Age of Empires is one of the oldest real-time strategy (RTS) series to ever touch a PC, and it’s been there for a long time now. The game went through a lot in its two to three decades of history, and now, with the release of Age of Empires 4, it gets a new lease in life. So, let’s talk about Age of Empires 4 and what it can offer Age of Empires players both old and new.
Here is our Age of Empires 4 gameplay review!
What Is the Age of Empires Series?
The Age of Empires franchise is a series of RTS games with serious historical additions to it, though some of these additions might be embellished. The series’ first, Age of Empires, was released in 1997. In total, nine Age of Empires games have been released, with Age of Empires 4 being the latest.
The events of the first Age of Empires focused on the continents of Africa, Europe, and Asia. Timeline-wise, the game spans from the Stone Age all the way to the Iron Age.
The next game of the series was Age of Empires 2: The Age of Kings. The game was set in the conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards in the Middle Ages. After that, Age of Empires 3 focused on the colonization of the Americas by the Europeans.
There would be a lull in the mainline Age of Empires games, with five spinoffs released in the interim. The first, Age of Mythology, and its expansion, Age of Mythology: The Titans, were set in the mythical Greek city of Atlantis. Age of Mythology was released in October of 2003 and sold well. Its expansion, The Titans, didn’t sell as much but was still critically acclaimed.
After that would be Age of Empires: The Age of Kings, a turn-based game for the Nintendo DS. Although the game had promise, it’s held back by some technical issues. Next is Age of Empires Online, which didn’t garner the same praise due to the premium content.
There were then two mobile apps released in the Age of Empires series. These were Age of Empires: World Domination, and Age of Empires: Castle Siege. Both, however, didn’t last long and their services were dropped a year or two later.
What Is Age of Empires 4?
This leads us to Age of Empires 4, the latest and newest entry on the Age of Empires series.
The game is developed by Relic Entertainment alongside World’s Edge with Xbox Game Studios as the publisher. The game was released on October 28, 2021, for PC with the price tag of $60 on Steam.
If players have a PC Game Pass, they can download Age of Empires 4 with no need to buy it thanks to their Game Pass registration.
Age of Empires 4 Gameplay Review
Now that we’ve talked about the Age of Empires series, let’s get on with the review of Age of Empires 4 and its offerings such as gameplay, graphics, and replayability.
Gameplay and Combat
If you’ve already played any of the Age of Empires games and are familiar with the gameplay, then Age of Empires 4 should be pretty similar. As of the game’s release, players have eight Empires to choose from. Each of these empires has various unique units, buildings, and playstyles for players to use.
Players go through four ages no matter the Empire. These are the Dark, Feudal, Castle, and the Imperial Ages. Each age has a specific tenet on what players need to do, from scouting out resources, consolidating territory, ensuring that the economy is stable, and researching tech.
Once players get to the next age, they’ll need to work fast, because the other players won’t be far behind. Constant improvement of your faction is key to victory in Age of Empires, and that hasn’t changed in its latest iteration.
In addition to this, there are also strengths and weaknesses of each unit in the game. For example, Cavalry is weak against spearmen but is generally strong against Infantry units like swordsmen and archers. Archers are good at range, especially at elevated areas but getting up close and personal will immediately deal with them handily. Siege engines like Trebuchets can destroy castle walls, but need to be constantly defended because infantry and cavalry can destroy them in seconds.
This gives combat a lot of ebb and flow, where entire games can hinge on good micromanagement of units or the purchase of a few pivotal warriors.
There are eight playable Empires on Age of Empires 4 on the base game. These are, in no particular order: The French, Mongols, the Dehli Sultanate, the English, the Holy Roman Empire, The Abbasid Dynasty, the Chinese, and the Rus.
The French empire focuses on economy, and sheer, unrelenting aggression. If you’re playing French, you need to be aggressive, take over the map as fast as possible, and just bum rush the enemy.
The benefits that the empire gives reflect this play style. For one, villagers and scouts are produced faster the farther you are in the game. This means you get more people to use in farming, chopping wood, building wonders, et cetera. Economic technology is 30% cheaper. As for melee technology that increases unit damage — the moment the next age is reached, they’re immediately researched for free. Their cavalry, meanwhile, is absolute monsters that benefit from the melee tech. You do not want to be in the middle of a French cavalry charge.
And that’s not even talking about their traders. French Traders are hands down, the best in Age of Empires 4. They can give any resource to a Trade Post, their Trade Ships give more gold, and Trade Posts are immediately revealed through Fog of War. Did we mention that their Second-Age ship is an absolute menace? Because it is, the Hulk has a ballista that can shred any other ship on the Second Age.
All in all, if you’re willing to go aggressive, take as much of the map as possible, and be an overall jackass to the enemy — go for the French, you won’t regret it.
Bar none, the Mongols are the hardest Empire in Age of Empires 4 due to the radical difference their gameplay has. The Mongols are straight up the weirdest empire on this list, and this weirdness can lead to some pretty hilarious situations.
For one, their buildings can move. And not just a few buildings — all of their buildings, from their mills to even their keep, can move. They always start at the maximum population, meaning no houses, and they’re focused on the early to midgame.
In addition to this, the Mongols gain 50 food and gold by setting enemy buildings on fire. Yes, setting things on fire gives them food and gold. This is where the hilarious part of their faction comes into play. If done correctly, the Mongols can bum-rush unready empires and raid them to submission. Their playstyle, then, is made to ensure that their units and buildings can maneuver to good positions for their units to destroy enemy buildings, giving them gold and food in the process.
Of course, this comes at a cost. For one, they’re incredibly reliant on a building called the Ovoo, which creates stone automatically. This is because Mongols can’t gather stone, ever. It’s also necessary for their buildings to be near the Ovoos because they give a lot of good buffs like increasing production and research speed. Thus, even though the Mongols can go everywhere and nowhere, proper placement of buildings is still necessary.
It still doesn’t excuse them from planting their main building in the middle of the enemy base. After which they then proceed to ransack them to the ground with 1st Age units. If you’re doing this, it’s disrespectful — more power to you.
Next up is the Dehli Sultanate, another empire with a focus on defensive gameplay. They’re a very late-game-centric empire with most of their powerful units locked in the 3rd and 4th Ages. Never fear, though, because their technologies are all unlocked at the start. The bad news about this is the fact that researching said technologies is slower than a turtle on a good day.
Luckily for the Delhi Sultanate, they get access to Scholars in the 1st Age. This unit can be garrisoned to any building currently in the middle of researching technologies, increasing its research rate. Their Man-at-Arms can be used to create defensive structures at a pinch as well. This cements their strategy to just hold on until the late game, build tall, defend their territories, and then snowball with elephants.
The Delhi Sultanate gain access to War Elephants in the 4th Age of their Empire, and for good reason. They’re incredibly tough, incredibly strong, and overall, just five or six of them can and will destroy whole armies. In addition to this, they can be upgraded to destroy both infantry and cavalry, all while still having the capability to decimate defenses and towns. The main goal of the Delhi Sultanate is to get these units as fast as possible, which is very doable. And getting them before the rest of the empires get their units fielded — expect a full-on stomp.
As you can probably tell, though, the Delhi Sultanate is very weak on the early to mid-game. Thus, they need to turtle and just endure until they can field their mighty War Elephants.
The English are the easiest faction to play on Age of Empires 4, no question. They’re focused on three things. The first is the economy, amassing a large number of resources to the point of bursting. Next is Defense, turtling through the use of stone walls, making sure that the enemy doesn’t get inside their keep. And lastly, their key unit, the longbowmen, who can make use of said stone walls to pelt enemies with arrows.
Playing the English usually means going for the defensive route. Their entire tech tree focuses on defense, and with good usage of their buffs and units, they can shrug off entire sieges. Of course, they’re a pretty vulnerable empire in the early to mid-game. However, if they’re given the room to grow, they’re one of the empires that’s incredibly difficult to dislodge off an important point due to how annoying their units and buffs are in terms of defense.
Combine this with the ability to get gold from their farms during the 4th Age, and you might be in trouble. Age of Empires 4 late-game is very hard due to the serious lack of gold. If the English have a steady supply of Farms and Mills ready by that point, well, say goodbye to the game in general.
Holy Roman Empire
The Holy Roman Empire is yet another defensive empire with more emphasis on infantry and religion. For one, they have the Prelate unit, which gives various benefits to other units and even buildings. In addition to this, their buildings regenerate and grow tougher when they’re built near certain buildings and landmarks. You can, straight up, turn an entire section of wall into a regenerating, near-indestructible annoyance to breach.
In addition to this, their infantry has loads of upgrades that can boost their damage and AoE. An example of this is their Man-at-Arms, which can get increased damage and armor, making them tougher opponents to deal with. Their Zweihanders have enormous splash damage due to their sword swings but have low HP. Combining the two with some Crossbowmen and players can use incredibly dangerous blobs of melee infantry just destroying units like Cavalry.
Combine this with their sturdy walls, and the power of Religion, and they’ll pretty much hunker down until their enemies exhaust themselves. Then, they’ll deliver a crushing counterattack, savaging entire groups of enemy troops with Zweihanders and crossbowmen. Straight up, if you want a fist of iron to guard and then counter, get the Holy Roman Empire, you won’t regret it.
The Abbasid Dynasty focuses a lot on their Golden Age, and if players play around this they can be very powerful. To do this, they need to build up and around their House of Wisdom. This gives their buildings extra fire resistance, while also increasing their chances of getting a Golden Age. Once they’re at a Golden Age, their production speed, resource gather speed, and research times are boosted, allowing them to speedrun through the ages quickly.
This is done by connecting the entire Abbasid Dynasty base through outposts and other buildings that extend the aura of the House of Wisdom. If done correctly, players can enjoy a myriad of incredibly strong benefits that we’ve already mentioned. In addition to this, the House of Wisdom advances through the Ages by creating Wings in the House. One wing corresponds to each Age. However, players can’t use buildings to speed up the progress of building a new wing of the House of Wisdom.
They also have access to Camel units and Culverins, each with its unique advantages. For one, Camels unnerve the horses of other cavalry units, making them deal less damage. And lastly, their great Culverins anti-siege unit cannons can be fired even when moving.
Next up we have the Chinese, and don’t let that 3-Star difficulty fool you. They’re one of the toughest empires on this list. The Chinese are one of the sleeper empires, you let this empire go too large and expect a lot of trouble in the late game. Why? One reason: the Chinese gain access to Gunpowder through the Chemistry technology on Age IV. And if you know anything at all about Gunpowder, you can guess where this is going.
In addition to this is their unique Dynasty Mechanic. Other Empires usually build just one landmark and be done with it. The Chinese? They can build the two landmarks for an age and then advance a dynasty. Each dynasty has some pretty sweet benefits to them but it can also be a good idea to stay in a lower dynasty to reap their cool buffs. Each dynasty also has a unique building and unit that the player can build, except the Tang Dynasty, the starting one. So there’s a lot of thinking involved in the Chinese gameplay.
Another thing to take note of is their Officials unit. Officials can be used to take taxes from buildings, earning the player gold. However, they can also be used to improve a building’s efficiency, which then means they can earn even more gold.
Still, the player’s main objective is to get the one thing that matters: Chemistry. Then, get as many gunpowder totting units as possible. With this, players can immediately destroy unprepared empires that don’t know any better.
Last but not least is the Rus, one of the harder empires on this list due to how much micro players need to do to thrive. However, once mastered, they’re a really good empire for players that want to make their mark in the game. First off, the Rus usually get their gold by hunting cabins, which are really powerful buildings that get their gold from forests. Thus, it’s usually a good idea to make use of the forests covering your starting area as hunting cabin placements.
In addition to this, they’re an empire that doesn’t need that much stone, as their fortresses and walls can be made out of wood. This makes it a necessary thing for the Rus to section off areas not necessary for defense and hunting cabins as wood gathering areas. Don’t let this fool you; their walls and fortresses have more HP as a result of this.
Next is their Bounty System, which increases the more animals that the Rus hunt down and kill for food. Submitting the bounty animals immediately gives them some gold to start, but that’s not where it ends. Reaching certain points in the bounty system improves both the Rus Villager’s harvest rate, and reduces how long the hunting cabins take to generate gold. At first, hunting cabins generate gold every 30 seconds. When maxed out, this is reduced to 18 seconds. Each of the animals in the game has its specific gold bounty. Sheep give 5 gold, Deer give 10, wolves give 25 and boars give 75.
Of course, all this talk of warriors, siege engines, and empires is useless if the player doesn’t have a good economy. In Age of Empires 4, players need to manage Gold, Food, Wood, and Stone. Let’s talk about these four resources, shall we?
Wood is one of the resources needed to create buildings and having a lot of it can benefit your empire. Getting a lot of it means players can create more buildings, and thus advance further and further through the ages. However, getting wood in the wrong areas can be a death sentence. Why? Because trees provide natural cover that can’t be crossed unless they’re cut down. If players cut down an entire forest of trees that reveal a good flanking route to the enemy, well, they’re screwed.
Thus, it’s usually a good idea to cut down forests that give your empire room to grow while leaving those that cover important areas. There’s a strategy in this, go figure, but this is Age of Empires we’re talking about so it’s par for the course.
Next, Stone is usually needed for walls and fortresses, which means they’re not needed in the early game. However, scouting these stone deposits out can help a ton for your empire’s defense. Make sure to have stone mines ready in time to get enough stone for creating walls in vital areas. This is especially true with the defense-oriented empires like the English and the Holy Roman Empire due to their love of turtling behind walls.
Next up on the list of resources is Gold, and you can probably guess where this is going. Gold is, bar none, the most important resource in Age of Empires 4. It allows players to train special units, do research, and do a few other things. Usually, players can mine gold in the early stages of the game, but these mines run out, and players need to get creative to get gold.
This means, trade routes, officials, farms, and barns up the wazoo, depending on the empire in question. Getting passive gold is essential in the late game if the player wants to win. Thus, players need to make sure to get as much passive gold as possible, you’ll thank us later.
Last but not least is Food, which can be gained in various ways. First, through sheep and other farm animals that can then be killed to get food. On coastal areas, players can set up fishing boats to fish. Berry bushes are also a good source, though they usually run out pretty quickly. The last, and most renewable are farms, though they do need mills or something similar in other civilizations to store said food.
Still, food is one of the most important resources in the game due to it being needed to create most of the units, especially in the early game. Getting a good food surplus is necessary to progress through the ages. If you’re skimping on food, you’re most definitely going to be screwed.
If you’ve already played an Age of Empires game, there’s not that much that changed in Age of Empires 4 in terms of controls. Still, there are a few ways to improve the controls in this game, specifically the controls for individual units and micromanagement.
As of right now, the game’s micro can be a bit tedious but hopefully, it’s something that can be fixed in future patches.
As of now, Age of Empires 4 has two kinds of game modes: the Campaign and the Skirmish/Co-Op Multiplayer.
The campaign has players go through four of the eight playable Empires on various parts of their history. An example of this is the French during the 100 Years War and the Rise of Moscow. Age of Empires 4 has players enter specific battles, missions, and other things while going through the rise of a particular empire.
Other than that, players also have the Skirmish/Co-Op Multiplayer Mode, where up to eight players duke it out in 4v4 fights. In this game mode, players can choose from all eight available empires, and duke it out for ultimate victory. There are several versions of the Skirmish/Co-Op multiplayer mode. There are, of course, the 4v4 matches, the 1v1s, 2v2s with different kinds of win conditions, and 3v3.
Also, there are four different Skirmish Scenarios:
- An Abundance of Riches: A 1v1 Scenario where the defender needs to defend a resource-rich land against foreign invaders. Straight up just destroy the enemy invaders to win.
- A Known Quantity: A 2v2 Scenario where you and an ally try to defeat 2 enemies.
- A Contested Front: Another 2v2 Scenario where a bay separates the player bases.
- A Passage to Conquest: A 1v1 Game Mode. This is similar to A Contested Front.
Graphics-wise, Age of Empires 4 has a bit of edge compared to the remastered versions of its predecessors. That’s not something to be proud of, though, but at least the game looks good on PCs. Still, the main draw of Age of Empires is its gameplay, not graphics, and at least in that regard, it’s great. However, its main difference is on the perspective changes.
Let’s go back a bit towards Age of Empires 2 and 3. In Age of Empires 2, the game is in an isometric format. This means that everything looks relatively the same to the player’s eye in terms of distance. This is changed in Age of Empires 3, specifically on the Definitive Edition, as the game has a bit more depth to its buildings, units, and terrain in terms of its graphic design.
This is given more emphasis on Age of Empires 4, the whole game looks like a 3D world with a lot of cool additions to it. The rendering looks good overall, and if you’re playing on a good PC, the game looks gorgeous.
In terms of sound design, Age of Empires 4 pulled out all the stops. Each of the empires sounds unique compared to the other because they all speak their language. The English speak English, the French speak French, the Chinese speak Chinese, and so on.
Combine that with a slew of other additions like the clanging of blades, the twang of arrows in flight, and overall the game sound is pretty immersive.
Age of Empires 4 is pretty replayable. The thing is, this only applies if the player is playing Age of Empires 4 multiplayer.
The Campaign, on the other hand, is a bit on the railroad side of things, and there’s not that much leeway in the missions. In addition, there are only four available campaigns in the Age of Empires 4 Base Game.
Age of Empires 4 vs. Past Age of Empires Games
After checking out the gameplay and other features that Age of Empires 4 is offering, let us now compare it to its older siblings. Let’s see what is different from Age of Empires 4 in comparison to previous titles including gameplay mechanics.
Key Changes and Additions
One key change that Age of Empires 4 and its gameplay compared to the other games in the series is how empires progress to another Age. In previous entries, players need to create certain amounts of buildings and amass resources to advance. In Age of Empires 4, your main goal is to gather resources and build a monument in order to advance into a new age at least, if you’re on specific empires, others either shirk that, do something else, et cetera.
This leads us to the other point where each of the empires has unique mechanics on how they advance to another age. For example, the Chinese can advance to another age as per usual. However, creating both the Monuments for an Age advances them to another dynasty. The Abbasid Dynasty has their House of Wisdom, and the Mongols just want to ransack people. All in all, it lends to several unique playstyles compared to the other games.
However, there are a few gameplay features that are missing from Age of Empires 4 in comparison to older games. Specifically, the Home City Cards from Age of Empires 3.
To clarify, Home City Cards are bonus effects that your Home City transfers to your colony. This is due to the game’s premise; you’re colonizing America after all, so you ask your Home City for supplies and settlers to start the colony you’re building. As the game progresses, players can gain access to more powerful Home City Cards from custom-created decks that they can purchase for good advantages.
This system is removed from Age of Empires 4, and due to the game’s design, it’s pretty unlikely that this system’s making a comeback. Still, you have to take some things to create something good and this is apparent in Age of Empires 4.
Games Like Age of Empires 4
Now that we’ve talked about Age of Empires 4 and its gameplay mechanics, let’s go over other titles like it. Here are games that share similar gameplay mechanics to Age of Empires 4.
Starcraft 2 is one of the foremost RTS games out there. For one, its older brother, Starcraft, and the Brood War expansion, pretty much helped the explosion of esports in South Korea. In addition to this, the game also had a lot of depth to it due to the strategies that can be developed through the units and buildings the game has.
Fast forward a few years to Starcraft 2, and there were a lot of changes to the gameplay of the game. Some units from the first game are missing while some were given an overhaul. This complicated balancing act lasted for a few years until now, but still, the game stands. Maybe the competitive scene is a bit out of it right now, but the game still holds out even after all these years.
Dawn of War 2
Next up on the list of games with similar gameplay to Age of Empires 4 is Dawn of War 2, more specifically the Retribution expansion. The Dawn of War series is from Relic as well, and you can see the influence that this game has on Age of Empires 4.
Retribution not only added a new faction to the game but also several new features that improve its gameplay. This leads to a lot of great micro for individuals, but due to this, the game lacks the RTS potential that it could have.
Enter Retribution and its wide, sweeping changes in the game’s overall gameplay. For one, players can now field multiple squads at a time, each with their unique traits and abilities. The game now has a lot of emphasis on fielding the right squad for the right enemy. Combine this with a late-game that can get pretty out of hand and the usual dash of Warhammer absurdity, and you have a really good game with a dedicated fanbase. Shame about Dawn of War 3, though; the fans didn’t deserve that.
Company of Heroes
Last but not least is Company of Heroes 1 and 2. Company of Heroes is a WW2 RTS game. The series is also from Relic Entertainment and, like Dawn of War 2, has a lot of things similar to the current Age of Empires 4. This is mostly on its objective-based gameplay on some maps.
Mostly though, that’s where the similarities end, as the game focuses more on squad-based gameplay like Dawn of War 2. There are a lot of good things about the game other than its myriad of skirmish mode maps though. For one, the campaigns, which detail important events and battles in World War 2, are great to play with. This goes double on Ardennes Assault, where you control three US Army Companies at once. That campaign is sheer greatness, and hopefully, Relic can do something similar or better than this in the future.
Check Out the Exciting Gameplay of Age of Empires 4 Today!
Age of Empires 4 has a lot of things going for it: the great, asymmetrical Empires, the cool multiplayer, and overall game progression. However, the game’s campaigns can be a bit lacking for those looking for a good campaign experience. Still, if you’re looking for a good RTS game from the Age of Empires series, this is a good one to get, especially if you’re new to it.