Is Age of Empires 4 The Next Generation Of RTS? (Campaign Review)
Starcraft 2s dominance, combined with the rise of mobas, meant that rts took a seat on the back burner for a bit as the decade ended. It seems, like everybody collectively remembered that rts is awesome. We got announcements for immortal gates of pyre, homeworld 3, whatever frost giant studios is making and, of course, age of empires 4.. This week, relic entertainment released the vanguard of the new generation of rts, but is the game actually any good for transparency? This is not a paid review and in order to properly critique the game, ive played through the entire campaign on the hard difficulty, which is the most difficult setting. This review is going to focus mainly on the single player campaign, because the majority of people who pick up a title never bother with multiplayer anyway, and i happened to know a thing or two about rts campaigns going into the game. I didnt know what to expect. I had stayed spoiler free and was excited to see what the campaign would bring. What i didnt expect was the history channel instead of crafting a traditional story through introducing and developing characters voice, acting them and having them interact. Age of empires 4 opts to frame the campaign more like a bbc documentary. It has large sweeping drone shots of locations that historic battles took place with stylized renderings of medieval soldiers and knights, walking on ramparts and marching its different, and i actually really like it, because it rigidly bases itself in real history.
The age of empires franchise has always struggled with personal narratives, its difficult to properly build up and represent characters. While staying true to history, its difficult to make someone seem epic. When, then, you have to kill them off randomly of dysentery, its just, not good storytelling. The documentary style completely sidesteps this issue instead of characters interacting to establish why a battle is happening. A voice actress provides exposition. What i dont like as much is that the style continues throughout the missions as well important historical figures such as william, the conqueror never get a single spoken line. Instead, every action objective and its ramifications are narrated by the same woman, shes good at what she does. Her pronunciations are on point and she speaks clearly but its just too much of her. I cant help but feel if they use the documentary style to set the context and then had proper voice acting during the missions. They really could have taken things to the next level. One problem i repeatedly have was not noticing things she says in game, because she speaks with no urgency in her voice, its easy to completely miss what she says during a pitched battle, its a system that solves a narrative problem but needs refining im not going to Hold it against the game, because i do think it was executed quite well after finishing the tutorial that taught me to attack with units comes the meat and potatoes of the game, the macro missions, if youve ever played age of empires, starcraft or warcraft, then the style Of production is very familiar, each faction gets a hub where workers are produced.
These workers can harvest resources and build structures, its a rock solid formula and has been around for decades. It works and it feels good to play. Factions in age of empires have historically not been particularly differentiated from each other, instead of being completely unique factions theyre, mostly variants of each other, with unique units and mechanics added on to give each civilization a distinct, flavor and feel this system is nice. In a lot of ways, its incredibly easy to pick up a new faction and have a decent idea of whats going on this makes the new player experience infinitely easier, which is great age of empires 4, continues that trend, but provides significantly more variation between factions than Previous titles, they do it in a clever way too. Many of the differences are all about getting small percentage bonuses, for example, french, archeries and stables get a production bonus when youre a keep and english farms get a bonus when adjacent to a mill when youre playing at a high level. These abilities provide strategic depth, while new players who dont know about them are not punished at all. Even the mongols, who are by far and away the most extreme faction, does a great job at making sure to keep the basics of production almost exactly the same. Leaving the player with a sense of familiarity that makes learning the difference is significantly less disorienting. While i personally prefer, when each faction differs from each other drastically, they did a good job at making.
Each of them feel different enough that i didnt get bored building an economy, producing structures and training, an army all feel very fluid, and natural fighting with armies, on the other hand, has some issues. The first problem is, it can be really hard to tell your soldiers apart. This is a villager and an archer. Can you tell me which one is which now pretend youre under attack by a raid of angry englishmen, its incredibly easy to accidentally grab your workers and send them straight into the blender giant? Infantry blobs in general are very difficult to parse its next to impossible. To get a read on the ratios of archers to spearmen to men at arms, if youre, the type of player who likes to identify what your opponent is, making and responds to it, youre gon na have a tough time. Individual units are also very difficult to control. Theyre sluggish and get caught on their allies when being retreated. This might come as a surprise but im a fan of babysitting, my units, keeping them at top durability and saving them to fight another day. But the visual problems, combined with the poor responsiveness, meant that i sent many good men to their deaths because saving them was too much effort. Another issue is the lack of activated abilities, its not uncommon for a fully maxed out army to have zero abilities. These things combined means that there often isnt much to do in a big battle.
I often found myself going back to base building farms and other infrastructure during pitched battles, because it was a better use of my time than watching the fight its a problem. If there isnt an incentive to watch a war in a war game, but the campaign is not just giant armies smashing into each other theres, always an objective generally mission objectives can be split into aggression, defense and no build missions, mixing and matching these archetypes to create Endless variety you toss in some interesting bonus objectives and youre golden the norman campaign is a great example of mission. Variety. In just the first few missions, you have a no build giant battle, a multi objective mission about saving a town for increased economy into fighting a castle with an interesting bonus objective where you can either fight off raiders or bribe them to stop attacking. Then you have an introduction to siege warfare, a mission where you hire mercenaries, to burn down villages and lure the enemy out of their castle and a mission where you have to retreat to the edge of the map before clawing back and defeating a titanic army that Variety is incredible, and it really impressed me every mission was unique and fun, and then i got into the hundred years war campaign over eight missions. I got a no build mission where you rescue reinforcements to beat the english a castle defense mission, a mission that wasnt supposed to be a defense mission, but the bonus objective was so insanely overtuned that it turned into one another defense mission that is also insanely overtuned.
Another castle defense mission, another no build mission where you rescue reinforcements to beat the english an actually fun mission, where you invent cannons and get to shoot things and then finally, a third, no build mission where you rescue reinforcements to beat the english. These missions werent bad from a technical perspective. I was enjoying myself as i played, but the lack of variety was very apparent when i ended up hitting what was the fourth defense mission in a row. Most everything that ive talked about so far is a design decision. Theres, an upside and theres a downside to each decision thats made. There is one thing that i believe is objectively bad in this game. The ai i play through a decent number of older rts titles. There are games from 20 years ago that have better ai than age of empires. 4.. The ai makes no attempt to even pretend that it cares about money. It either has unlimited resources or everything is free. It has no workers on the map ever not even pretending to harvest for immersive effect. The attacks are all completely scripted and theres zero dynamic play, which would be acceptable if scripted events were complex and interesting, instead, its really really dumb. On multiple occasions, while i was defending the enemy would bring in a wave of siege units and instead of attacking my walls, they would instead bank towards a hole in my wall taking fire the entire way there enter my base, run down the wall towards a gate And then attack the gate from the inside of my base.
It was an automatic death sentence and slaughter of their forces, and it would happen constantly i wasnt trying to abuse the ai. It just kept happening to the point that i couldnt stop it. If i tried, the ai also wont do things such as prioritize fighting horses with their spearmen or armored units with their anti armor, they dont try to execute low hp units or withdraw to regroup. They simply attack the nearest target. The ai also doesnt change dynamically based on the games difficulty. Instead, higher difficulties are simply defined by larger attacks and better upgrades. A great example of the ais, dumb behavior was a no build mission where i was tasked of fighting a giant army of longbowmen. There were literally hundreds of them. They slaughtered me effortlessly, despite the fact that they didnt even manage to bring all of their archers into the fight. There were over 80 archers against six remaining cannons, and then i won anyway. I didnt even really try the enemy would barely pursue me when i opened fire on them. My cannons had hardly started retreating by the time the enemies returned to their position in many other games. When i accomplished killing hundreds of enemies with a few units, it feels like, i was clever, i outwitted and out controlled the enemy and was rewarded for it. Here. It often feels like the enemy is an incredible juggernaut of death, whose only weakness is the fact that it cant stop shooting itself in the foot on multiple occasions.
This turned what could be epic moments into hollow victories. I cant speak for normal or below, but hard does not have a smooth difficulty curve missions randomly alternate from intense early aggression to the enemy, literally, not attacking for 15 minutes, and i lost on the early missions of each campaign significantly more than on the later stages. Lets talk about some of the things i do like the music and sound design are phenomenal, instead of being filled with banger after banger, the faction specific music is atmospheric and inviting the music is dynamic, starting simple and quiet and as the ages progress. So do the melodies adding additional instruments and more complex rhythm, reinforcing the feeling that your civilization is an ever growing organism, its lovely the unit sounds are incredible as well. Each faction speaks in their own language, the english and old english, the french in old french. The units arent annoying when issued commands and the sounds of pitch battle are great. My favorite sound in the entire game is the trebuchet Music. You can hear the creaking metal of the mechanism as it fires its so good. The games terrain visuals are nice as well. The roads, grass farmland and ground scatter in the form of rocks and bushes all look very natural and differentiate areas on the map, towns feel like towns and the countryside feels like the countryside. The game also goes absurd, with levels of elevation, sometimes allowing for some really cool moments where you truly feel the power of controlling the high ground.
Most of the time i was locked to a smooth 60 fps with all the graphic settings on max, though it would reliably dip below that when my army was big and there are a few miscellaneous annoying things saves take five to six seconds and completely lock up The game, while theyre happening this includes auto, saves, and i still get jumpy thinking my game crashed when one triggers the in game cut. Scenes are also just a bit off units dont walk properly in straight lines. Phantom buildings show up and the enemies off screen often just continue to attack its unrefined, and this isnt really a complaint, but i couldnt find anywhere else to put it. This is what it looks like when you rally a building its so weird. What even, is it its too its too yellow, and it can be a little bit difficult to discern what various buildings are. They all follow the same architectural style so they blend in a bit. When i started the french campaign, i ended up playing the first defense mission as a limited economy mission, because i genuinely thought that i didnt have a town center to make villagers, though im not a very bright person, and that might be on me if youre already A fan of the age of empires formula or a big fan of rts in general, i would say that age of empires 4 is worth picking up overall its rough around the edges, but has a solid core to work off of.
If you go into it understanding the games problems and are willing to look at it for what it is, then youre gon na have a good time if youre the type of person who heavily values character, driven narrative. I would steer clear from this and, if youre interested in the rts genre and are looking for an introductory game, i would probably point you towards starcraft, 2 or company of heroes 2. Instead, i personally will be purchasing any additional dlc campaigns if theyre released. This was their first attempt at making a campaign in this style and im interested in seeing how they take the lessons. Theyve learned to bring age of empires to the next level, but, most importantly, whatever you do, dont get the digital deluxe version its terrible. It had brings no value for 20 dollars, it sucks so badly.