Ever since Age of Empires IV was announced all the way back in 2017 – what a different world we all lived in then – fans of this series have been champing at the bit to get their hands on it. After all, when it comes to Real-Time-Strategy (RTS) games, this is a series boasting a reputation few can match.
Now, with its release date drawing ever nearer the internet is abuzz with screenshots, trailers and reports about what players can expect from the game. Here’s what’s been confirmed so far.
1. It finally has a release window
At a recent fan event, developers Relic Entertainment (the studio behind some fantastic strategy games such as Homeworld, Company of Heroes and the Warhammer: Dawn of War series) has confirmed that Age of Empires IV will see release this year.
While no specific date has yet been set in stone, Relic says that the game will arrive in the ‘fall of 2021’. That would be autumn for us Brits and spring for territories in the southern hemisphere. So, not long to wait now…
2. The game has eight factions that play differently
Age of Empires IV will release with eight playable factions, although at the time of writing, only four have been revealed: the English, the Chinese, Delhi Sultanate and the Mongols. All of them play quite differently to each other, as one would expect from an asymmetrical RTS – the Delhi Sultanate for example, have elephant units while the Chinese use crossbows and fire lances.
Perhaps the most intriguing faction that we know about thus far is the Mongols. This is an entirely nomadic faction that can pack up their buildings and city centres and move to a different location. This means if they’re on a wide-open map, Mongols will have a significant advantage. How they’ll fare against the more static civilisations remains to be seen, but right out of the gate, this is a very neat twist.
3. The classic gameplay is present and correct with some great new additions
Age of Empires IV is being billed as a ‘spiritual successor’ to Age of Empires II, so players will know what to expect after they boot it up. Players are tasked with advancing their faction through the ages – the Dark Age, Feudal Age, Castle Age, and Imperial Age – by making it one of the globe’s stronger civilisations. To that end, they’ll need to research technology, mine resources, build up strongholds and flatten opponents on the battlefield.
Relic says that Player-Vs-Player (PVP) matches will be limited to 200 units for each player, but with eight possible participants in a game, that’s 1,600 units in all. They’ve also hinted that the game’s main campaign will allow for bigger armies than that.
The classic ‘rock, paper, scissors’ endures, with pikemen beating cavalry, archers beating pikemen at range and cavalry making mincemeat out of archers once they close the distance on them.
Siege towers are back, but they’re now augmented with battering rams and catapults (or trebuchets in this instance). Defending units can now fight on top of walls, as well as on the ground, which adds some more strategic elements to sieges. Units are also now able to hide in forests in order to ambush foes and, in a rather nice touch, if the player clicks on them while they’re undetected they whisper to one another.
In other words, Relic has taken everything that made Age of Empires II a great game back in its day and made some very intriguing and exciting additions.
4. It’s as much a history lesson as it is a game
While Age of Empires has largely been a series set in historical ages, Relic are taking things a step further with this latest instalment. To wit, the game is set to feature narrated documentaries that will provide players with accurate historical context to the some of the battles and activities they’ll be engaged in.
So far, the only one that has been announced is the Norman conquest of England, but it’s likely more are on the way. On top of that, Age of Empires IV features period-specific art, music and even communication between units, with factions speaking archaic and ancient version of their languages, which will evolve as players proceed throughout the ages. For Age of Empires IV, it seems history is more than just a backdrop.
5. The production values are gorgeous
As one would expect from gaming rigs today, Age of Empires IV looks stunning. It can render in both 4K and Ultra-High-Definition (UHD) and while the individual units themselves look somewhat un-detailed up close, when they’re seen from afar on superbly detailed battlefields, they do the job just fine.
Since the player’s view of the game will, for the most part, be hovering above the action – be that building up cities or commanding troops – the textures of buildings and even the lighting changes from age to age.
The game’s score – has had been the case throughout this series – will be suitably epic, to compliment the action. For this, Relic Entertainment have tapped up the talents of Mikolai Stroinski, whose credits include (among the numerous TV shows he’s worked for) The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt and League of Legends.
6. It’s putting the community first
One of the many complaints that players have with modern games is the inclusion of micro-transactions, in which players can buy anything from skins, to weapons to pay-to-win mechanics. This is pretty run stuff to expect in a game sold at full price. Relic is adamant that micro-transactions won’t be a part of Age of Empires IV. While they say that the possibilities of downloadable content – that would be expansion packs – is being explored, micro-transactions aren’t going to feature.
On top of that, those players who like modding their games will be overjoyed to hear that they’ll be able to do this in Age of Empires IV. The game’s director has called modding ‘a pillar of the franchise’ and is determined to keep it. Until its October release, you can play these similar games.