Age of Empires 4 review

Age of Empires 4 is a modern-ish take on the classic real-time strategy format where you get to build towns, set people to work, and engage in battles. The game can be played through a historical lens, or you can square off against other people in PVP. There’s a satisfying nostalgic element to Age of Empires, however, Age of Empires 4 does play things pretty safe and often feels like a spiritual sequel to Age of Empires 2.

When you first boot up the game you are run through a fairly comprehensive tutorial where you’ll build your first settlement, create some villagers, and start gathering materials needed to sustain life there like wood, food, and gold. You’ll soon create a small army and start venturing up the road, where rival factions lay in wait and you’ll engage in different types of battles including soldiers on horseback, archers, and spearmen. For those who have played Age of Empires before, this will be a nice reminder, but it’s a great introduction, giving you all the tools you need to get started.

There’s a whole range of activities you can engage in with your villages including hunting, mining, and gathering wood. You’ll soon be building houses for your villagers, building monuments to demonstrate your societies success and much more. You’ll get into battles before you know it and it’s all about understanding the relationship between soldiers on horses, archers, and spearmen and how they interact with each other. Soldiers on horses don’t like spearmen much, and archers don’t like soldiers on horseback. As you progress through to the endgame you’ll be building defensive structures and working out how to control the map, but be careful of enemies who build cannons and other advanced weapons as they will soon bring down your defensive walls, and let in floods of raiding enemies.

There are a couple of different game modes that really let you flex your strategic brain. This includes a historical campaign. You can face off against English and French Kings, retread the steps of historical battles, or take on different factions from all around the world. The campaign is punctuated with documentary-style videos, which work really well providing you extra context and are presented in a BBC style format. If you don’t want to delve into the main campaign then there’s randomized smaller one-off battles or skirmish maps. These offer smaller, tactical challenges with a variety of map setups. For example, you may have a strategically placed forest, or ravine or river that’s clearly going to get in your way.

There are 8 playable factions in the game including Abbasid Dynasty, Chinese, Delhi Sultanate, England, France, Holy Roman Empire, Mongols and Rus. They do feel somewhat similar, except for the Mongols who definitely stand out on their own. The Chinese have a useful feature where they collect taxes, so you’ll build up money nice and quickly and then Abbasid Dynasty becomes leaders in tech pretty quickly, due to the Baghdad House of Wisdom.

One thing that does stand out though is that Age of Empires 4 feels like a sequel to Age of Empires 2, in that it doesn’t really innovate too much, in fact, some would say it plays it very safe. This could almost be a next-gen upgrade to Age of Empires 2. It fairly easy to compare also given Age 2 and 3 are available on Gamepass. That’s not to say Age 4 isn’t entertaining, it is… but there are no major innovations here, and they play it very safe. Except for maybe one.

That one thing is with the Mongol Empire. They are very mobile, you can burn down villages and they stand out from all the other factions. They don’t have defense systems, like for example, The Romans or the English, but the Mongols are a good demonstration of what Relic can do to freshen things up a little bit. If you are feeling worn down by the classic factions, I’d recommend giving the Mongols a try as they will likely put Age of Empires 4 in a whole new light.

Age of Empires 4 taps into that nostalgic feeling really well, and for gamers of a certain age, it scratches a satisfying itch. The game is packed with over forty campaign missions to test your skills and opens up with classic France vs England battles, including the Battle of Hastings and other famous stand-offs. Things liven up a bit when we’re introduced to the Mongols and Russians, as the tactical battles get tougher and objectives much more interesting.

The graphics and sound design work great, complimenting the solid gameplay. The game looks fantastic and the landscapes are gorgeous. The audio is great too, and I particularly like the murmuring that comes from the villages and townsfolk as they speak in their own little language.

Age of Empires 4 is an entertaining RTS, although often it plays a very safe game and can be easily compared to Age of Empires 2. When the developer flexes their muscles a little with new features like the Mongols, then the game really shines. The campaigns are well thought out, and the multiplayer is instant fun. I particularly like the presentation style, in particular the history-style videos, which really tie the experience together well. If you have played Age of Empires before, then you may not find too many surprises in here, but you will probably like what you see here. Sometimes it feels like a greatest hits compilation of the series, rather than pushing the boundaries of something new.

Developer: Relic
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Platform: PC, and Xbox Game Pass
Release Date: 28th October 2021