Essay: Civ asymmetry vs civ depth

Did anyone get the feeling that each civilisation we’ve played in the betas so far don’t have a lot of depth?

I’d like to distinguish the difference between asymmetry here, because I think it’s great that the civs are different and have their own unique playstyles, that’s really fun.
However, I don’t necessarily think each civ has a lot of depth to them. In an extreme example, imagine a civilisation that has only a single way to play them, that you must do every time you play them, because there are no other options.

I really enjoyed changing up which civ I was playing as from game-to-game, but after a couple of games with a particular civ, I got a sense of what the civ is good at and how to play them, and found myself basically doing the same thing with that civ in every game.
The English are a great example of this, where you could build the Council Hall and spam Longbowmen. I didn’t feel like there was anything to think about, this basically always worked. Yes, I do have to succumb to the rock-paper-scissors triangle, and be sure to include the counter to the unit that will counter my archers, but it seemed quite one-dimensional and playing the English was a little stale after a few games.

I felt this way about most of the civs, to be honest. The HRE kinda felt the same, there wasn’t anything too crazy about their decisions and I didn’t really find myself making a lot of decisions when aging up; I typically picked the same landmarks. I don’t even think that decision is enough to argue that a civ has a lot of depth. The Chinese are similar in that regard specifically - because you can get both landmarks, it doesn’t matter enough which one you choose, and I didn’t really change how I was playing every time I played as them.

I guess what I am looking for is for the civilisations incorporating various strategies within themselves, rather than each civilisation representing a single strategy. In AOE2, this is the equivalent of the Franks always going Scouts->Knights every game, or the Britons going Archers every game, because it’s their best option. The depth would be how the Meso civs work in AOE2, how Eagles are such a viable option, but they also have Infantry (Aztecs) or Archers (Mayans) or literally anything (Incas) as an alternative option. There’s choices and decisions you have to make and you don’t always play them the same way in every game.

In the recent interview with Adam Isgreen, he mentioned there were some crazy ideas that were pushed back, probably because they were likely to alienate the fanbase in some respects, in the same way AOE3’s card system and drastic asymmetry did (I personally love AOE3 for this reason) but I am really curious to know if they feel like they were too conservative with the crazy ideas.
For example, the Mongols can pick up their buildings and move them - this is a great feature that creates a lot of choices about how to arrange the buildings to optimize their use of the landscape, and based on what’s available you have to choose how you spend your Stone or if it’s better to play Horseman, Lancer or Mangudai. That’s pretty cool and that’s the kind of decision making I’d like to see more of.

The landmark decision is fine on its own, but for many of the civs, which landmark to choose is a no-brainer. I’d love to see lots more decision making introduced into these civs, so that they have different ways to play them and some interesting strategies reveal themselves. There are only 8 civs to play at launch, remember, so I really don’t want them all to start feeling stale. That would be disappointing.


Yes, each civ’s gameplay becomes repetitive quickly and there’s not enough replayability value in them.

I’m also not aware of that Isgreen’s interview that you speak of but if more civ depth is pushed for later my sentiments towards the game would change positively.


Totally agree, the unit roster feels really slim and streamlined and this makes the games feel really repetitive.
Take this here with a grain of salt, since tweaking numbers/balance can always open things up and I mainly played 1v1 but you basically only have 2 different units + siege machine in every game.

The lack of past mechanics such as anti archer archers with slingers or skirmishers, anti cav cav with camels, extended trash with chariots, mounted archers, castle units and so on.
“Technically” there are mounted archers and unique units in the game, yes, but really really limited and not for everyone and that’s the point.

Civs in general don’t have that many core mechanics in their army functionality anymore, resulting in lower action/reaction when it comes to army production.
In 80% of the cases I just keep macroing the same 2 units that cover their weaknesses instead of adapting to enemy army composition or faction such as skirmisher games against Brits (AoE2) for example.
Maybe a few more spears instead of only men at arms if he starts to go knights only, but yeah… Not to an extend of any other AoE…

It feels completely shallow and streamlined because of that for me.


I think there are a variety of strats available for each civ but we haven’t had time to explore them and a civs potential for strategic diversity is always going to be limited by the meta when winning games is the priority.

For example with the abbasids there are a lot of possible options but most people were going for the feudal vil boom option because it was seen as the strongest.

Other options include:

  • dark age ram rush
  • feudal camel archers
  • feudal trade boom
  • feudal villager boom
  • horsemen + camel archer
  • crossbow + camel + siege
  • knights & camel archers
  • spears + camel + siege

Personally I find that games which focus on adding crazy mechanics end up a bit cheesy so I’m happy with the current diversity and depth of civs.


Honestly I don’t even think the civs have that much asymmetry either. Everything is the same but a few things. The VISUAL asymmetry is fantastic, but in terms of gameplay… I don’t know. It’s basically all the same units and techs for everybody. Most of the civs have just one or two unique units. The only one that feels really diverse are the Chinese.

If you really think about it and set aside the visuals, there’s pretty more asymmetry in AoE2 between Mongols, Britain, Franks, Teutons, Chinese, Saracens, Slavs, and Indians as there is in AoE4… Which is disappointing to say the least.


As players play the game, new builds and strategies emerge. There were only three days of Beta.
And look, I was able to test at least 3 builds with HRE.


I appreciate your comment. You are right - we have only had limited time with the game, so the meta hasn’t really developed and new strategies haven’t had time to emerge. I was thinking of reserving my commentary until the game was released and matured; it would be completely appropriate to revise my opinion after playing the game more and discovering more ways to play.

It’s good that you mentioned the Abbasid Dynasty, because they did feel like one of the civs that had a few more options than others because their upgrades touched on quite a variety of units. Providing alternate, unique units and a wide collection of unique bonuses have really opened this civ up to wide experimentation.

My memory may be a little fuzzy, but I think the AD are one of the deeper civs in the current roster for this reason. I am excited to get more time with the game and see just how many different things I can do with the other civs. I only got a couple-dozen hours between the two betas, and I’m not exactly a seasoned professional, so there’s definitely approaches I would miss. I certainly hope that the AD is representative of the depth of the entire civ roster, though. I’d like all of the civs to follow their example.


It’s definitely worth clarifying that the asymmetry of AOE4 is nothing compared to StarCraft - AOE2 is actually quite symmetrical, and I think the concept of asymmetry is certainly overstated in AOE4. As AOE4 is taking AOE2 as its roots for the balance (the counter-unit triangle) it is completely appropriate to label AOE4 as “semi-asymmetrical” like Adam Isgreen did in the interview during Red Bull Wololo V.

Ultimately, I agree with your opinion: the game is only marginally more asymmetrical than AOE2, which isn’t very asymmetrical.


I think one thing that I realized only after checking out some community videos is that a lot of the different playstyles are exclusively economic.

Fast castle
2 TC boom
Prioritizing berries w/ Abbasid

I think the game does have a bit more depth to than I thought at first glance. The issue, however, of the limited unit roster still bothers me a little bit.

The multiplayer show match with the Rus did give me more hope for diversity of playstyle, though.


Fantastic? Do you mean the architectures?
AoEII has unique architectures too.
The generic units on the other hand don’t have noticeable visual differences from the standard POV and blend together with ease unless you do good zoom-ins.

AOE2 has architecture sets that are shared between multiple civs like a West Europe style for Franks, Britons etc. The only building with unique architecture for every civ is the wonder.

From what I’ve seen so far every civ in AOE4 has unique architecture. The european civs seem to share some basic buildings like the mill but have different roofing and facades for many buildings. It is easiest to see on keeps and other military buildings. The town halls all seem to appear unique too.

And of course landmarks all have unique looks which will also make each civs settlements stand out.

The units have very different apperances, the Abbasid Man at Arms has totally different clothing, and eqiupment to an English one. Mind you I am a bit of a weirdo who loves these details and I like to zoom in a lot so your milage may vary!

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yup, unique architecture sets that include civs of geographical or cultural proximity. This is what I meant but simplified it in my mind probably because even just the AoEII’s architectural sets are more in number than all of AoEIV’s civs (11 if I’m not mistaken).
Completely unique architectures we already had since 2006 with War Chiefs and 2007’s Asian Dynasties so it’s really nothing new.

On the units however, their uniqueness is imperceptible to me as I play from the furthest available zoom level. I sure notice the differences when I zoom-in but it’s just not enough. Take as an example some of the musketeet-type of units in AoEIII. The musketeer, janissary, sepoy, ashigaru. You immediately put them apart visually as culturally distinct units. I can’t tell if it’s just the low texture detail or the excess player color as others have argued around here but they sure aren’t as visually distinct as they could and as the franchise managed to do in the past.
Things like giving every Knight a western jousting lance also don’t help nor do the identical names.

I think the number of Landmarks for each are are very small.
In AoE3 you can choose between a lot more different politicians (wonders, tribe members, states, allies) every time you age up.
I think there should be at last 3 every age.
Also the Chinese and the Abbasides end up with the same choices at the end anyway, which is kinda boring.
At last the Abbasides have 4 options to go to Age 2.

It’s very hard to balance but all landmarks should be valid options. At last on some maps.


Unique architecture for eight base game civs is new though. Warcheifs and Asian Dynasties were both expansions that only added three civs each. The European launch civs of AOE3 still had the same shared culture groups of architecture. So I would say AOE4 has done something new by launching with eight civs with significant visual variety.

I do agree theres perhaps too much player colour on the units so some of the detail suffers. With the knights I really appriciated that the English and HRE knights had some differences the most noticable being the HRE knights had capes. Having those civs share the same visual for knights was something they could have got away with so the fact they chose to give them some differences gave them credit in my book.

Our books differ. I have no reason to view as an improvement something that had already been realized as an improvement more than a decade ago. Whether that realization came in an expansion, in AoEII, AoEIII, AoM or AoEO is irrelevant to me.
It’s the bare minimum I’d expect, consequently the units fail me in this regard.

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And you are under no obligation to buy aoe4 until expansions release and there is more variety in civs, units, and graphics.

Either way though base games pretty much never have as much content as their previous version does with all its expansions. You can’t cram all that game development time into a reasonable release schedule nor does it make sense to when you can release a base version of the game and use feedback from it to make changes and improvements in expansions.

On units/buildings being easy to identify and unique I agree that it could have been done better but I don’t think it is something that is feasible to change given where development is atm.


I disagree and yes I meant the units. I love how different the Man at Arms look for each faction for example. It’s so good to see everyone have their own flavor of a same unit, unlike in AoE2.

But that’s pretty much the only redeeming quality I find in the game.

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Development time is one thing. Accumulation of knowledge and experience of all that past development time and its incorporation into a newer title is another. The feedback is already there.
Relic, although an experienced studio, was forced to deduce this cumulative knowledge & experience by cautiously looking into all of another developer’s games, preferably in an ascending order. So we can agree at least that they had it harder. Did they succeed though? I don’t think so but that’s probably something we won’t agree on.
Just observe what a departure each Age title was from its last one and then try to imagine what AoEIV would look like had it been developed by the same guys. :dizzy:

OK, we agree now. Compared to AoEII, AoEIV’s units are actually manna from heaven.


Compared to AoE2



the economy management is quite different

it’s not the most exciting thing, but the civs are very different in terms of what timings you have access to

and this is true even if you pick the same landmarks every single time. i wish those buildings were more balanced and more like choices instead of scripted builds, but they still contribute to making civs have different development

the only reason i would even consider playing aoe4 (if there’s ever a version with a decent camera/interface) is that the army units are mostly the same. if the units were different, i would have zero confidence that they would be able to balance it

if the multiplayer flops and nobody plays it, having a bunch of unbalanced unique units might be a good direction to take the game though

i think if they fix the landmarks and move more of the economy spread out across the map (instead of farming), then there’s enough variety in the design to have a replayable game. but if they keep speeding up dark age for no reason, make exploration useless (because the map doesn’t matter except for finding sheep), then i agree that the game lacks variety. there’s still some play to it with the resource management decisions and micro of armies and stuff, but that doesn’t focus on the part of the game that actually has variety (which is the economy & map generation)