The Age Of Empires series is one of the best historical real time strategy franchises out there. It’s easy to spend hours lost in its nonstop action. Developer Relic Entertainment has a tough act to follow the beloved Age Of Empires II and III. While Age of Empires IV offers many new changes, does it warrant its own existence?
Right off the bat, when you load in to the game for the first time you are greeted with accessibility options and a brief tutorial. Unfortunately, the game currently lacks the diverse scenario options that made Age of Empires II so great. The developers however, have noted that these will be added in a later update. As it is, you can still play a standard game. The AI is more than competent, posing a challenge even on lower difficulty. In fact, this is probably the best single-player AI in the series. New to the franchise are specific bonuses for each individual faction, similar to racial bonuses in the Civilization series. However, the most important change is how you achieve victory. It is now easier to win without playing in a constant war state. In addition, several quality of life changes, including easier hotkeys in menus.
Multiplayer has once again returned, and while you’re mostly going to be playing in private lobbies, connecting to random players handles well. The game options are sorely missed here as well. For example there is no random civilization option at launch, and playing all random matches with friends is quite fun. This entry feels most like a direct successor to Age of Empires II, but it may take some time to reach its full potential. For example, the max zoom is still very small, and would help with large unit performance. According to the roadmap, mod support will not be available until 2022. Despite this the game feels the same as its addicting predecessors.
Graphically, Age Of Empires IV brings the series into the modern age. While I have always been fond of the well done pixel sprites of Age of Empires II, this game is not ugly by any means. The modelwork and textures look and work great, with resources degrading visually as they are used up. The environments feel realistic and reactive to change. The music is soothing, suitable for long games. Even the menus feel easy to navigate, and are useful for series newcomers. Strangely, blood is absent at launch, with no explanation if it will be added later. While it won’t blow you away, this is a good looking game.
During my ten hour playthrough of the campaign, I experienced no bugs and had good performance througout. While it does dip below the preferred fifty at times, in single-player it excels at keeping a good pace even during large battles. Large fights can cause multiplayer games to hitch, leaving those with poor connection in the dust. Despite that, Age of Empires IV is a well polished game, even if it lacks the massive content of other entries.
If you feel like you’ve exhausted whats on display in the prior installments, Age of Empires IV won’t disappoint in continuing the legacy, though it will leave you wanting more. I look forward to seeing how the game blooms, though I wish they gave this one another month in development time.
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