Age of Empires IV Review

October 25, 2021

While Age of Empires fans have been getting a lot of love in recent years, with remastered ‘definitive’ versions of the original three games, they’ve also been waiting 16 years for an actual new instalment. That wait is finally over, with the release of Age of Empires IV, developed by Relic Entertainment, the team behind the Dawn of War and Company of Heroes series. As a sequel, Age of Empires IV hews closer to the earlier origins of Age of Empires II than the changes brought about by III, and while it’s always nice to see a modern wide release of a traditional real-time strategy game, Age of Empires IV may appeal more to the original fanbase and history buffs, rather than attract newer audiences.

Booting up Age of Empires IV will take you into a somewhat laborious tutorial on basic RTS mechanics, before suggesting you tackle the new campaigns on offer. These campaigns are presented essentially as historical documentaries, with lots of glossy drone footage of modern day castles and sites, overlaid with simple visuals to illustrate where troops would have been moving 1,000 years ago. It’s entirely told through narration, taking players through four periods of history – The Normans, from William the Conquerer in 1066 until 1217; The Hundred Years War between the English and French from 1351 to 1450; The Mongols’ arrival in the west from 1223 to 1273; and the rise of Moscow from 1238 to 1552.

Not every playable civilisation gets its own story, but what’s here gives a broad, but dry overview of history, as major battles and events are simplified to somewhat accurate retellings (the first mission, The Battle of Hastings, is reduced to a single feigned retreat). The campaigns are useful to learn the mechanics of each of the civilisations, but aren’t immensely interesting in and of themselves unless you’re really into your history. As rewards, sprinkled throughout the campaigns for successfully completing missions, you can unlock further videos and documentaries about specific aspects of medieval life like castle building or mail making, and again these are quite well produced live action overviews, but still fairly dry.

There are eight civilisations in total – the English, Chinese, French, Holy Roman Empire, Mongols, Rus, Delphi Sultanate and Abbasid Dynasty. In theory, each of them act as ‘semi-symmetrical’ in terms of gameplay, as while all of them share basic units and standard mechanics, certain civilisations do get some special units, and are better geared for certain styles of play. The English are your bog-standard RTS gameplay, and the easiest to learn on, as they depend on and excel at basic resource gathering from food production to produce infantry. The Chinese get a range of unique units built around gunpowder, which unlock more and more as they advance through ‘Dynasties’ in gameplay. Meanwhile, the Mongols can forgo a lot of the base setting-up, as you begin with a maximum population already unlocked without the need to build houses, making them instantly more mobile.

Age of Empires IV allows you to think on a more macro level than some other RTS games, as there aren’t many character powers or cooldown timers you have to stress about. You’re more often going to be thinking tactically about how you want to attack an enemy, setting up control groups with specific unit types that’ll beat an enemy weakness, making formations that are suited to break enemy lines, or planning ambushes from stealth foliage around the map to break reinforcements or patrols. That tactical aspect of gameplay is where Age of Empires IV shines, and if you already have a working knowledge of common military strategies, it’s fun trying to implement them in-game. Newbies can also learn about basic tactics and in the helpful Art of War mini-missions, that also award trophies for better performance.

The tech trees of each of the eight races take a bit of time to get your head around, and how successful you are in the game’s multiplayer does depend on how well you understand your chosen civilisation’s strengths and how to use them to exploit your opponent’s weakness. There’s nothing here that’s revolutionary for an RTS game like Age of Empires IV, or even takes much inspiration from other modern competitors or genres, but the multiplayer gameplay is solid, with support for up to 4v4 matches. I suspect existing fans of Age of Empirewill find plenty to like here in learning the ins and outs of each option, and finding their favourite that suits their playstyle. I got fairly trounced in most of the matches I played online, but that’s not to say I didn’t have fun learning the mechanics of each of the civilisations on offer, and there’s quite a bit of depth here to get into if you’re willing to put in the time.

I’m not sure how well Age of Empires IV will go in attracting a new generation to the franchise. The game’s presentation is rather average for a modern game, even when playing on the highest settings. Models and detail is rather low and not worth zooming in to get a more cinematic view, and the map suffers from constant pop-in from tree and environment models from low-detail to high-detail with enormous frequency. Hopefully this means that the game can get up and running on a maximum of systems out there, lowering the technical bar for entry, but it doesn’t make for a very attractive game. I’ve also had small issues with pathfinding and units wandering off, or glitching up walls when moving into fortified towns. These kinds of bugs are the kind of thing that should get ironed out in the road ahead, and are honestly nothing really new for any major RTS release for as long as I can remember, but still disappointing.

Age of Empires IV is a solid return for the series, presenting a traditional RTS experience that’s an evolution from Age of Empires II, but not a revolution. It feels more like an attempt to establish that RTS formula in a modern game, where hopefully it can find a modern audience to revive the series again. Fans, I’m sure, will be pleased to finally have some new material to play, and while it can be dry the campaign does offer four new journeys through periods of history. The semi-symmetrical gameplay means that it’s not too difficult to get started on any one civilisation in the game, but learning how to take advantage of their specialties reaps rewards in multiplayer. Playing through Age of Empires IV was a blast from the past, in more ways than one, and the game’s ultimately a successful safe return for a series that has been absent too long.


-Several different civilisations with different bonuses that may suit your playstyle
-A return to traditional RTS gameplay but for modern systems, with a cleaner UI
-If you're a fan of the History channel, you'll get your money's worth with the campaigns and short docos here


-Visuals are rough and unimpressive
-Pathfinding issues and bugs at this early stage
-Campaigns' sedate storytelling pace is dull

Overall Score: