The RTS genre is going through hard times now: big-budget real-time strategy games have long been a rarity. All the more surprising that Microsoft has decided to revive the legendary Age of Empires series . After all, sixteen years have passed since the release of the third part, and it came out extremely controversial. Former developers, Ensemble Studios , said that at some point they went so far with rethinking gameplay mechanics that they asked Microsoft to rename the project, as it did with the Age of Mythology spin-off . But they were not allowed. As a result, apart from the 2019 remaster, fans have been waiting for the full-fledged continuation of the series for almost two decades.
And finally they waited.
So different, but still together
Contrary to popular belief, Age of Empires is quite different from the same Warcraft or StarCraft . Of course, the principle is the same everywhere: as in any other RTS, here you need to collect resources, build a base, create units and attack your opponent. However, Age of Empires, unlike most similar projects, pays special attention to the internal economy and the development of the settlement. For the prosperity of a state, it is important to control the extraction of various types of resources, to correctly distribute the workload between workers and to move steadily forward in order to move into new time periods and discover technologies. At the same time, of course, defending their possessions from the encroachments of neighbors – even the slightest mistake can lead to defeat.
The experience of Age of Empires 3 showed that an abrupt change in the general concept can negatively affect sales – in the end, this led to the freeze of the franchise. So the new developers from Relic Entertainment tried to accommodate Ensemble Studios’ mistakes. The team did not change the direction of the series again – in this regard, Age of Empire 4 returns to the basics. The changes in the formula are specific, but they are enough to significantly refresh the traditional gameplay for the franchise.
Take, for example, the asymmetry of the factions. As in previous parts, all nations available in the game have their own characteristics, but now they share a common pool of combat units, which is convenient if you suddenly need to quickly change tactics in the middle of a match. In addition, the asymmetric gameplay has not gone anywhere: the differences between the factions are far from limited to just the fighters. For example, all nations in one form or another need food, wood, stone and gold, but the same Russians do not know the technology of stone walls – which means they do not have an urgent need for stone. But they have improved wooden fortifications that allow them to hold their positions well in the early ages. The Mongols do not have any walls at all, but they need the stone almost more than anyone else, since it goes to the accelerated summoning of units: when the nomads run out of resources in the district,
In Age of Empire 4, there is opposition to any action, regardless of which nations are participating in the match. If your civilization has access to cavalry, this does not at all mean that you need to immediately collect an army consisting entirely of horsemen: it is quite possible that the enemy will have a similar unit simply steeper, so you will lose in an equal battle. There is bound to be some other trick that breaks the seemingly win-win strategy. So, English archers know how to erect palisades in their positions, protecting from cavalry attack, and French men at arms restore health out of battle – they cannot be left alive.
Alas, naval battles are still in the background. They have become more diverse, but still do not catch on
In short, Age of Empires 4 constantly checks how well you understand the capabilities of your own nation and the capabilities of your rivals. For example, the Holy Roman Empire favors a turtle style of combat with an emphasis on heavily armed foot troops. They can periodically make small raids on enemy settlements without any problems, but the Mongols cope with this task more efficiently: their horse archers can fire at the target on the go. China disperses the economy with the help of imperial officials who collect taxes on buildings, and when storming fortresses covers enemy units with gunpowder artillery. The Delhi Sultanate generally employs scientists to accelerate technology research. Therefore, when playing for each nation, there are a number of nuances related to both microcontrol and development strategy as a whole.
100 years in an instant
Although the quality of the playable factions is high, the number is still a little pumped up: in the release version of Age of Empires 4, only eight nations are available. For reference, in the second part, released in 1999, there were thirteen of them, and in the relatively recent Definitive Edition, there were thirty-five. And of these eight nations, only four have a full story campaign that tells about the turning points in the history of the country. Suppose, when passing through Russia, you have to resist the onslaught of the Golden Horde and witness the burning of Moscow, and then take revenge on the Mongol invaders.
The plot is presented through videos that combine CGI and live filming. It looks very stylish and unusual.
By themselves, the story missions, as usual, are reduced to either attacking the enemy, or defending some important point – truly interesting tasks are quite rare. But this is in the order of things. The problem is different: the authors are trying to squeeze a lot of information into the framework of a five-hour plot – the narrative in each campaign often spans several centuries, and the time frame can shift at any time. In one mission it is 1382 in the courtyard and you are defending Moscow, and in the next – in 1478, welcome to the end of the war with the Novgorod Republic. Such a cursory retelling of historical events with interruptions to gameplay is difficult to learn if you do not understand the real story – although sometimes it does not help. As a last resort, it’s easier to find some video on YouTube later., where in half an hour the same information will be conveyed in much more detail and in simpler language.
However, the storyline campaign is still one long prelude to multiplayer battles, where the game is fully revealed. Relic Entertainment approached the training of newcomers quite responsibly: in addition to the plot and standard training, Age of Empires 4 also has an Art of War mode – a set of challenges that teaches players important nuances. Correct resource management, production chains, technology pumping and the rock-paper-scissors principle, which serves as the basis of the combat system. Yet it only looks so simple in appearance: in real matches, where you need to think quickly, this “triangle” feels like an icosahedron.
At the end of a protracted match, the map is left almost without resources: the forests are cut down, the mines are depleted. Everyone is eager to bite off the last pieces of the pie.
You can also practice fighting bots, but at the medium difficulty level, the AI behaves very much herbivorous – it is better to immediately play at high or very high. That’s when the tactical habits of artificial intelligence really start to resemble the actions of a living player. He actively explores the map, sends small detachments for reconnaissance, rebuilds the layout of the army specifically for your troops. If you easily repulsed a couple of cavalry raids with the help of spearmen, then the next time you will be archers and infantry with swords. Over time, you even learn to predict the actions of a computer opponent: from which side he will attack, when exactly will he be engaged in the construction of fortifications.
This skill will help a lot in multiplayer, because a living opponent will try with all his might to destroy your economy. Even the loss of one peasant at the hands of two or three archers can seriously slow down development, and fierce battles are unfolding on several fronts for resource deposits. It is here that you notice a lot of small innovations that force you to assess the situation from a different angle. For example, the ability to place soldiers on walls or the mechanic of dense forests, where units can wait in ambush. Terrain begins to play a key role in tactics, because the location of units on the ground affects their range of vision. Whereas previously grouped buildings could replace walls, now settlements have become more open, and therefore more difficult to defend.
While I was strengthening the base, the enemy decided to capture all the shrines and build a wonder of the world.
In Age of Empires 4, it is very important to act quickly, especially in the first minutes of the match: the more experienced your opponent, the higher the pace of the gameplay and the more expensive the cost of a mistake. Not everyone will like this alignment, but you shouldn’t be afraid of online either. Although rating battles were not available in the pre-release version of the game, in Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition the matchmaking algorithm worked more than properly. It will be strange if this system is not transferred to a new game – as well as the map editor, which is still sorely lacking.
However, Microsoft has n’t lost its face. Despite some flaws, Age of Empires 4 offers time-tested gameplay without unnecessary innovations. It will suit the spirit of both old fans of the series and beginners who can easily get involved in the game thanks to a fairly low entry threshold.
One of the main problems of Age of Empires 4, oddly enough, is not related to game design at all: the price of the basic edition of the game is more than two thousand rubles. Of course, an AAA-caliber project cannot cost a penny, but such a high price tag for a game in such a niche genre is guaranteed to alienate part of the audience. Although, on the other hand, there is also Game Pass … However, here it is up to you to decide how it will be more profitable or more convenient for you.
- competent development of the key mechanics of Age of Empires 2;
- nice interface and visual style;
- individuality of factions;
- intuitive gameplay;
- good readability of battles.
- weak storyline campaign;
- naval battles are still only an addition;
- unexpectedly high price;
- the graphics could be better.