Closed Beta + Stress Test Comprehensive Constructive Feedback

Posting a big list here of all my feedback categorized for the development / strategic team behind Age 4. I had an absolute blast playing the Closed Beta and the Stress test, and both times I couldn’t wait to play more. I’m itching to get my hands on the game come October. Can’t wait.

I tried to be as constructive as possible - in some cases, I didn’t have any ideas on how to fix things and in some I did. I also labelled improvements with approx dev effort vs. game impact labels.The character limit for topics is 32k which I far exceeded lol, so I split the things I loved into a google doc, and kept the improvements here so discussions are easy to follow with quoting etc.

Any civil discussion on the thread I’m stoked for - thanks for reading!

Gen UI/UX/Graphics/Immersion

:heart_eyes: Loved:
Direct link: Age of Empires 4: Comprehensive Closed Beta + Stress Test Feedback Contd. - Google Docs

:grimacing: Dislike / needs to improve:

  • unit textures across the board need to improved. I can name quite a number of units that look weird when you zoom in even a little bit… they look sort of blocky. (effort: low-medium, impact: very high) (:grey_question: we may not be seeing the full-build of the game with all textures as they probably wanted to make the closed beta and stress test quickly downloadable)
  • the upgrade icons could use a color distinction with each level-up and the 3 dots on the top right should be made larger. The current design feels lazy. I found these icons hardest to differentiate when first playing the game. I also think the sword vs. arrow could use a better distinction. Perhaps the arrow could be more arrow like? I found the Survival Techniques and Professional Scouts to be too similar too. (effort: low, impact: very high)
  • what’s the point of having interesting upgrade names (Damascus Steel, Specialized Pick, Acid Distillation), when the character / feel evoked by them is not represented in the icon at all? Again, I’m not asking for the AoE2 style icons which has its own ups and downs… I do like the minimalist style which communicates the intent faster, but please, at least add some character or color differentiation. Yes, keep to the color palette, but add some character please! Also visually nothing changes with upgrades, so most tech upgrades feel like “invisible” stat boosts, except for tech like Professional Scouts of course where new mechanics are introduced. Nothing visually seems to change with unit upgrades either. For a game in 2021, I think this can change. Mining upgrades, should make the mines look different. Keep upgrades should change the look of the one of the towers. (Tower upgrades do actually!) This should be the case across the board. (effort: medium-high, impact: very very high)
  • the box-unit selection UI needs improvement. The icons are too small. They need HP bars. It also should be easy to select a combination subset of the selected units through the interface. I find many people including me do this often, and the interface just gets in the way here. The unit selection interface needs major work. (effort: low, impact: very very high)
  • when you multi-queue commands, each command needs to have some kind of marker on the map and some icon on the minimap too. e.g. when you select a scout and shift-click move across the map, each click on the map should show a flag with the final flag being one color. (say a checkered flag being the last, and each one before that being green or something) When you shift click units to do multiple tasks, it’s easy to lose visibility into what a unit has been tasked to do when you’re handling multiple things at the same time. This was an previous age games and needs to be in this one. (effort: low, impact: high)
  • the zoom level needs to be higher, encompassing more of the map and more to see. Too claustrophobic at the moment. (effort: low, impact: high) (:white_check_mark: looks better to me in the stress test)
  • the scaling proportions need to be adjusted. Units seem way too big compared to buildings. This is an RTS not a simulation game so I get it, but atleast make the doors on buildings the same height as the units… even that makes a difference. (:grey_question: this may be a gameplay / readability choice but not sure) (effort: medium, impact: needs testing)
  • Too many icons in the minimap are white / off-white. The markets and the Relics are the hardest ones to see. In the late game it gets worse - with so many elements on the map. (effort: medium, impact: high)
  • Double-clicking idle villagers should select other idle villagers on screen only. (should not select working villagers as well) Triple-clicking should select all villagers regardless of whether working or idling. On the other hand, double clicking a working villager should just select all villagers. (effort: low, impact: medium)
  • the chatbox and friends menu should be left aligned with the profile icon and group menus. I invited a friend to my group and I was able to see the notification and messages in the chat and menus. I was also able to see the group itself in the friend menu. Then I was confused as to why I couldn’t leave the group. I just realized today that there’s a group icon on the bottom left of the screen. The chat, profile and group actions should all be grouped together! The notification and masteries can be aligned to the bottom right after the divider beside settings. (effort: low, impact: needs testing)
  • Global Unit Queue + Control Groups Management interface. Yep, I think we need a dedicated part of the UI for this that improves upon what Age 2 did. I like the icons and number readability of control groups at the moment in Age 4, but I find managing them on the fly is extremely difficult and finnicky. More on this below… (effort: high, impact: needs testing / very high)
  • Deleting control groups directly in the UI / hotkey! I know you can delete control groups completely by assigning again with none selected, but this should be possible from the UI too. We should also be able to merge control groups by dragging and dropping group icons onto each other. Also is there a shortcut for removing units from any assigned control groups? (effort: medium, impact: very high)
  • Control group icons should flash red when the control group is being attacked. The icon should become a skull and crossbones when all the units in the control group are dead / razed. Oftentimes, I find when my control group dies, especially when I have 4-5 going, it disappears without a notification and I find that frustrating as I would like to plan out what to do next to refill or replace that group with that particular set of units. This becomes crucially important in the late game when it groups start to get hairy to manage. (effort: low, impact: high)
  • Hovering over a control group icon should show a UI for the breakdown of all the types of entities in that group if that group has multiple types of entities. (effort: medium, impact: needs testing / could be high)
  • Need more ping options in multiplayer. The attack / defend pings are surely an improvement over the atrocious Age 2 ping, but nowhere near the standards of today. I found in most games, communication almost came to a standstill when it got to the mid / late game, because there was so much going on, and the pings just were not enough to communicate exact strategies happening on multiple places on the map, between multiple groups of people on your own team. It just became way more work and not worth the investment to type it all out… you’d rather just “feel” out the flow of the game. I think we need a way to say that we need help at a certain location, and a way to say that we’re simply on the way to a location. The ping to say that we’re on the way to a location should have different effects based on what’s selected: if nothing’s selected, then the ping should appear on the map, if a control group is selected, the ping should appear on the map with the control group highlighted for your team and a faint gold line to the ping marker, if a selection of units is made, the ping should appear on the map with a faint gold line animating briefly to the ping marker, then disappearing. (effort: high, impact: high)
  • :star: There’s another layer beyond pings and chat that I wish Age had, let’s push the envelope guys! Hear me out, a new communication interface: the battle board. Say there’s a button on the bottom right corner near the minimap that toggles a world ‘overlay’ on and off. On this overlay, you can do 3 things: draw, erase and place / remove flags (attack, defend and rally flags). Rally flags will be used to say tell your team to gather units in a stealth forest or a chokepoint or an area of the map. The attack/defend flags in this board are persistent (unlike pings). The flags on the battleboard are ‘long-term’ goals. Teams setting objectives to capture a certain island? Establish control on a chokepoint together? These elements are permanent in the overlay view and appear exactly where they’re placed or drawn in the real map. When this view is turned on, everything becomes grayscale. Each player drawing on this board will have a different colored marker. I think this will allow for even more depth of strategy that would otherwise not be possible as in many maps it’s hard to describe certain auto-generated features on the map quickly in the chat and explain how that relates to the exact series of steps that form your strategy. It gives people team-visible goals to achieve in every game. I think the communication / teamwork capacity here could be so wonderful for Age of Empires. (effort: really high, impact: needs testing / could be really high and series-defining)
  • I think the communication pyramid should look like this: Pings > Chat > Battle board > Intuition / Map Awareness… ordered by time investment. Pings are easiest. Watching the map, following the “flow” of the game is hardest as you have to pay attention to a lot of things. (effort covered in previous point)
  • should be able to do a slight expansion of the mini-map with a button to see details more clearly. in an 8p game, resources are really hard to see. In most 2+ player games, the late game minimap is a mess. absolute clustered mess and things are hard to read. (effort: medium, impact: high)
  • toggle button to toggle resources / buildings / units alone on the map on and off. This button should be on the minimap cluster on the bottom right. (effort: medium-low, impact: high)
  • some indication that the first TC is more important than any you build. (treated as a landmark - correct me if I’m wrong?) I would say this indication shouldn’t be visible to enemies in a multiplayer game - they should deduce this! (effort: low, impact: low)
  • Relics are a little hard to spot on the map (effort: low, impact: high) (:white_check_mark: fixed in stress test… the yellow light above seems stronger and more obvious)
  • more keybinding / hotkey customization options. Modifier hotkeys should be allowed. Mouse buttons should be bindable. (effort: low-medium, impact: very high)
  • if map elements get deleted when placing down a building, would be nice to have a red-color overlay hint on the items that will be deleted. (effort: medium, impact: needs testing / probably medium)
  • Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think I’d like to see techs or civilization buffs that modify stats clearly in the stats panel with a picture of which tech (blacksmith, university, whatever the source is) and which civ buff / debuff is contributing to the stat boost or reduction. This will promote clarity but also help with civ discovery - people will learn the various nuances as they play the game without having to memorize a lot of these “hidden” behaviors on the tech tree. (effort: low-medium, impact: needs testing / probably high or very high)
  • special units that can be idle should not also fall in the cycle for the idle villagers. (e.g.Chinese Tax Collectors) It’s very annoying. (effort: low-medium, impact: high)
  • little less player color on units so units are more differentiable when there’s a big mass of them. I find units are actually not that bad to differentiate, except when you start to have a 3 or more groups of them with enough numbers together, fighting. (effort: low, impact: needs testing / definitely high)

Maps

:heart_eyes: Loved:
Direct Link: Age of Empires 4: Comprehensive Closed Beta + Stress Test Feedback Contd. - Google Docs

:grimacing: Dislike / needs to improve:

  • Need more interesting visual elements for rivers, lakes, oceans and all other environmental areas. (effort: high, impact: needs testing)
  • More interesting naval maps that aren’t entirely focused on naval but instead where naval advantages give you an advantage to establish control over certain areas of the map or push forward. (effort: high, impact: needs testing)
  • would love to see time of day variations added to RnG in map generation. (not necessarily night-time, but rather different times of a day so the lighting changes) (effort: low, impact: needs testing / medium)
  • a weather system would be awesome to have and elevate the game into current-gen. I’m thinking more Battlefield-esque here. I’ve been personally playing that series for a long time and I remember asking for that and it created a pretty big discussion thread on the Battlefield 3 forums. Weather in Battlefield is an important strategic event now that changes everything for all players. This kind of system used to be in RTS games too: Total Annihilation had something similar to this. I think Company of Heroes had cold causing frostbite. I think weather in Age can be implemented in 3 stages: #1 (even before potential season start next year), rain, snow, storms that don’t affect gameplay but happen depending on the map / terrain type. Purely visual. Storms might mean buildings will need just a few lights to still be visible. #2, weather effects change gameplay depending on where the weather event occurs… i.e. weather effects may only happen in certain parts of the map now. Rain for example could change the ground to mud, making units slower to move. (like how stealth forests work but temporary) Fog could cloud vision to certain areas of the map as the fog moves even if you’ve explored it. Sandstorms on Arabia could reduce vision, etc. #3, weather effects could permanently change certain parts of the map. e.g. lightning from a storm could set a patch of forest ablaze and deny wood in a certain part of the map. Again with each stage, get feedback and maybe stop if it doesn’t seem like people want any more. Incremental development! I know stage 3 could maybe not work as no one likes to be at the bad end of game luck. (map generation and where it puts you is luck, but generally it’s pretty fair… so weather effects might have to be tweaked accordingly) I think weather could add a whole new layer of strategy and immersion to the game… and add a dose of excitement and unpredictability to each game you play as well. (effort: medium-very high, impact: needs testing / could be high)
  • on Archipelago, sacred sites sometimes spawn on the same island (effort: medium, impact: high)

Buildings

:heart_eyes: Loved:
Direct link: Age of Empires 4: Comprehensive Closed Beta + Stress Test Feedback Contd. - Google Docs

:grimacing: Dislike / needs to improve:

  • the auto-generating elements that generate around buildings? yeah that’s awesome but I think it needs some tweaking once you have large amounts of buildings in your towns. There doesn’t seem to be enough, so it just starts to look like clumps of buildings again in the late game. (effort: medium, impact: medium/high)
  • buildings especially towers and keeps need more of that auto-generating flair around them. Vines, bushes, trees, rocks, roads etc. (effort: low-medium, impact: high)
  • animations features in many buildings are missing. e.g. chickens in the town center, horses in the stables etc. (effort: low-medium, impact: medium)
  • Some buildings don’t seem to change through the ages. (e.g. Mills) (effort: medium, impact: medium)
  • Delete hold timer needs to be reduced a bit. (effort: low, impact: high) (:white_check_mark: done in stress test)
  • projectiles from Keeps are really really hard to see. (effort: medium, impact: very high) (:wrench: solution? add air tracer / smoke tracers like AoE3 did with gunpowder shots)
  • cannonballs in general from siege weapons and Keeps / Towers are hard to see. (effort: medium, impact: very high) (:wrench: solution? add air tracer / smoke tracers like AoE3 did with gunpowder shots)
  • Keeps need more cannonball emplacements to live up to the idea of a “Keep” in the medieval era. It’s just not intimidating enough when you have enough units of a type or if you have some bombards well guarded. I find Keeps as a whole are just not strong enough with all the upgrades you can throw at them. They’re just a deterrent at the moment. (if you have the army to back it up) Keep shots also don’t reach the same range as the best ship, so ships can take down Keeps pretty quickly from a safe distance. (Siege weapons aren’t great against ships anyway, and once you’ve lost water control there’s nothing to help you hold the fort just for a bit till you can do something. This wasn’t the case in AoE3) We need Keeps to be better at battling off ships or we need a new structure designed to protect docks against ships. (effort: low, impact: high but needs testing)
  • the gate direction indicator is confusing. (effort: low, impact: high)
  • Elevation differences should provide range or at-least vision advantages to units. For example, positioning archers on cliffs should give them a greater vision or range, just like how placing archers on walls providers a range increase. Keeps and towers should also benefit from elevation advantages. (more vision range and attack range) This buff should be indicated in the UI too. (effort: medium-high, impact: high) (:heavy_check_mark: partially implemented - elevation gains have vision advantages)
  • would be nice for each of your and your teammates town centers to have randomly generated names when they’re built. This way, it’s a point on the map you can point your teammates to when communicating a strategy. e.g. “Hey Alex, rally your spearmen near the stealth forest at my town, Marita. My scout spotted a cav army coming and I’ve got my spearmen coming from down near Penn.” It helps to have clear named landmarks whose names everyone can see. (effort: low, impact: low-medium)
  • wish siege units could be placed on stone walls too. perhaps this could be a buildable wall placement like the gate, where there’s a pulley system of stone, to lift siege weapons onto walls. I find it’s easy for siege weapons to attack walls or units on walls from a distance, even if you have towers, but if you have siege weapons inside, they lose the width of the wall in the range, so they can’t reach them either. (effort: high, impact: needs to be tested / possibly high)
  • inability to see Keep or Tower details when units are garrisoned inside. (effort: low, impact: medium)
  • easy way to highlight all markets on the map by clicking a button or something on your own market. I find in almost every game there’s a player who can’t find each other’s markets to trade with… so you have to ping it. (effort: low, impact: high)
  • walls close to treelines are little buggy… the final few segments won’t get built and sometimes have gaps that aren’t noticeable until unit pathing gets things through. (effort: medium, impact: high)
  • walls in multiplayer should be connectable to ally walls. (effort: maybe medium, impact: very high)

Land Combat

:heart_eyes: Loved:
Direct link: Age of Empires 4: Comprehensive Closed Beta + Stress Test Feedback Contd. - Google Docs

:grimacing: Dislike / needs to imrpove:

  • land units inside stealth forests should be able to move way slower but still be able to see out. I think the double trade-off makes it not as worth utilizing them… you’d have to have scouts accompany every control group you had… and let’s face it the pop cap isn’t high enough to accommodate that. (effort: low, impact: high)
  • unit readability could be improved. e.g. spearmen with each upgrade, or knights across some civs. (effort: medium-high, impact: high)
  • dead / decaying units don’t stay around long enough. Wish they’d at-least a few would turn into skeletons or something. This could just be a toggle in the settings too, but give us control! (effort: low-medium, impact: medium-high)
  • the dust clouds when units are trampling look fine at first glance, but seem a bit in the wrong place… like the placement and scale seems to be off based on the unit type. (effort: medium, impact: medium)
  • siege weapons don’t adapt to slanted elevations… they’re always flat. Just looks tacky for a 2021 game. (effort: medium possibly, impact: high)
  • the way siege weapons explode when they get destroyed looks terrible, and all siege weapons explode the same way. Not a fan of this… seems like lazy design to me. I think each one of them needs to have their own destruction animation and subtle rubble. Siege weapons are torched down… why don’t they burn down at-least? if the gunpowder siege explodes, that’s fine, but it should still burn down or break down visually, not explode into wooden shards. (effort: medium, impact: medium)
  • the 200 pop limit has been around for a while and I get why. Balancing atm is largely dependent on this number and it affects a whole host of things. I think what people want when they say higher pop limits is they really want to see large-scale battles like the ones showcased in the trailers. At best, most battles are skirmishes, with 1 or 2 large fights, but nowhere near the scale in the trailers that give us goosebumps. what about a pop limit scale? scale higher based on the number of players in the match. e.g. 1v1 will have say 500 cap ea, vs. 8p game which will have a 200 cap still. (or) we could split the power of one unit into 3 or 5… i.e. the stats of each unit are now split among 3, and we batch training in 3 is possible instead. This will create the ‘look’ of large battles perhaps, but performance needs to be considered of course. (effort: low, impact: needs testing)
  • need a tight / huddle formation. (in contrast to the spread formation) In some cases you need to get through a tight space either because its a canyon or because there are enemy fortifications on either side of the land area you’re trying to squeeze through. or say cavalry are trying to flank you and you can get your spearmen to form a defense turtle huddle. (:grey_question: This may be more of a unit pathing issue though.)
  • need a split formation. I find I’m trying to do a flanking maneuver often with cavalry units and a split formation with two lines would make it really easy for me to do so and also have the option to quickly split the control group into two down the line if I needed to. (effort: low, impact: needs testing / could be high)
  • the stand ground stance is barely used. does it actually provide a defensive benefit? If not it seems easy to just micro back and forth, rather than actually switch modes. I mean switching it to stand ground doesn’t hurt at all because it switches back when you attack move so not sure why it’s not used more, but most people barely reach for it. I have found spearmen in stand ground look different, but they get attacked from behind and they don’t do anything which is weird. I think stand ground should provide some sort of defensive benefit… apart from the visual stance change. (effort: low-medium, impact: high)
  • units sometimes won’t attack enemy units even when they’re in range and not in stand ground mode. (effort: low, impact: high)
  • when you set rally points on buildings and the generated units come out, I think the units should fight any enemy units they encounter along the way, then get to the rally point if possible. This should only be the case on generation, not when you’re moving units. (effort: low, impact: high)
  • siege units need to have friendly fire. (effort: low, impact: needs testing)
  • mangonels still aren’t great at clearing out massed units. (effort: low-medium, impact: high) (:grey_question: seems to be better in the stream build)
  • springalds don’t really seem to pierce through that many targets. (effort: low, impact: high)
  • would love to see a “fire arrow” attack on archers that makes the arrows stay on the ground and sets a part of the ground ablaze. e.g. Area of denial when defending from a wall against enemy raids / armies, or even offensively in a skirmish. (effort: medium, impact: high)
  • would love to see ragdoll physics like AoE3 when siege weapons hit land units, and the cannonball rolls off. (effort: medium-high, impact: medium)
  • area-of-effect attacks could use a visual indicator … like when a samurai swipes their sword, you have air tracers around the swipe. (e.g. Landsknect or grenadier) (effort: low-medium, impact: high)
  • gunpowder siege (bombard, culverin etc.) cannonballs are hard to see because there is so much dust / smoke. I think the dust / smoke could be reduced, and smoke trackers can be added to cannonballs. (effort: low, impact: high)

Naval Combat

:heart_eyes: Loved:
Direct link: Age of Empires 4: Comprehensive Closed Beta + Stress Test Feedback Contd. - Google Docs

:grimacing: Dislike / needs to improve:

  • ships inside the stealth forest should move way slower, but they should be able to see out. Same issue as the land equivalent… the trade-off of losing both just isn’t worth it. (effort: low, impact: high)
  • the most powerful ship is the only viable ship in the late game. I think each of the 4 ships need to be strong enough on their own to have defined counter-strategies. After Castle age, the previous age ships are basically useless and require too much micro even they can shoot-move. (effort: low, impact: high)
  • fishings ships and the arrow ships look too similar. (:grey_question: intentional?) (effort: medium, impact: high)
  • arrow ships I’ll just say it… look terrible. They’re just so plain and boring and uninspiring. (effort: medium, impact: high)
  • ships look like they skate on ice still… needs more water effects and the turning is as bad as it was in AE2…they move kind of janky… not as bad as it was in AoE2 or AoE3, but could use some improvement (effort: medium-high, impact: high)
  • the water effects looks terrible for a 2021 game. I don’t think it has to be photorealistic like AoE3DE did (which was too much for readability and performance reasons) or as bad as AoE2 did. I think water artifacts in general like waves… whether near cliffs or just across the water body or underneath moving ships… can be improved. It currently looks like it’s pasted / painted on rather than feeling like actual water with waves. (effort: low-medium … should just be an engine tweak?, impact: medium-high … adds to proper immersion)
  • the firing of the canons should look as good as it did in AoE3 e.g. cannonball physics were excellent in that game. (effort: medium, impact: high)
  • Ships need formation options. Line, spread and Split formations. (two lines with a gap in the middle) (effort: medium-high, impact: high)
  • Ships move extremely slow as they always want to maintain a line formation when in a group for 3-4ish…so when you want them to do a quick turn, it takes forever. I think whatever pathing system land units use to mitigate this could be incorporated? I know pathing is very complex so this could be tough fix. (effort: medium-high, impact: high)

Multiplayer

:heart_eyes: Loved:
Direct link: Age of Empires 4: Comprehensive Closed Beta + Stress Test Feedback Contd. - Google Docs

:grimacing: Dislike / needs to improve:

  • more straightforward approach to an area control victory condition in comparison to the sacred sites. I would love to see more of a % of the map influenced condition, where you can see on the map how much influence you have over an area on the map based on the buildings you have. Town Centers you make, expand this area of influence and breach into others area of influence. No other buildings just Town Centers. I think it would be neat to see battles along fluid lines of territory. (kind of like Rise of Nations or Company of Heroes 2) Maybe this could be it’s own game mode? (effort: high, impact: very high)
  • the chat filter is not very accurate haha. (effort: medium, impact: medium)
  • wish you could see the game map post-game. (once the match completes, not when you’re personally just out of the game) I think this is kind of a must for an RTS game… to be able to look back and learn from the map state for the next game. (effort: low, impact: very high)
  • once the post-game map comes back, would love to see it with an overlay of the locations of major battles and small skirmishes. (effort: medium-high, impact: very high)

Game Flow / Balance

:heart_eyes: Loved:
Direct link: Age of Empires 4: Comprehensive Closed Beta + Stress Test Feedback Contd. - Google Docs

:grimacing: Dislike / needs to improve:

  • You’d think the late game would start to become more a macro-fight game with big map-based strategic moves with your armies, but it rather just becomes a matter of do I have my economy stable enough to pump out as many units as possible? (the right counters generating of course) Not fast enough? Build more military buildings closer and closer to the enemy and keep the pressure up. Yeah not a big fan of this as most games seem to go this way if they get to Imperial Age. Maybe this is just the meta now, and will evolve as people play more, but something’s missing. The Wonder victory and the Sacred Sites victory sure does shift it in this big play direction, but it doesn’t always go this way.
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