After having played the game for a while after release, I surprisingly found myself getting bored with it after about a month.
Despite of the fact that civs are quite different from one another, every match is more or less the same, using the same units and working yourself up to the same superpowerful units to end the game, while none of these units are ‘cool’.
I’d say there are four main problems with AoE4.
Problem 1 - AoE4’s units do not have the ‘cool factor’
RTS games aren’t just about countering units against one another in a calculating cold manner. Part of the experience is also the joy of using certain units that are just ‘cool’. Anyone who played Red Alert 2 knows that the Soviet Apocalypse Tank was more than just a simple unit. The unit was ‘badass’ and ‘epic’. This became even more so when in the expansion (Yuri’s Revenge), the unit was given a cool Russian Arnold Schwarzenegger type of voice.
The same is the case for the Chinese Nuke Cannon in the game Command and Conquer Generals. Blowing up a group of enemy units with this ‘Siege Unit’ was just epic.
Age of Empires 2 also did this right. The units had detail and ‘looked good’. In addition, the ‘coolest’ units were always the unique units. The Teutonic Knight was a cool unit, walking slowly with one hand in his pocket as if he knew he could easily defeat 5 opponents at the same time and therefore didn’t give a damn. Compare that to the AoE4 Holy Roman Empire Man-at-Arms. These units basically come across as little clowns with huge feathers on their heads.
In addition, it does not feel ‘epic’ to destroy a whole army with a bunch of Mangonels. It rather comes across as lame. If the mangonel had a cool voice reflecting its destructiveness, a much better design, a cool voice and a much slower moving projectile, it perhaps wouldn’t be such a boring and lame unit. In that case it would be ‘cool’ to destroy an entire army with it.
Problem 2 - Every civ has access to the same superpowerful units, none of which are ‘cool’
No matter which civ you play, the best way to defeat your opponent is just by building large amounts of siege units. Every civ has access to these boring siege units.
From age 4 onwards, every civ has access to the powerful Hand Cannoneer. This unit completely lacks ‘coolness’ as well, but is the strongest footsoldier unit in the game, despite of the fact that it is not even a ‘unique unit’.
Problem 3 - The lack of ‘coolness’ already starts with the boring icons
Check out this Red Alert 1 icon.
You can already tell just by looking at the icon that this unit is probably one of the most powerful units in the game. It is. And in order to get access to it, you first have to build a special late-game building. After that, you see this icon appear in your list of icons. The ‘coolness’ factor already starts with the icon of the unit appearing in your list of buildable units.
Check out this AoE2 icon.
You can already tell by this icon that this is a very dangerous and capable swordfighter. He exudes ‘personality’ and ‘badassness’.
Let’s now take a look at some of the AoE4 icons.
These icons contain some of the most unique units in the game. But could you tell? Probably not.
These icons are as boring as the signs you see in traffic while driving to the supermarket. They lack personality and seem meaningless. None of the units that these icons represent are presented as being ‘cool’.
I’d say this traffic sign I found near some rural town is probably cooler than the icons used in AoE4.
Problem 4 - AoE4’s unique units are usually boring support-type units or thrash units
In AoE2, the unique unit was often also the most powerful unit that a civ had access to. AoE2 originally contained 12 civilisations. No matter against whom you play, you can be sure that - from the Castle Age onwards - the unique unit will play a major role. If you play against the Celts, you can be sure to have to deal with the fast-moving Woodraiders; if you play against the Goths, you have to anticipate that you’ll have to deal with the impenetrable Huskarl; if you play against Japan, you can be pretty sure that your own unique unit will be effectively dealt with by the Samurai.
In AoE2, unique units were important and impactful. Despite of the fact that almost every civilisation had access to the Paladin, the Albalest, the Champion and the Elite Mangonel, the unique unit was almost always a very relevant factor with a huge influence on how the battles would play out.
In AoE4, this is completely different. No matter which civ you are, Hand Cannoneers and Siege Units will take care of everything. Unique units are boring units that completely lack real relevance. They do not force respect. The only exception are Delhi Sultanate’s elephants. The English Longbows and the French Royal Knights come to mind. Compare that to AoE2’s 12 unique units the game was launched with in the previous century. The fact that AoE4’s unique units are often replacements for existing units doesn’t help either.
my opinion is that AoE4 has a serious problem with its units. Despite of the fact that each civ has some interesting unique building/resource mechanic, the units lack personality, are boring and are not ‘cool’. This is even more problematic for the unique units, which are supposed to be the coolest and most powerful a civilisation has access to.
Because of all of this, many people feel that AoE4 misses ‘something’.