Age of Empires 4 Review

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It’s been more than two decades since Age of Empires 2 launched and became an instant RTS classic and Relic is hoping to recapture that magic with its release of Age of Empires 4 this month. It’s easy to spot the inspiration that the developers took from AoE2 while pulling together their vision for the new entry in the franchise with a title that aims to please long-time fans of the series while also winning over a new generation with some accessible game modes.

Age of Empires 4 is jam-packed with play modes, tutorials, and difficulty levels that offer a path for just about any gamer who is interested in historical strategy, whether they are brand new to the RTS genre or have twenty plus years of experience under their belt. The game may not make too many attempts to add a ton of new features to the tried and true AoE formula, but it definitely nails the diversity of gameplay experiences available. In many ways, it’s incredibly impressive just how much Age of Empires 4 does look, feel, and sound like a modern spin on Age of Empires 2 that still feels distinct enough to not be AoE 2 Definitive Edition. Obviously, the graphics and sound design have come a long way, but, as a reviewer who spent many hours in the late 90s playing AoE2, the essence of the franchise very much shines through.

The new game arrives with eight playable civilizations (factions), four of which also have full campaign modes of their own. Each of these campaigns is pretty cleverly designed to help teach (or refresh) players on the core fundamentals of RTS and AoE strategy. New players will definitely benefit from playing through these scenarios to learn hotkeys, military strategy, resource management, and loads of other tips and tricks. The eight factions all share the same base units, but each one has its own perks and a few varying mechanics to help them feel unique and stand apart from each other.

In addition to the campaign modes (which are also stocked with tons of documentary-style footage and narration about the real-world battles each mission are based on), players can also obviously battle online in co-op and competitive matches with up to seven other players. The success of this side of the game will help determine how long it remains in the zeitgeist and what sort of post-launch content does or doesn’t arrive and so far things seem to be off to a good start. Competitive players will find all the expected game modes and online support for a modern RTS, even if the game is lacking anything new and shiny in terms of game modes to set it apart from the rest of the RTS scene.

The only real areas where Age of Empires 4 may be lacking come with visuals and individual unit control. The franchise has a fairly iconic art style and it doesn’t veer into new territory or push the limits here. Gamers playing on max settings won’t find a ton to be blown away by, but the style still holds up well even if it does feel a bit aged compared to some newer offerings in the genre. As for unit control, some players may find this frustrating until they start to master the game’s hotkeys and quirks. Even then, some units may still not behave exactly as players would expect them to when they are saved with an obstacle or enemy in their path.

Overall, Age of Empires definitely brings enough to the table and captures enough nostalgia to make it an easy recommendation for any fans of the franchise or the genre. For gamers new to RTS, the Story Mode and campaigns actually make it a very strong choice for diving in as well, as long as they aren’t expecting cutting-edge graphics. The fact that the game is going to be available on Game Pass Day One could potentially help expose a large new audience to the franchise and build up some new fans. It will be very interesting to see what kind of reception it receives and, if its successful, what sort of post-launch content could arrive in the coming year to keep the community hooked and engaged.

Age of Empires 4 is available on PC via Xbox Game Pass and Steam starting October 28. Microsoft/Xbox provided Game Rant an early access PC code for this review