One of the best series is ready to return the RTS genre to its former popularity
Even before the beta testing of Age of Empires 4, many fans of the series were wary of the game, as it talked about the Middle Ages – a period that has already been shown in the series. According to the first trailers, the game resembled another remaster of Age of Empires 2 with graphics slightly better than in the re-release of the third part. In fact, it turned out that the worries were mostly in vain. Visually, the game looks good, and the gameplay did not disappoint. The return to the Middle Ages turned out to be interesting: Relic Entertainment and World’s Edge changed their approach to civilizations, essentially making a remake of the second part, and did not repeat the blunders of Age of Empires 3 .
In Age of Empires 4, I was able to play during the beta testing, which took place in September. At that time, only the multiplayer mode was available, and it left a pleasant experience for most players. In the final version of the game, two modes, which have already become classics for the series, were added to the multiplayer – Campaign and Art of War.
The key gameplay concept of Age of Empires 4 has not changed when compared to the second part. The player has four resources at his disposal (wood, stone, gold and food), with which he builds buildings, researches technologies and moves from one era to another. There are four eras in the game: Dark Ages, Feudal, Castle and Imperial Era. Before moving to a new era, the player chooses one of two bonuses in the form of historical buildings, which give a powerful effect. In the third part, this role was performed by governors who were not physically present on the map. Now, for the construction, you have to allocate additional space and make sure that the enemy does not interrupt the construction progress. Once in multiplayer, the enemy managed to do it, which eventually slowed me down and led to defeat. This change, albeit not large-scale, makes PvP matches more fun.
Before each mission, players are shown cutscenes in the spirit of the History Channel programs. The video combines 3D graphics with real filming in the places of historical events
On release, 8 civilizations are available in the game: England, Holy Roman Empire, France, Delhi Sultanate, Abassid Dynasty, China, Mongolia and Russia. Unlike Age of Empires 3, there are no unique stories or characters here. Throughout all story campaigns, players will only meet historical figures – from Dmitry Donskoy to Joan of Arc. They will also lead the armies.
A similar list of factions was in Age of Empires 2, but then Russia was absent. Surprisingly, it was her campaign that the developers made the most exciting. In each mission, Russia has excellent maps and, perhaps, the most difficult opponent. In the story, players will have to unite the lands of the princes and fight the Tatar-Mongols – the most mobile faction. Among the missions available are the Battle of Kulikovo and Standing on the Ugra River. Russian-speaking players have not seen this in strategies since 2007, when the 13th century came out . Glory or death .
The graphics and animation in Age of Empires 4 is one of the best among the RTS, released in the last couple of years. Unit models look the worst, but the developers took this step in order to optimize the game on weak PCs
The English campaign turned out to be the weakest in terms of tests. The developers considered that the training mode was not enough and decided that the players needed hints and the most simple missions even in the campaign for the British (they did not do that in the previous parts). In addition, England seemed to me the easiest faction to master. Its military bonuses turned out to be interesting, but the economic ones were the least striking of all nations.
The civilization mechanics in Age of Empires 4 are the most varied of all that the various parts of the series have offered. I have played for all factions in multiplayer and battles against AI, and for a long time I have not experienced the feeling when, with such a variety, the balance is so good that you get lost in choosing the nation that you want to master for a successful PvP game. For example, Russia is weak at the start and does not have stone walls, but it rapidly develops due to income from huts, and by the middle of the game it is one of the best factions. The Mongols have a mobile base and begin to annoy from the first minutes of the match with constant raids, then attacking, then retreating. Cope with them only the British, whose combat units can be assisted by peasants, shooting from bows.
The game optimization is impressive. The developers managed to achieve stable 60 FPS not only on a PC with AMD 3700x and RX 5600 XT on ultra-graphics, but also on a laptop with 8 GB of RAM and an i5-10210U at medium graphics settings.
The battles in the game are built on the classic principle of the genre – rock, scissors, paper. The spearmen beat the cavalry, but they suffer from the swordsmen and archers, the cavalry deals with the archers and swordsmen, and the spearmen get from the archers. Apart from doing good work on balance, the devs exceeded my expectations in terms of unit actions. I’ve played all parts of the series, and in Age of Empires 4, squads for the first time in my memory do not get stuck in the scenery. Also, on any type of terrain, they stand in the selected formation, keeping it until they die. Moreover, in Age of Empires 4, units have learned to hide among the trees, not creating crowds, and the enemy passing along the road will not notice them.
Another victory for Age of Empires 4 is the interface. Those who have played any previous part of the series, including the remasters, will remember how uncomfortable it was in them compared to other eminent RTS. In the new game, the intuitive and eye-pleasing interface is the first thing that catches your eye. Everything from the font to the size of the tables looks perfect.
Units of all factions speak their native language. I was glad that the voice acting of Russia does not have a cranberry aftertaste
In less than 18 hours of playing “four” I came across only two bugs. If the first of them in the form of siege towers stuck in each other happened only once, then the second came across more often than we would like. From time to time, units could not pick up resources scattered around the map, which remained until the end of the mission or match.
Age of Empires 4 turned out to be a modern RTS with a classic formula, understandable even for a beginner. The authors went along a fine line, making the gameplay of all civilizations unique, but at the same time without innovations that could reject long-time fans, as happened with Age of Empires 3. In many ways, therefore, Age of Empires 4 is an example of a successful continuation of the cult RTS. I would very much like to see the same successful new parts appeared in other famous games of the genre. For example, Warcraft and Command & Conquer.