So, we have AoE DE and we know that AoE II and AoE III are getting DEs in the near future. We can assume that AoE IV was announced very early (too early, really) and is likely still in the initial stages of production. With this in mind, and in large part because Relic have been brought in as developers, I believe that AoE IV will be released some time after AoE III DE, and will be a direct chronological sequel to that game.
I think it’s likely that AoE IV will largely use AoE II as a base - Relic will want to go back to basics, and they know this is the classic Age game - whilst borrowing elements from AoE III that they think worked, and also perhaps bringing in a few elements from their own CoH games, but I think these will largely be restricted to later ages and require certain technologies. For reference, I am thinking of things like a cover system, and perhaps aspects of squad behaviour. However, AoE and CoH are of course very different franchises, and so I don’t expect to see much crossover between the two except where I feel there would be genuine advantages to doing so, and where Relic’s trademark systems would actually benefit AoE IV.
As for the timeline and setting, I think a direct follow-on from AoE III is the most likely scenario, and so the game will be set during the last hurrah of the colonial and imperial age: what is known as the ‘long 19th century’, c1789 - 1914, but also encompassing the Great War, which would be a logical end point in terms of the onset of what we’d now call ‘modern’ weapons and tactics, and the most lethal era of any AoE game. I foresee some kind of special ‘Total War Age’ or equivalent, during which - not unlike the final age in AoE III - a number of units and technologies become available which make killing the enemy much easier, but your economy also suffers (or even stops).
I think that whereas European and American maps will be available, much of the game will take place during the ‘Scramble for Africa’ and the final colonial wars in the Far East, and so it would be possible to have a very similar game (conceptually) to AoE III, in which building up European colonies almost from nothing would still make sense, but in a way in which the great Asian powers could still play an important - and historically feasible - role.
So, for example, one of the campaigns could focus on the French conquest of Indochina, whereas another may cover the Zulu Wars and the Boer War, culminating in the formation of the Union of South Africa. It would also be possible to have a campaign focusing on Japan’s process of modernization and expansion, leading to war with Russia and the battle of Tsushima.
Another obvious choice of campaign or tutorial would be the American Civil War.
The 19th century offers a huge amount of variety and historical events, and it would be possible to span from Trafalgar to Jutland, and I think in terms of technology there’d be a lot of fun in every age. The game would pick up where AoE III left off, and so you’d start with access to musketeers, dragoons, cannons, galleons, etc., which would mean a powerful and varied force right off the bat, but the best units would be limited and some kind of equivalent to Home City shipments could well be implemented.
However, by the second age you’d have access to technologies and weapons that would make you far stronger, such as proper rifles and pistols, the Gatling gun, and ironclads. Remember that Age games encompass a variety of support technologies that do not improve combat but help in other ways, and so tinned food (perhaps additional health for all units) and the telegraph (increased LoS, perhaps units responding more quickly to orders?) would be huge advantages. And of course, each civ would also have unique bonuses and technologies, as in previous Age games.
Playable civs could be, for example:
Similar to AoE III, yes, but the imperial powers until 1918 were more or less set after 1815.
Realistically, this will be a game with plenty of DLC and probably major expansions as well, and so we have to assume that this will include DLC civs, so e.g. Austria, Portugal, the Netherlands, Belgium, Brazil, Mexico…
There will also be a number of unplayable minor civs that appear throughout campaigns, and perhaps ‘support civs’ (or something equivalent) in multiplayer, similar to how natives worked in AoE III. For example, the first Italian invasion of Abyssinia could be featured, but Abyssinia would not be playable as a standard civ.
I also think that ‘gunboat diplomacy’ is a concept which could be implemented when dealing with these minor civs.
My personal feeling is that this era and kind of gameplay would meet all the criteria for a classic Age game, whilst also being something new and different, and encompassing ‘modern’ Great War-era stuff that would give Relic an opportunity to implement some of the skills (and lessons) they’ve learned from the CoH series. By the final era, you could have authentic historical units such as zeppelins, biplanes, tanks, armoured cars, machine guns, actual stormtroopers (a unit unique for Germany?), a mechanic for using poison gas, and hopefully even proper trench warfare!
For those of you who don’t think a ‘modern’ Age game could work, I say to you that if done properly, an AoE IV made along these lines could indeed work, and potentially very well! If Relic are bold, ambitious, pay heed to History and come up with something imaginative and fun that allows for colonial battles across the entire planet - culminating in a ‘Great War’ with all the goodies available in the last age - then I think we’d have a classic game on our hands. They could - and should - go back to telling interesting stories set during historical campaigns, and not the AoM/AoE III method of a fictional story with a particular historical period as a backdrop. It’s not like the 19th century lacks interesting historical characters to choose from…
What do you think?