time strategy (RTS) games have been a consistent part of gaming for over 30 years, with titles such as StarCraft, Civilization, and Command & Conquer leading the charge throughout the years. The genre isn't for everyone because it's traditionally easy to learn but difficult to master, which can turn off new players. If you stick with it though, RTS games can provide endless hours of fun. Age of Empires 4 is the first new entry in the series since 2005, although the first three entries recently received the remaster treatment ahead of the Age of Empires 4 release date. With the series following the same premise as each other, is there enough meat on the bone when it comes to Age of Empires 4?
Familiarity With A Fresh Coat Of Paint
Age of Empires has never deviated away from what made the series a hit with fans almost 25 years old. Even when comparing the original 1997 game to Age of Empires 4, the obvious graphical and gameplay improvements after a 24-year gap aside, the fundamentals of both games are the same.
That fresh coat of paint is absolutely welcomed, because it enhances the experience tenfold. The campaign features stunning cutscenes between missions detailing much of the history that took place in between the missions you're playing. This is brand new to the series and is a serious indication to the progress made from the last instalment in 2005.
Even though Age of Empires 4 isn't that much different from the previous entries at its core - especially when playing the newly remastered Definitive Editions - it isn't necessarily a bad thing. The Age of Empires franchise has aged incredibly well, so trying to fix what isn't broken would've been a huge risk.
Easy To Learn But Difficult To Master
The premise of Age of Empires 4 is simple: Build a civilization and an army, and then attack your enemy and defend your own community. Matches end once the other teams are defeated, or certain win conditions are met. Just because it's easy to jump in and get started though, doesn't mean there isn't a high skill ceiling that can really set apart the newbies from the veterans.
As a battle progress, it'll advance through the ages, unlocking new buildings and units. Each team has its own specialities, for example the English have a strong defence, economy, and specialize in Longbowmen, with them being able to deploy defensive palings, which make them stronger against cavalry. This makes learning each team a long process, and you'll likely discover one that suits your playing style the best.
Age of Empires 4 has a lot to learn and think about, especially in multiplayer when you could be playing opponents that already understand the intricate mechanics. Playing the campaign on an easy difficulty shouldn't prove to be too much trouble for the newcomers to the franchise, but it requires a lot of practice and learning to become an expert.
Experience Over 500 Years Of History
Like the previous entries in the series, Age of Empires 4 is essentially an interactive history lesson, with the game featuring four campaigns consisting of around 35 missions that take the player through 500 years of history. The first campaign takes us through the Norman era, starting at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and ending with the Battle of Lincoln in 1217.
The other campaigns are The Hundred Years War, The Mongol Empire, and The Rise Of Moscow. Each mission typically takes between 20 to 40 minutes to complete, which means there is a lot of content to experience. Especially if you fancy a challenge and decide to play on the harder difficulties.
There's Endless Fun To Be Had With Skirmish And Multiplayer
In addition to the campaign which spans 500 years of history, there is also a Skirmish mode, which allows the player to create their own battle, as well as the option to choose from many presets. Skirmish mode gives players the option to choose all of the teams involved in the battle, such as the English, Chinese, French, and Roman Empire, as well as the map that the battle will take place on, the win conditions, and many other variables to help create a fictional battle between nations.
Multiplayer offers a similar amount of customization, except rather than playing against AI you will play against real players. Once the campaign is complete this is where you will find yourself playing a lot of the time, and it does provide endless amounts of replayability, especially as each online battle will play out completely different from the last. When you find an evenly matched opponent, you can expect battles to go on for quite a bit longer than the missions in the campaign.
It is worth noting that there have been some minor performance issues, especially when playing on PC. Load times are surprisingly slow, even when using an SSD, taking upwards of a minute in some instances. This points to poor optimisation because the game isn't particularly demanding or taxing, but it could certainly be patched later down the line.
General Improvements But More Of The Same
Age of Empires 4 is an incredibly fun game that you can easily find yourself lost in for many hours as you take part in lengthy battles that can span over an hour or more. It's not vastly different from Age of Empires 3, instead slightly improving in most areas. This means that if you're a die hard Age of Empires fan then picking up Age of Empires 4 is a no-brainer, but don't rush out to play the game at full price if you own Game Pass because you can try it out for cheap.
Reviewed on PC. Code provided by the publisher.