[An AoE Veteran's Review 45hrs+] Equal Parts Awesome & Let Down

As the title states, my 8ish + friends and I are honestly having a GREAT time with the game. There is a lot here to enjoy and revel in, but all of us (AoE veterans all for 10+ years) can’t help but feel that Relic not only played it too safe by catered far too much to the minority “competitive” community, but also just outright missed the mark in so many other ways. In doing so, AoE IV “feels” more often than not, like an “older” RTS title that is dated more so than one that innovates on a proven title. Instead of delivering an experience which builds upon a tried and true formula, expands it, and considers the massive leaps and bounds within the RTS genre as a whole, it chooses not to. After having more than 45+ hours in since launch, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the current state of the game feels more like an “Age of Empires 2.5” at best, and given other RTS options, a step backwards at worst.

That being said, what IS presented is VERY polished and I have put in more time since AoE IV’s launch than most games I have played post-launch but therein lies the issue. During the stress test there was an expectation that certain FUNDAMENTAL features which were lacking and which are present in AoE II Definitive would be at launch. For whatever reason, they simply aren’t and I believe that, if not corrected, could potentially have a resounding negative impact on the game’s longevity.

First, (most of) the GOOD:

  1. The Campaign - highly enjoyable to keep even an AoE vet like my friends and I engaged

  2. New Mechanics
    —>Sheep following scouts
    —>Farms not needing wood to reseed
    —>Building for age advancement
    —>Ability to choose strategy/playstyle/building FOR advancement
    —>Villager production while advancing
    —>New walls & defensive mechanics
    —>Charge mechanic for cavalry
    —>Counter-charge mechanic for Spearmen with “Hold Ground” Stance
    —>Unit specific abilities: e.g. Longbowman’s “Palings” & Arbalistiers’ “Pavise”

  3. Diverse & Varied Civs
    —>Honestly, IMO, there is enough difference to be noticeable for all, some far more than others for sure, but enough to be a “positive”. However, ANY less, and it would have been a “negative” in my book

  4. New Win Condition
    —> Sacred Site - Some love it, some hate it, but I always like ANY RTS mechanic which promote aggression and movement while offering a counter to other strategies (in this instance, countering the wonder-turtle)

  5. New Units - great design choices all around IMO with highly diverse aesthetic differences based on culture

  6. The Aesthetic & Graphics - I know this is another contentious opinion but, at least to me, it “feels” like the next iteration of an AoE title, and I truly think that the maps, textures, civ design choices, and unit aesthetics are truly wonderful and enjoyable to the eye.

  7. The Campaign - there are both pros and cons (look below), but pros of the campaign are awesome standouts. The first of which are the scenarios and time periods chosen. The second are the INCREDIBLE movies that go into detail regarding major cultural, political, or technological innovations that shaped the era. I and my friends cannot shup up about how AWESOME, immersive, and educational they are. We were overwhelmingly, and very pleasantly surprised with the attention to detail and passion illicited throughout and it truly adds to the existing experience positively.

  8. Coat of Arms/Avatar Profile - I really like small touches like this and I enjoy earning personal iconography based on certain win conditions and achievements. HOWEVER, this is just like my gripes with the game. The lack of PRIMARY colors, profuse amount of pastels, and annoying neon looks like the individual in charge of color selection was either A) high at the time and a major fan of Tropical Skiddles, B) hated fans to the point where they wanted their eyes to bleed or, C) wanted people to experience a headache or aneurism or question their sexuality (totally do you, but just sayin’)…Why is this even a thing? Why is having a primary color selection even having to be mentioned…like seriously?

The (less-than-stellar) Outright BAD:

  1. SMALL POPCAP - seriously (aside from the arbitrarily dogmatic “competitive” community fanatically chanting “200, 200, 200”), WHY THE !@#$ in 2021 is the popcap so low? AoE II Definitive at least had the CHOICE of going up to 500 in custom games. I highlight this first as all of my friends and I enjoyed AoE II Definitive’s scale and scope. LARGE economies supporting LARGE armies. The fact that this obviously wasn’t considered “important” and isn’t an option DAY ONE is VERY DISSAPOINTING.

  2. Lack of Custom Game Options - this is an expansion on the aforementioned and also SERIOUSLY A MAJOR DISSAPOINTMENT. An RTS AAA title in this day and age, with a MICROSOFT BUDGET, after 6 YEARS OF DEVELOPMENT, whose predecessor games within the series included, and who KNEW what their long-standing and loyal AoE fans wanted & expected, has absolutely NO EXCUSE for not delivering far more and for that matter, ANY custom options day one.

  3. No New Campaign Mechanics - this is one that I honestly thought was going to be in the game and one that I feel is also a major missed opportunity; the inclusion of a turn-based aspect, or SOMETHING that would provide the player with a level of continuity in the campaign on a larger and grander scale. For those reading this and thinking “then go play TW” you are wrong and missing the point. I am not comparing Age to TW, I am looking at a mechanic that is prevalent THROUGHOUT RTS which AoE IV does NOT have which could make it better. I mean come on, it’s in the title isn’t it!? Age of Empires, the title conjures ideas of building and expanding a small settlement into a massive civilization and empire with a massive economy and warmachine rolling through the Medieval world!! But it doesn’t. Between both the distinct LACK of scale present in battles and no notion of continuation or vestment in the player’s experience, at their core, the missions are just that; the same missions regardless of how many times it is played. The player’s decisions don’t affect the future going forward and they aren’t building off what they did previously. Imagine the campaign where this was NOT the case, and you as the player had real agency throughout the campaign at the tactical AND strategic level!

4)Lack of Inertia & Dynamism in Combat - again, it’s 2021. But even more so, this was at least somewhat present in AoE III where bodies were blasted away with cannon balls. When a fully armored warrior on an equally armored 2000lb+ animal (OR ELEPHANT for that matter) smashes into another equally mounted individual, or one who is NOT equally mounted…let’s just say “physics” happens, and there is what we would call a “traumatic transmission of energy and force” onto the opposing party; it is quite “impactful” to say the least. The same goes for said armored horse and horsemen when going full tilt into a pike or stake/paling blindly. Sarcasm aside, where the heck is the feeling of momentum with boulders, cannons, armored knights with lances, and elephants? You think French Royal Knights are OP (French have been and still are my main since AoE II)? Well, see what happens when I carelessly run them into a pike formation in “Hold Ground” stance, or for that matter longbowman with entrenched palings…I won’t be so careless with charging afterwards I guarantee it…just ask the French Nobility after Crecy, Poitiers, or Agincourt. Yet, ANOTHER missed opportunity and one which could have added so much more satisfaction and depth to game play.


I bought Age of Empires IV on launch day and I and my friends have been playing in incessantly. Despite the great things the game adds, it seems as though there was SO MUCH MISSING which could have, and quite honestly SHOULD have been present DAY ONE. Even more so is that some of these things (might) be able to be remedied with modding…but that ISN’T present day one either.

No, I am NOT going to say don’t buy it, and NO, I am not going to advocate newcomers to the series to stay away, but I am going to say that what little positives exist barely (if at all) outweigh the negatives currently. Many of my aforementioned points should NOT even be present and should NOT be listed in the first place. My only hope is that the devs see the feedback that me and so many others have highlighted as I can tell that the energy and excitement for the title which was initially present is waning. The fact that my friends and I are tempted to simply go back to AoE II Definitive says a lot, as I am, always have been, and always will be a major fan of the Age series. Unfortunately right now, we are seeing what ISN’T there more than we are seeing what IS. Hope this changes and I can eat my words; the sooner the better as I would be happy to do so.

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