Age of Empires IV offers players eight different civilizations to explore in both single-player and multiplayer real-time strategy. While there is a long campaign spanning multiple civilizations, the longevity of the experience lies in multiplayer encounters. If multiplayer isn’t your thing, you may be missing out on a large chunk of the game, but there are always skirmishes where you can take on the AI on a comfortable level if you don’t feel like taking on other players.
Age of Empires IV is incredibly secure in its execution and channels the spirit of Age of Empires II for many of its systems, mechanics, and functions. While the divisive Age of Empires III kicked in 16 years ago, it’s a bit of a dull anesthesia to see IV play things so close to Age of Empires II.
There’s a full-bodied campaign in which the first segment acts as an extensive tutorial that can teach even an RTS novice to harvest resources, form control groups, and learn how to demolish walled fortifications. These campaign offerings are deeply rooted in classic RTS and mostly involve building troops and resources and taking out your opponents, but there are some nice surprises here too. Many of the good things that are out of the ordinary here include historical figures leading troops who have been given special campaign skills that add a little zing and flair to the routine.
The most fun aspect of the campaigns, however, wasn’t the gameplay. Instead, I had a lot of fun with history channel style videos and segments between missions. I haven’t had a Magna Carta refresher like this since high school. Some of the video segments occur in an unusual way in which ancient battles and history are superimposed on modern environments. Anyway, it works, and I’ve been motivated to end every bitter war between William the Conqueror, King John, and others in order to unravel the next level of edutainment. The video vignettes and bonus story content keep things interesting between many traditional “resource to-do” missions.
There is a lot of variety in gameplay within the eight different civilizations, even within each culture. Do you feel like playing incredibly aggressively? Select the Mongols and immediately start expanding and putting pressure on your opponent. Do you want to destroy the enemy from a long distance? Get some English longbow archers into the ranks! And if nothing else but the wrath of giant elephants is enough, choose the Sultanate of Delhi and tear through opposing fortresses. Explore fromOther unique elements, such as a culture that does not require resources to conduct research, offer a great deal of depth. There’s a lot to learn and experiment with each faction’s unique buildings, units, and game mechanics, and it’s fun to try different build orders and paths to victory.
Even if you don’t want to compete against other players in multiplayer, you can team up with them and take on co-op versus AI encounters. Pretty much every game you play grants experience points that are used to unlock new cosmetics to show off, including portraits, coats of arms, and city monuments. These don’t force you to play in ways you don’t want, but rather provide some visual flair to their games for those who choose to master a faction.
The real-time strategy genre remains relevant and is fueled by some big titles every now and then. While Age of Empires IV has every ambition to even gently kick off the standards of Age of Empires II decades ago, it’s a great way to play a classic-looking real-time strategy game with a bit of sleek polish and panache today.
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