RTS games are a bit of a fading genre nowadays with a much heavier focus on games with near-instant gratification that are easier to produce, as well as not many studios having a focus on the RTS genre in general. Age of Empires is an incredibly long running series that I haven’t had the chance to play before this entry, so seeing how the game is set up to assist new players is already a good sign. An issue that many RTS titles have is the massive barrier to entry, so seeing the attention paid to newer players is already a good sign. Age of Empires IV not only is able to ease new players to RTS concepts and gameplay, but has the added bonus of featuring history and wartime strategy lessons within the main campaign.
My main issue with RTS titles is that I’m a longtime turn-based RPG and at times grand strategy player, so my preferred style of strategic gameplay is turn-based. Micro-managing hoards of units for resource gathering, purpose settlement, military affairs and all the like is overwhelming since you need to manage it all at the same time. What Age of Empires IV did that I really enjoyed was outlined the importance of each feature, and eased me into what resources convert into what units or buildings. First came food, then came wood, then came gold and the three were fundamental in creating newer, better units and advancing to a new age for new units to unlock. As the tutorial progressed they outlined strategies such as sending infantry units to stop horsemen, and sending archers to sit on vantage points in order to ambush infantry units. These, combined with the fact that there was a massive importance placed on resource management and creating new villagers and buildings was enough to let me know what I was in for in a casual match, and perhaps the story.
While I understand that this is Age of Empires, I was not expecting a full on history lesson when I began the first mission of the campaign. The game opened with almost a mini-documentary about the Battle of Hastings after the tutorial, even with detail paid to how the event was recorded and why this battle in particular decided the fate of England as we know it now. This was followed by the introduction to the battle with gameplay, with the player leading the charge against the Saxons in the Battle of Hastings. The game reintroduces you to combat as well, having you reproduce the tactics used at the actual Battle of Hastings in order to turn the tide even from a disadvantageous position at the bottom of a hill. This was the most interesting part for me, replicating strategies like feinting units to break the shield wall and then pick off the stragglers in order to recoup the tide of the battle. Small things like this would be harder to replicate in turn based strategy, so seeing them play out in RTS was really exciting. I was also enticed to start my own custom game, playing as the Mongols to see if there were any differences between playable teams. The Mongols have a really cool set of systems for producing double units and making a ton of gold for unit production, as well as easy food sources. I wasn’t too great at sieging the enemy, but being able to immediately grasp the basics and get relatively far in the game spoke a lot to me about how well the tutorial functioned for basic gameplay. It wasn’t anything groundbreaking, but it felt like I was able to use what I learned to build a small empire and have some skirmishes while trying to practice managing resources and villagers.
Overall, I think Age of Empires IV is an incredibly cool game if you’re a war or history buff. RTS is hard to get into, but if you’ve got the patience to learn the game and take the time to experience the campaign there’s a lot there for you. Even having the ability to scale the difficulty down is there so the campaign is more of a history lesson and learning experience. While I haven’t been able to play prior entries in the Age of Empires series, I feel like Age of Empires IV has enough of a solid foundation to not only teach new players who might want to get into RTS, but challenge veterans alike with higher difficulty settings. Going the extra mile in these types of games is hard, but there’s substance here for those willing to go that deep.
Score: 8 out of 10
Reviewed on Windows PC