I was ranked top 100 players in Age of Empires III: The Asian Dynasties, Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition, and briefly top in Age of Empires 4 during its early release. I myself am a very competitive RTS player. Here’s my take on Age of Empries 4:
-Lighting: The lighting is great, very bright, able to see clearly. 10/10
-Terrain: The terrain is sometimes too high and the camera doesn’t zoom out, so you end up zoomed in against the grass. Most of the game is also plain flat grassland or desert. No snow, ice, heavy sand, or other immersive geographical finishing touches. 1/10
-Water graphics: The water has no waves, no decorative aesthetics. For a game of 2021 they could’ve added more immersive features, heavy waves that affect combat to a degree, or at least used the water graphics of a game such as Sea of Thieves. (1/10)
-Unit/Character Aesthetics: The units resemble their historical accurate counterparts, yet there’s no variety. All the units look exactly the same. There’s no variety, no colors in the shields, armor, unit clothing, as for example a game like Manor Lords, or Bannerlord, amongst others, where the units have a clear individuality. Therefore, it’s hard to become immersed. (1/10)
-Combat Graphics: The units use no real polearm or pike stabs or slashes. They’re all the same basic movements. No aesthetic parrying or blocking whatsoever. Take for example a game like Ancestor’s Legacy where each unit encountering another is having its own mini duel with its own attacks, parries, and dodges, even while taking damage of course. Kinda sad they didn’t implement more realistic fighting tactics. Also, the cannons don’t send units flying upon firing at them. Also, there is no blood. Units fight, get killed, but none of them bleed. Not a single red stain, or dirty armor. (1/10)
Combat Mechanics: The mechanics for infantry, ranged, and cavalry are standard. The cavalry has couched lance charge with makes it very neat, and the pikemen have a spear brace. This adds an element of realism and helps with immersion. Regretabbly, the gunpowder artillery deals no splash damage upon firing at clustered units and siege engines can’t be placed atop walls. The lack of realism when it comes to cannons on walls and splash hurts the immersion a lot. Example: Cannons from Age of Empires III are much more immersive as you see troops flying upon getting hit by cannonfire. (4/10)
-Strategic Mechanics: The game overall has unique civilizations and they all feel different. Some are ramp, some are easier to tunnelvision, some are flex, some are greedy. There’s decent enough variety to either rush, aggro, ramp, boom, turtle, flank. (9/10)
UI & Camera: The UI is standard, would be nice if there was UI aesthetics added. Example, if playing France, to have French colors, banners, etc around the UI (this should be a toggle on/off option of course). The UI and tooltips are easy to read, understand, and manouver around. The camera has already been addressed in a prior patch, although more zoomout would be welcomed. (8/10)
Single Player: Single player fully relies on the player being able to become immersed while playing the game, and Age of Empires 4 seems to prefer competitiveness, ranking systems, and an overall multiplayer design, when it comes to graphics, aesthetics, combat, to the point one would get bored playing single player. You can’t immerse as well as with prior titles such as Age of Mythology or Age of Empires III where the gameworld was more alive. More unit variety, more immersion. Even in single player, you feel you are warming up to enter a competitive RTS tournament. (2/10)
Multiplayer: Healthy player base, both casuals and competitive players. (9/10)
-Immersion & Historical Accuracy Criticism: Troops have no colors on their shields, it doesn’t feel like a medieval army when you look at it. Rather ragdolls. Cannonfire don’t send units flying like in Age of Empires III nor deals splash damage. Siege engines can’t be placed on the wall. All the units look the same. No ditch system or form of digging a ditch for a siege. Ships are too small compared to ground units. Not enough special hero units with unique mechanics or morale boosts, and such. (1/10)
What I would love to see added, blended, or overhauled, would be:
-More terrain weather. Fog, rain, night cycles of sort, clouds around hills, and for terrain to have an actual effect on units.
-Water mechanics, storms, rocks near the shores, ships should have recoil when firing, and should be slower. They’re just too fast.
-Water aesthetics, more realistic water.
-Units having actual fighting stances (animations while fighting, not the mechanical stances)
-Bullet tracers and smoke lasting a little longer in the air for gunpowder arquebus and cannons, smoke aesthetics made a bit more realistic.
-More colors, faces, voices on the units. If one has an army of 50 pikemen, you should be able to tell they’re all pikemen, yet all look different and have an individuality to each of them. Some with a scarf perhaps, some with different kind of boots, gloves, or armor, yet still be able to tell each one is a pikemen.
-Siege engines are very black and white. Catapults are anti-infantry and powder is purely anti-structure mostly. Bombards, should obliterate a cluster of infantry and deal splash damage, as well as send units flying opon hitting them. Cannons themselves should have visual recoil such as in Age of Empires III.
-Blood. It’s a wargame. It doesn’t have to be grotestque, raw, or disgusting. Not asking for dismemberments of unit body pieces. But in a medieval wargame, where units die, there should be blood and their armors and clothing ought to get messy, sweary, armors should get scratched, and visibly we should be able to see it. Example if a unit has 10% HP, that unit should be bleeding, with armor falling apart. In a sense, we shouldn’t even need to have a HP hotbar above the unit to see if it’s full or low HP. The blood is a must for some of us who want to be immersed, feel that we’re there, in an actual mortal battle.
I would still recommend for anyone to get the game and try it out. It’s more fun with friends than solo, lots of fun moments in multiplayer. It’s a fun game, but it is regrettably not captivating.
I will also add, in addition to being a competitive RTS player, I’ve also been ranked in the top 0.05% of the ranked ladder of PvP in World of Warcraft in 2016 and 2017, have participated at one BlizzCon Arena tournament in the past, and I’m in the top 10% K/D ratio in Call of Duty: Warzone. Just to say, this is coming from a compettive gamer with multiple backgrounds.