our full review and all our impressions

Age of Empires IV is long overdue, but it’s finally in our hands. Between resuming the winning formula of its illustrious predecessors, the emphasis on historical reality and some new features, does the game meet the expectations that we may have of an RTS in 2021? Answer in our test.

16 years after the release of Age of Empires III, Microsoft is reviving the cult license of the PC strategy game. In recent years, we had had a Definitive Edition for each of the first three opus of the saga, but these remasters were mainly used as an appetizer while waiting for the release of Age of Empires IV. The latter is developed by Relic Entertainment, to whom we already owe several well-known real-time strategy (RTS) games, the Company of Heroes and Warhammer 40,000 in mind. All published by Xbox Game Studios, Microsoft’s video game publisher.

The title is released on October 28, 2021 on Windows PC (Steam and Microsoft Store) and will also be available from the day of its launch on Xbox Game Pass for PC. We were able to test Age of Empires IV thanks to a code provided by Microsoft, this is what emerges from our first hours of play.

Back to the medieval era

The first Age of Empires invited us back to ancient times, Age of Empire II revisited the medieval era, and Age of Empires III tempted the colonial era. One would expect that Age Of Empires IV would continue to advance in the chronology of history and offer us an immersion in the world wars or in the contemporary world, it is not. This new episode takes as a frame the middle ages, as was the case with what is considered by many to be the best Age of Empires, AoE 2.

In Age of Empires IV, eight civilizations are playable at the exit of the game. The French, the English, the Mongols and the Russians are the protagonists of the four solo campaigns of the software. It is from their point of view that we see the events, respectively, of the Hundred Years War, the Norman Conquest, the Mongol Empire and the Ascension of Moscow. The other four peoples, which cannot be played in the single player adventure, but only part of a skirmish against the computer or online, are the Chinese, the Delhi Sultanate, the Abbasid Dynasty and the Holy Empire. Roman Germanic.

Test Age of Empire 4
The player controls the English during the Norman Conquest, then the French during the Hundred Years War

Single-player campaigns are made up of a lot of small missions that don’t really set up a long-term forward strategy. And in many cases, the player is guided on the procedure to follow in order to progress. This is due, we will come back to it later, to the systems of narration and historical fidelity which also make the charm of the game. But the most interesting parts that you will play will not be suddenly on the side of the single player mode.

There is no order imposed to carry out the different campaigns, but it is better to start with the Norman Conquest, which acts as a tutorial, and provides many tips to understand the basics of the game. In addition, here we are playing the English, which is arguably one of the easiest civilizations to learn.

Test Age of Empire 4
Bayeux, the first important city captured by Henri I, son of William the Conqueror

Age of Empires IV does not revolutionize the genre

Because yes, each people has of course its gameplay specifics and its own mechanics, which allows to vary the pleasures and the ways of playing or to the player to find the civilization which suits him best among the eight possibilities. The Mongols rely heavily on its mounted units on horseback which move quickly, while other civilizations will certainly have horsemen in their army, but also with many soldiers, archers, healers and others on foot. Nomads, the Mongols will also be able to move their buildings to another location rather than having to rebuild a new outpost from scratch. It is both historically compatible with the reality of these people and intelligently integrated into the game.

Despite these differences between civilizations, Age of Empires IV relies on a recipe well known to players of RTS and previous AoEs. You have to set up your camp, protect it, set up an economy that works and do not neglect any resources (food, gold coins, wood and stone), build new buildings, improve them, and produce combat units to send them to slay the enemy. Just like back then.

Test Age of Empire 4
The Mongol Tech Tree

The variety provided by the advantages that each civilization holds is felt especially during the preparation phase than during the battles themselves, which remain fairly classic: it is necessary to use strategy to try to surround the enemy, to reach the opposing archers with his mounted units, who must avoid the lancers … siege machines are always essential to storm the fortified places, and it will be necessary to prepare a battle very differently according to whether it is a question of defending its position, of attacking that of the enemy or of a battle on neutral ground. But in the end, if it is necessary to exploit the strengths of one’s civilization to try to gain an advantage in the game, the impact of these differences seems somewhat light to us and often does not shake up the game mechanics in depth. that Relic feared a certain imbalance by going further.

On the technical side, the game benefits from a graphic touch that is described as rather successful. The artistic direction seems attractive to us, the finesse of the details is not always at the rendezvous, but that is not what we ask in priority of an RTS either. However, the quality of the units’ animations would have been more worked on to provide better fluidity of movements and why not a relative adaptation to the terrain practiced. The soundtrack is neat and pleasant, with themes for each civilization and for each period covered by the game. Some lines of dialogue are planned for the units, in the original version please (in English with the English, in Russian with the Russians etc. ).

Test Age of Empire 4
These plans are tasty

In AoE 4, a hero hardly turns the fate of a war

One of the developers’ promises with single player campaigns is to make us play great war heroes. This is the case, with Joan of Arc, Genghis Khan or the descendants of William the Conqueror. Which have special skills, which will notably improve a characteristic of the units around them. They still have a limited influence in battle, we are far from the heroes of a Warcraft or a The Battle for Middle-earth for example. Age of Empires IV is playing it rather historical realism and these characters will especially slightly boost their army, do not expect them to defeat a horde of enemies alone. There is no RPG system to improve your hero, to choose skills to personalize his experience. A little renewal could have participated in giving a fresher breath to the series, of which this last episode remains perhaps too faithful so many years later.

This bias is understandable, AoE being in essence a game that remains in the perspective of building great armies. Large, but not too much either since we have a limit of 200 units per player, a threshold established so as not to reduce performance too much with the display of too many units at the same time on the screen while forcing us not to remain confined in our camp to indefinitely increase our army. To come back to the subject of the heroes, if they cannot stand out unduly on the battlefield, we would at least have liked them to be better highlighted by other means, such as with in-game dialogue. would complement the narrator’s interventions, which are also welcome to explain the historical context and tell us battle anecdotes.

Test Age of Empire 4
The enemy is waiting for us firmly

One of the big strengths of the game undoubtedly comes from all the historical elements distilled throughout the campaigns. Age of Empires IV wants us to relive great moments of history, and this is not a simple pretext: the means have been put to multiply the information points in a fun way and by varying the content. The missions are interspersed with documentary-type sequences with real images of the landscapes crossed, on which armies of soldiers have been incorporated by synthetic images. We also unlock very interesting and well-documented reports as the campaigns progress, such as on the trebuchet for example. Then between the cutscenes, the text, the timelines and the narrator once in play, we are showered with information, but in a balanced way, without it ever being too much. “Age of Empires IV will bring history to life like never before”, Microsoft had promised us, the promise is kept.

In conclusion

Age of Empires IV is a good RTS which masters very well the mechanics of the genre, which it has largely helped to define. But this new opus does not reshuffle the cards and beyond the rather convincing graphics, the gameplay changes little compared to its predecessors or its competitors. New features, there are some, but they do not have the expected weight on the gaming experience. Still, those nostalgic for the old Age of Empires will find quite their account, just like fans of strategy games … and history. For beginners, the long scripted tutorial in the form of a campaign, which allows you to get used to the features and controls available, can be a good introduction. But if you’re not particularly keen on RTS, AoE 4 won’t change your mind.

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