AoE4 is less interesting than AoE2 because its units lack ‘coolness’ and ‘personality’

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.
nuke cannon

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.
mammoth tank 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.

To conclude,
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’.


I won’t go into the visual appeal, because this train is gone a long time for me and I don’t think this will change in a timely manner.

What I support, however, is the idea of having special versions of the shared base roster to mix things up. Like palace guards for example. They aren’t flat out stronger than MaA, but mix things up with prioritizing speed and damage. I also like Longbows, Royal Knights and so on, but I think they are just too strong against their counterparts, forcing you basically to go this way. My ideal setup would be having a lot of civ specific versions of the base roster and above average special units.

Would it increase complexity? Keep in mind, that there are special civ techs for the standard units, like english MaA or Abbasids range for Spearmen. Making them unique units and being also a bit more innovative with stat mixing, would be more readable imo.

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The entire approach to civ design ignores every age game ever made after 1999. The standardized unit and building roster is a huge problem for me.


AoE two has a very standardized unit and building roster. One of the reasons it gets boring everyone just builds armies of knights. Personally I think age 4 need a much stronger counter system, this will make it hard to just spam one type of unit and win


Correct. In this way, AoE4 feels less a sequel to the franchise and more an intentional return to 1999.

If you are going to act like AoE2 only, you better be better at being AoE2 than even AoE2 itself.


Wait so your saying it’s going back to more standardized like the original aoe game

There are some highlights in the game with monk mass conversions and fireworks from the nest of bees. I hope the devs have more fun with the unit roster in future civs.

As far as the icons are concerned, even if the unique units could have a bright colored background which drew your attention and differentiated it from common units, it would be an improvement.


This “cool” factor you’re talking about is called cultural awareness in my opinion.

AoE4 military is culturally unaware of the civ it belongs to. Hence the design is bland and boring and uniform across the page.

In other age games, each unique unit picks up something from the history of the civ. But contrary to how they marketed the game, the militaries are just very very historically unaware.


Only 1/3 of the civs have Paladin or Siege Onagers. Cavalier and Onagers are common and only 2 civs does not have Cavalier and other 2 that are strict to Mangonel


Even all the things that came after with AoC and the Forgotten, Aoe2 turn it to be more unique and appealing to play.
No more umbrella civs at most (Slavs only represents Romanians and Rus). Saracens now have Berbers to represent the caliphates that occupied the North Africa and Iberian peninsula. Many changes to even the vanilla scenarios. Better script and trigger system.

Age 2 civs are more unique and different between them that Age 4 ones: not all have the max upgrade on some units, someones even doesn’t have so.ñme basic units, the unique unit is really unique, not every faction have all the building, the passive skills of the civs are important and decisive, etc etc

And I don’t enter on some details like more balanced siege or that high positions really buff shorts xD

Funny that a game 20 years old is better in almost every aspect.

From age 4 I like move up troops on walls… But means nothing because the op siege xD


Yes. units seem too similar to me and the lacks of textures, animations and details don’t help. This Is also the reason why i was Saying that a Better Graphic would have been a good thing along the way.

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Only a man of culture mentions the Nuke cannon, however, I believe there is something to be said about the personality of units in Command & Conquer games, the hamminess was part of the series from the get-go, like Empire Earth (but I don’t think the latter was on purpose).

AoE 1 only had personality because our young minds heard stories of historical events and we filled in the blanks as we played, AoE 2 gave us some extra personality for units over the first installment through the campaign narration, taunts, etc., but still not as much as we’d get a few years later, until this game of course, which has no personality, even the campaign is done in an impersonal HC Documentary style, but when I think about it, the Quick March system, that has an incredibly funny personality.

Notice how AoE4 has no unit memes like the Wololo Priest and Rogan the Villager? AoE4 also has no unit portraits. In my opinion, it’s the most sterile, impersonal Age game of any in the franchise. I am not particularly talented at these game, and I latch onto them for all sorts of reasons other than balance or competitive spirit. I just want to play with cool unique immersive civs with fun and charismatic units.


As much as I agree with the need of overall visual improvements, I have some different opinions.

This is the price for “historical accuracy”. Being a fan of historical accuracy myself, I’d say it requires more design efforts to make the units both more accurate and more impressive, compared to simply combining Hollywood tropes like in earlier AOEs.

In earlier AOEs you have units that are hundred years apart appearing at the same time (3 has a shorter time span, but this period is much better documented so anachronism does not look any less obvious). Huskarls need round shields and conquistadors need morion helmets to be distinguished from regular infantry/cavalry of the castle age featuring kite shields. AOE4 tried to avoid those in its design, the result being all light units for the same civ look alike and all heavy units for the same civ look alike, because that’s what it should be like in actual history.

The other outcome of trying to synchronize all civs is that unit upgrades only turn their armours to golden without changing the design much, and all units, unique or not, advanced or not, eventually look like golden saints, like in AOM. However AOM is half-fictional and has those impressive myth units that AOE4 lacks. Previous AOE games (not including AOM) do not have this typical leather-iron-silver-gold upgrade line like saint seiya but you could still easily spot the more advanced units.

BUT this is NOT finding an excuse for the current unsatisfactory graphics (at least for me). AOE2 made units impressive but inaccurate but that’s 20 years ago. There is a way to achieve both accuracy and coolness and it requires more thoughts and efforts. It’s okay if they are going for the same design idea of sacrificing either coolness or accuracy like in 20 years ago, but both game developer tools and availability of historical sources have improved significantly since then, so that possibility is not completely off the table.

There is another problem that I kept bringing up since earlier footages, which has improved a little but not much: lack of reflections and textures for the metallic parts. That makes the oversized weapons look even worse. Actually AOE2 DE also had much larger weapons compared to original but they still feel metallic.

Also, even the presumed “super units” like firearms are not so impressive. In AOE3 units fly away when hit by cannons (DE improved effects even more. You can feel the shockwaves of cannon fires, and ground shakes when large structures collapse). Now in AOE4 units just die as if getting shot with an arrow on their knees. I know AOE2 was like that but that was made 20 years ago.

Off topic:

Unique units...

Afaik most unique units in aoe2 are not very useful…

This is probably more of a unit balancing problem. They want to (1) emphasize on siege and (2) implement some end-game units so that matches do not last forever in the late game. That’s the result.
But a few unique units in aoe4 are actually quite useful otherwise there will not be so many calls to nerf them.

A funny observation with AOE3 DE...

Original AOE3 was also that combination of Hollywood tropes. You have longbows and organ guns and morion helmets co-existing with a typical 18-century infantry with tricornes at the same time, or a “The Three Musketeers”-styled typical Thirty Years Wars-looking musketeer with a bayonet, which co-exists with a Napoleonic hussar. Not to mention the iconic wild-west outlaws with revolvers and lever rifles in the early game.
Funnily, US and Mexico added in the DE are the most “historically accurate” civs. The evolution of their uniforms followed actual history. They do not have pikes and crossbows along with rifles. However that makes them actually a bit out-of-place as all other civs are spread out all over the place from 15th to 19th century, and these two civs are so focused on the 19th century.

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I think some future “units DLC” could be cool. I see something similar with Europa Universalis IV where Paradox released “units xpacks” for each civilizations. And to be clear, these units look much Better than AOE4: more realistic.


These units look beautiful and i really Hope Relic Will release DLC to add more specific units (much detailed) in the coming months.


Someone please assemble Ensemble Studios again. This game is lacking that heart and soul that captivated multiple generations of players. There’s an uneasy feeling that something is lacking but difficult to exactly pinpoint.

The units are dull and the generic portraits are terrible, those are very good points


I don’t know i played aoe, aoe2 and aoe3 alot. Back in 99 in this msn gaming room under a different nickname i was long time #1 obviously you can’t compare this to these days since there was almost none competitiveness back then you played for fun well and winning was fun but anyway. Aoe4 is a lot of fun for me too, people these days complain about games like they complain about anything. It doesn’t matter how good it is people will complain, these complains will be cought up by some algorithm and finds it’s way into some little game news site… Like with every complain about basically anything… Why can’t people just enjoy anymore? I don’t get everybody is so focused that everything has to be perfect… Good God you will all burn out if you keep this going just enjoy things and you will be fine… I’m pretty sure if aoe2 would be released today still people would complain… It’s just sad.


No need to rely on old people to ressurect the spirit of the franchise. I guess many of us could give a good feedback and suggestion inside their HQ even if we don’t program anything

I don’t know what you mean here. The units all civs share (men at arms, spearmen etc) are far more diverse between the civs than they are in AOE2.

As for the OP I disagree on the cool factor of the units. This part seems entirely subjective.

The UI does stink and lacks the flavour/historic aesthetic of the older age games instead opting for two tone visual blandness.