Lessons to learn if more campaigns are to be added

This is a discussion stemming from a closed topic, but I think it’s worth a separate one:

Return of the Rome has been out for less than two weeks. You already have very detailed descriptions and instructions about most of the new campaigns on the fandom wiki. While for AOE4 released a year and a half ago, most of the scenarios do not even have a wiki page, and for those that have, there is minimum information:

There isn’t even anyone who has the interest of picking historical or gameplay trivia from them.
You rarely see good videos or writeups about AOE4’s sp contents either. Most of them were posted in a short time frame of one or two months after the game was released. You don’t see discussions about them in AOE4’s own community. Or maybe I’m looking at the wrong place but from my observation I think it’s safe to say remaining AOE4 players do not care about SP (which is an integral part of the series), or the game never tried to make people do so. Those who care couldn’t really be attracted by this game. In other words it’s not a very successful campaign. The documentary cutscenes are good though and that ironically is what most people have talked about.

“It’s because they choose a different style that I/you don’t like!”

Some people (either defending it or criticizing it) would attribute it to the “style” but it’s more than that. Almost every game has its own narrative and design style, and there are cases of success and failure in a lot of choices and combinations you can think of.
I’ve seen less character-centric narratives. For example, there are story modes without a central character but still dialogues between random characters/units etc. However AOE4’s deliberate choice of hard-removing anything “personal” or “characteristic” is actually a pretty “novel” one, and there aren’t successful examples AFAIK. AOE1 was somewhat like this but that was mostly due to technical limitations and the scenario designs are very outdated now. I do think they were thinking of making some innovations on this aspect, and there must be some ways to make good “documentary style campaigns”, but this one didn’t work out very well.
Okay you may consider it as a good introduction to MP. Well then it works as intended, but it’s not good as a campaign if you only judge it as a campaign on its own.

Making your “style” work

Why do I think the designs do not synergize with the documentary style very well?

  1. First and foremost I don’t relate documentaries with “huge time jumps” and “no character/dialogue at all”. That’s just one type of documentary. There are also good documentaries with VERY outstanding characters and good reenactments. For example:
    Die Deutschen (TV Series 2008– ) - IMDb
    Some episodes are exclusively centered on one character and they are epic.
  2. Okay you choose this one particular documentary style with one narrator telling everything and showing on screen either large maps with cities and armies and random re-enacted combat scenes. I guess a lot of players would expect to play the former (units and buildings in RTS are already very abstract), but you give them the latter. That’s like letting you play Gollum in LoTR. Not that it’s impossible to make it interesting, but you’ll need a genius to achieve it.
  3. Okay you choose very small and separate scenarios. Why not make them more compact and cohesive? No you have huge time jumps skipping decades and centuries. More events happen in the cutscenes than the scenarios. You play a very small linear 1v1 battle, then the cutscene tells you a lot of things happened after that (some making you efforts futile) and you just skipped them, and they throw you into another small 1v1 battle. That again is not very exciting.
  4. After all, this is a game. You either have small and linear scenarios with a very good story and memorable characters (a lot of successful stories), or grand scenarios with few player-character/world interactions but a lot of freedom (a lot of successful stories as well), either will give you something truly memorable, but NOT small and linear scenarios with few interactions.

There are some unlikely combinations of design decisions that most of the time do not work.

This video coincidentally has a lot of similar points as mine. Of course that’s very personal, but I think the points are valid.

I made a similar analysis on AOE3 in its sub-forum earlier that the choices of “deep contents and a lot of options” + “small, competitive maps and very fast paced matches” in vanilla AOE3 make a weird combination so I hold such opinion in general and it’s nothing personal against AOE4.

Some less relevant discussion about COH3's campaigns

COH3 “creatively” adds a large, interacive strategic map, which tbh made me very excited when announced but turned out to be less satisfactory. And again it’s not solely a problem with strategic maps, because there are a lot of success stories as well, with very different designs:

  1. Risk-style maps: The map has nothing more than a few tiles for you to choose from, like a little more diverse way to progress with your campaign scenarios, and that’s sometimes a good thing. You don’t need to suffer from repetitive skirmish battles that you cannot skip. Good examples include Rise of Nations, SC2, DoW1, even COH2 (in those games each battle is quite long relatively, and require build-ups from the very beginning, so you cannot let the player play 100 of them to complete one campaign).
  2. Then the opposite, very interactive maps with a lot of small encounters: That’s what the Total War series have been doing. You need to fight a lot of skirmishes, but they are enriched and made diverse by varying terrains, weathers and army compositions, etc. They are also relatively compact as you’re directly thrown into the battle. Also because the armies on the strategic map have the exact units you’ll use in the actual battles, you can confidently autoresolve most of the decisive ones (to prevent “but”: I didn’t say the autoresolve is perfect). Even without all these, at least the battles have a huge scale and are enjoyable to watch.

These design choices all synergize. If you simply combine some from 1 with some from 2, very likely it does not work.
Now COH3: it has a strategic map, which is good. BUT you have a lot of repetitive skirmishes that you cannot skip. The “armies” on the map are too abstract so you cannot control the loss with autoresolve. And most of them are still the classic RTS 1v1, so they take longer.
There are some well-designed ones but they are very scattered across the experience. That’s not a good idea. It is very tiring. For me it didn’t take advantage of the strategic map but took a lot of disadvantage of it on the other hand.

It’s never with the style alone. It’s how you actually make design decisions that synergize with it. Do I like smaller scenarios? Bigger scenarios? Weak characters? Strong characters? Fewer interactions? More interactions? None of them and all of them. I like designs that are cohesive.

If they are to add more campaigns (and actually make them good) they should learn from why the existing ones are not very memorable.

I feel that nowadays RTS studios in general, not just limited to one or two games, have significantly lower emphasis on the quality of SP contents, or they have lost the ability to design SP contents just as their own division not “now get to MP asap”, or both. The few good SP contents in recent years are from AOE2 which benefits from its long-lasting tradition of custom scenario communities. And that’s a huge loss.


That’s why I call it, Age of History Channel 4… the cinematics last longer than the missions and they have more information and importance than the missions themselves…

Maybe I’m just bad, but it took me over an hour to go through the siege of York at my own pace. Got a bit stuck assaulting the main keep, probably should’ve gone around the left side faster.

This is in-line with a lot of RTS campaign experiences. A lot of them are pretty long (even going back to my WC3 and AoE II days), it’s not like running through an FPS level, or doing a side-mission (or even full mainline quest) in an ARPG like Mass Effect.

To the thread in general: I think the game needs more varied styles of campaigns to appeal to the most players possible. PvE content is incredibly important for the longevity of the game.

as someone who likes to take time on first attempt, i think the biggest issues with aoe4 campaigns are following:

  1. too much repetition in level layouts (looking at you norman campaign, but others aren’t much above this)
  2. you have huge map often but only ever use like what, 20% at most? the mission with breaching great wall of china is good example of a major offender
  3. speaking of maps, 0 hidden secrets/easter eggs, they aren’t essential for every map, but it can add incentive to explore more
  4. too much story overlap with aoe2, the only current aoe4 campaign that isn’t effected by this is rise of moscow
  5. unlike in the past, the narrator here basically does all the thinking for you, you just follow the markers on the map, this was there in old games, but not for every single movement, also the view the area banner on right of the map is smt that could be removed and i wouldn’t miss it one bit
  6. while on narrator, does having a different narrator per campaign cost too much or…, to be fair, she is good but it gets stale after a while, not helped by the fact that she constantly talks even ingame
  7. now big one, what the campaigns remind me of currently is the following, a hybrid of 2 and 3 campaigns, setting and events of 2 with scale of 3, 3 made up for lack of scale with more complex structure and having the acts that interconnect over a longer period, historical or not, 2 had the scale, even 8 player levels, both of which are non existent in 4, and with 2 and 3 you had title figures you followed along their campaigns and historical battles, again, nowhere to be found in 4
  8. final point, based on its success elsewhere alone, does relic have any plans to add Co op scenarios or co op to campaigns? it succeded big time in 2 with historical battles and campaigns and solid portion of 3 de playerbase rn is in the co op historical battles portion, bigger than ranked mind you, so relic, this better be in the pipeline, although like with no editor day 1, the big opportunity already left you by the wayside

Yes, I agree, there is a need for more variety…the English and French campaigns left me very cold, I liked the Mongol and Russian campaigns better…that they include more mechanics in the campaigns and that they can be used in multiplayer, such as building bridges…

Rise of Moscow overlaps in the 13th century (1238) with the Mongol campaign of AoE 4 and Genghis Khan in AoE 2 and in the 14th century (1375-1382) with the campaign of Algirdas and Kestutis…the one that does not overlap It is the English campaign in the 12th century (1105-1119) or until 1153 if you don’t count the last Sicilian mission and the first of Barbarossa…

Small does not necessarily mean short though…

Yeah I thought she was really good, but it would have been better to have a different narrator for each campaign.

This game needs a good Coop mode. Just straight up copy what Starcraft 2 did.

Make some scenarios, have randomized “mutations” based on difficulty levels.

We already have ten factions, so even without the commanders that mode would still have a ton of replayability.

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To add one more point:

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I just finished some newer campaign in AoE 2 and the completion rate is around 2% for most of them. These are newer campaigns so the claim that people have finished campaigns 20 years ago don’t want to finish them is false. Actually the older campaign like Wallace or Joan or Arc have higher completion rate than the newer campaigns in AoE 2.

Well, you guys seriously overestimate the effect of campaigns on people. Aoe 2 campaigns are nowhere close to AoM, WC3 or SC 2 level and yet people can’t play these campaigns forever. If people stick to AoE 2’s single player, it’s obviously not because of the campaigns in general.

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What do you reckon it is? Custom scenarios?

My guess is Skirmish vs A.I. The A.I in AoE 2 is obviously much more entertaining than AoE 4.

the original sin itself

This comes from AoM so it’s not AoE 4’s fault either…

…and I did not like it since AOM.

I can find an excuse for AOM and AOE3 because you’re playing “a group of heroes” who help whoever they encounter on the way, so that’s a “fictional abstract faction” on itself with no clear allegiance.

The only case where you have a different color is Little Bighorn as there is an obvious switch of allegiance.
And AOE3 historical battles have some different color as well.

With AOE4 going back to full historical narrative, I’d expect it to use colors more fitting to the historical factions.
Also as the scenarios are small, you almost always see the same 2-3 colors for 30+ levels.

Well, Forgotten Empires is most likely doing all the new campaign/SP content based on their job opportunities they posted last year. So for what it’s worth, it will be coming from the same team that designs the AOE2 campaigns. That being said, I don’t want them to just copy the AOE2 style campaigns into AOE4. Keep AOE4 as the historical narrative/documentary style and AOE2 as the historical fiction with cheesy dialogue lines. Even if there are people who don’t like the documentary style, these people are not going to play AOE4 campaign just because it’s a copy of the AOE2 campaign. They’ll just stick to playing it in AOE2.

Yes, let’s hope that one day they will…

As far as I understand it is the AoE 3 team, although now it is focused on AoM, they make the dlcs for AoE 4 too…

As a prominent wiki editor, I can confirm that no one is ready to create the pages. I created most of those minimal pages, so that players can have a go to to search the playthrough (see video section).

I actually made a thread about this some days back, titled Petition: bring campaigns to current dataset or something. The lack of positive responses was apalling.

i’d argue the campaign burnout is a real issue with aoe4, you can only replay the same mission so many times before you get fed up with it, i lost all motivation to keep playing after norman campaign then seeing the same pattern repeat with hundred year war campaign, lets just say, i can do full campaigns with no issues in 2 and even more so in 3, preference thing, but in 4, if lucky 3 missions back to back, and that assumes i don’t hit the copy pasted ones