Racing towards Castle Age? Nothing to do in Dark & Feudal

In one area I wished AoE 4 didn’t copy its predecessors was in the way dark and feudal ages have almost zero military variety and techs. The “dark age” trope to justify that there is a whole age in which you’re limited to one type of military units is tired. Feudal is marginally better and IMO worse than even AoE 2.

Having such barren initial ages surely makes for fast-paced and entertaining eSports (and probably make balancing the game way easier) but drain all the fun away from single player. I feel like dark and feudal are just obstacles I have to grind through to get some respectable unit variety and the slightest chance of winning.

In real life, early medieval armies were varied. To put this nonsense in context: imagine a game comprising late medieval (1500) all the way to WW2 (1940) and the only unit you have in your first “age” is an elite man-at-arms, instead of the whole variety we get in imperial in AoE 4.

AoE 4 could’ve mixed late classical units with early medieval for an interesting dynamic. Military units didn’t simply appear from thin air, they evolved. Phalanxes, Legions, etc. turned into swordsmen, man-at-arms… with the modern units outclassing the older ones in armor, mobility or firepower. I can accept something like AoE 1 giving me only a clubman because it was the stone age and everything else derived from it. You were pretty much inventing war as you aged up.

I’ve been watching a lot of matches in Drongo’s YouTube channel and IMO AoE 4 is a game which is more fun to watch than play, and even then I often see top tier players racing out of feudal instead of trying to come up with fresh and interesting strategies earlier on, again because there’s simply no motivation to do so.


Some civs are capable of some interesting Feudal age aggression. Generally, it’s the English, the French, and the HRE. On paper, this is interesting. When you’re playing a civ with a lackluster Feudal age, your goal is to successfully defend against the aggression of your “stronger” opponent… and generally when you get to Castle you’ll have the tools you need to repel them.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way. For one thing, if it’s Chinese vs. Delhi or something like that, you can be certain it’s going to play out just as you say. For another, after they nerfed Horsemen and Battering Rams, Feudal age aggression became much easier to defend against, and way harder to pull off correctly.
After that, the meta shifted towards everyone fast Castling, because that’s pretty much the only way to get anything done–with siege, as a lot of folks on these forums have pointed out. Even civs that used to have very good (arguably too good) Feudal aggression are all Castling ASAP right now. This is one of the biggest reasons I like playing Rus so much. Gives you something to do in the Dark and Feudal ages…


I love the feudal age, but you can get out of it too quickly imo. Some civs are in caslte age in what, ~6-7 min?
There are multiple reasons why it isn’t good to stick to feudal age too long. Units like M@A, mangonel are really hard to deal with if you are still in feudal, relics and sacred sides grant you a lot of additional gold / min. Some civs have great landmarks, unique units or upgrades in castle age.
You can play agressiv feudal, but it is also a big investment, 2 x ram 600 res, blackmsith 150 res, Siege Engineering 175 res. Total of 925 resources to rly apply some feudal age pressure. That is a lot of commitment and since there are not really any big objectives in feudal age, you either try to supply block and delay your opponent or go all in. Horseman and rams got nerfed and the main tc can focus fire now, that all helps you to defend more efficient now vs pushes.

Another advantage is, you can build castle age units directly after you advance, no upgrades or research time needed and the current meta favors these units right now. If you want to upgrade your spearmen for example, you have to invest a total of 450 resources for upgrades till castle age.

When you commit too long to feudal age, you put yourself behind in many matchups like vs HRE. Single TC and getting out of feudal asap is for most civs the best play. Build as little army as possible and as much as needed and advance


I think its possibly a shame there really isn’t much reason to ever do a deep-dark ages build, beyond the increasingly toxic Mongol tower rush. I guess on paper every faction could do this - but Mongols obviously have it easier. It feels like there should be some sort of suicide rush where you cut villagers for more spearmen etc - but given base defences this isn’t obvious. Getting 3 outposts up so they just can’t harvest anything is kind of lame.

Beyond that, idk really. I tend to think the trilogy should be rush->boom->tech->rush. So its not really wrong that fast castle tends to beat feudal aggression. If it didn’t, logically the game would be strategically one dimensional, as both players would just make feudal armies and run them into each other. The issue is more that going 2 TCs (never mind 3) on open maps tends to be borderline suicidal. And usually fast Castle entails getting an economic landmark and hopefully a bunch of relics. So you get the economic bonus of a boom on top of the superior units, techs and so on. Professional Scouts facilitates getting to the Castle Age both quickly and safely - and the supposed “booming” player can’t meaningfully take advantage.

At its core though I don’t think AoE 4 will be “balanced” until the map pool is much more limited. The variety may be fun - but the “state of the game” varies massively on water, hybrid, closed land and open land maps.

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Another point i want to mention is gather rates, they are double the amount as in AoE 2, while a villager cost the same amount. Spearmen in AoE:4 80 vs AoE:2 60 resources. The aging up is also cheaper if you consider the gather rates and you dont have to build farms that early in the game, bcs the maps provide you with way more resources. This combined with some new strong economic boost early on, leads to way faster castle age times and gives feudal age aggression such a short time window to succeed.

I think that there should be more to do in Dark/Feudal, but you would want games to progress to Castle/Imperial. I think the matchup, skill level, and the map ultimately dictates what you can and can’t do.

For example, Delhi is generally considered better in the late game, but on river maps, their fishing ships can be used for early aggression in the dark age.

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When the game first came out, heavy feudal aggression was the norm almost every game, but now it’s really easy to go castle quickly with the safety of pro scouts so pretty much every non-English game goes that route.

Oh believe me I love that AoE 4 kept the aging up mechanic as it makes the franchise unique and the landmarks are a good way to freshen it up, but it shouldn’t be a justification for almost no military early on. Again, there could be some basic variety if you want to try something other than fast castle, which everybody is doing nowadays. Also keep in mind a majority of (mostly silent) people play single player, not only multiplayer matches and single player is where forcing you to age up quickly gets grindy and boring.

I’ve been thinking of alternatives AoE 4 could have taken but then we have to consider how we believe the AoE franchise handles starting towns (AoE 3 was clearly option 1):

  1. Your starting TC is an extension of a bigger empire, which means you should have access to all tech available to your home empire. In this case the “dark age” should give you access to late classical tech like bronze works, light mounted units, composite bowmen, tower shields, etc.
  2. Your starting TC is the dawn of a brand new empire, so you don’t have access to complex techs like armor, crossbows, etc. You should still be able to train basic militia. Think of villagers armed with swords and shields, simple bows and light cavalry.

Progressing through the ages gives you access to evolving those initial basic/ancient units. You could still have some buildings like the university behind the “age wall”, but military units could be unlocked in different ways. Other RTS have approached this from different angles. You either:

  1. Force the player to train a certain number of scouts to unlock light cav, then build a specific amount of light cav to unlock knights for example. So basically each military building can “age up” independently and forces you to train military instead of turtling and spend resources. This is all regardless of the age you’re in. If you aim for knights in dark and your enemy rushes you, you’re dead. The Battle for Middle Earth games implemented this mechanic.

  2. Unlock better military units simply by “tech-ing” up. You can’t build a single crossbow not even in imperial until you have researched crossbows first. On the flip side, if you are greedy you can have crossbows in dark (high risk/high reward). Almost all other RTS not having an “age up” structure follow this rule.

Agreed, booming defensive macro games are boring.


I don’t think “defensive” is boring… I think that’s a perfectly viable strategy to play a large macro game… I think the real problem is it’s too easy to widen the gap with an age up, especially when aging up isn’t so difficult and unlocks so much immediately.

If this is changed, Dark / Feudal ages will feel more impactful because each game will feel like it has distinct “periods”.

The question then is how does this affect average game time? I find that people like it when games are about 20-30 mins on average.

AOE4 has so much to do in dark age and feudal compared with AOE2. Not sure what you mean. Maybe for some civs it’s not viable but for English and Mongols it definitely is.

The history accuracy thing is just a marketing argument to make buy goofers. In anyway a game should’nt try to be realistic in every aspect . that won’t do any good to a game. Look at Arma that’s not fun to play for a vast majority of potential player. A game HAVE to be fun.
Here the point is you have little option Dark Age because you SHOULD focus on your eco first. That’s how the designer INTEND to guide your play style as they thoughts you should to have fun.
And IMO Feudal Age is pretty relevant. Because it introduce you to the designed basic Rock-Paper-Scissor the game designer developped. So it’s basically all you need to fight in theory…

Yeah, there’s stuff to do alright, but it’s all for the sake of aging up. They improved on the sheep finding mechanics and other small eco changes which do keep you busy, but tell me how many military buildings and units you can build in dark? Pick any civ.

My point is that we should have moved beyond this “triangle” mechanic of dark = less buildings/units and imperial = more buildings/units. Instead, we could have dark ages with varied military, just not as evolved (e.g. militia). We can leave most techs behind the already existing age “walls”, so the different ages keep making sense.

You shouldn’t want to move out of any given age as quickly as possible. That’s bad game design. Aging up should be a consequence of your prowess, not something you have to race through. The game should give you the flexibility to take advantage of staying behind with realistic chances of at least defending yourself.

In any case, it’s not like any of this stuff in changing in AoE 4 :upside_down_face:

Dark age has always in age of empires been about getting a start on the game and preparing for the rest, a lot of people (not myself) actually want to speed up dark age. I agree Feudal age is too easy to bypass, largely because pro scouts is so darn strong right now.

Both in this game and prior age games, going imp is actually a meaningful cost, we saw in the SteelSeries cup, multiple games were lost due to going imp because the castle age player was able to all-in them with their superior resources before the imp player was able to get a large fully upgraded army fielded.

I think it is fast in general, regardless of Pro Scouts or not. HRE without any fancy stuff gets it always min ~7.
If you want to compare it to AoE2, where fast castle into knights was around the 16 min mark.

I personally like it that you get out of dark age quicker and the Build Orders are less sharp and forgivable then in AoE2 especially thanks to the resource gathering rates and unit / building cost. The Scout has also a way bigger LOS and there are no fancy mechanics like luring the boar and such, that lets you focus more on the strategy. Since everything requires way less actions from the player, im glad it does not drag on as long as before. Feudal age on the other hand could be more fun than in AoE2. It already introduce unique units, landmarks and techs and the strength and weaknesses of a civ are already feelable and I would like to be there a bit longer with more commitment and aggression in this age. Sad i missed the first 3-4 weeks after release

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True, but the thing with pro scouts is it’s safe, especially with Rus. There’s no food to raid, Rus doesnt need to collect gold so all they have to do is secure wood with a tower. If you all-in an HRE player player without pro scouts for example, they have to go on berries or deer and gold which can be punished by feudal pressure.

You are right, pro scouts has no real counter play and rus landmark also helps to get great times and if needed to adapt quickly in feudal, by using the market and building a tower or some units asap. Scouts are also good to take down ram pushes, yeh that all sums up and rly annoying to play against :smiley:

Fast castle seems what most people do and staying in feudaly is just a loss in most cases. Ex. playing against rus.

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