Age of Empires 4 is dropping into our eager hands this month, launching exclusively on PC Oct. 28. We most recently received new information at Gamescom 2021, where the game's massive "Hands on History" feature was revealed alongside the rest of the civilizations and campaigns included at launch.
I was lucky enough to speak with World's Edge Creative Director Adam Isgreen and Relic Entertainment Game Director Quinn Duffy to discuss this unconventional storytelling method, as well as early-game strategies, naval warfare, launch content, and what's coming after release.
Doing to history what Top Gear did to car culture
Hands on History is something unlike the Age of Empires series has ever seen, though it was certainly inspired by previous games and their heavy focus on our exciting past. In my previous Age of Empires 4 developer interview, I mentioned that Age of Empires 2 and its in-depth campaigns really got me caring about history all those years ago. And while we knew that Age 4 was going deep on history, this new live-action method was a surprise to many.
Hands on History includes 28 unlockable videos — assumedly unlocking as you play through the campaign — all meant to help players understand the historical significance of the game they're playing. We were shown one of these unlockables at Gamescom: a three-minute video explaining how trebuchets work and why they were used in battle. I was curious to know at what point in the game's production this idea of live-action footage came around. Isgreen had this to say:
Hands on History isn't amateur fare. The whole idea really came together once Relic Entertainment and Lion TV, one of the U.K.'s premier television production companies, began working together to deliver these segments in context with the rest of the game. I was curious to know if, before that cohesion, there was any trepidation or hesitation from the rest of the team. Duffy explained:
Isgreen gave kudos to the Relic Entertainment and Lion TV teams for putting the Hands on History segments together in such a way that fits the game as a whole. He explained that, despite seeing the scripts, it wasn't until the content started rolling in that everyone was truly floored.
Duffy and Isgreen agreed that they weren't shy about their love of history and that there's a ton of live content headed our way. Even despite some of it not making it past the rating board. Isgreen concluded:
Don't worry; Isgreen assured me that those pulled segments will see the light of day in some manner after launch.
Age of Empires 4 gives players myriad strategic options
With the official reveal of the final two launch civilizations — The Rus and Holy Roman Empire — some questions came to mind surrounding how the game will play out in the opening minutes. The Rus appear to be quite aggressive, expanding borders and receiving gold from unique buildings and units. I asked if there was any sort of trend toward aggression time, like how most Age 2 games see a clash around the 5-6-minute mark and how Starcraft games are much quicker. Duffy clarified:
It certainly seems like Age of Empires 4 will be more about providing players with plenty of different strategies, right from the beginning of the game, than it will be about having a set meta for the first 10 minutes of play. Fewer players rushing through Dark and Feudal ages to reach more powerful units should certainly shake things up and will make for some great Age gameplay. Isgreen stresses that this also depends heavily on map size and the random map generation you get for your game. With around 20 maps coming at launch, some new and some familiar, players will have plenty of opportunity to test out different strategic combinations.
One other major feature that should shake up the game is naval warfare. I asked how much of an impact it would have on the average game, and whether it would weigh heavier than in past Age games. Isgreen answered:
Isgreen was careful to clarify that there would still be maps like a dry Arabia equivalent for those who don't like building ships, but also mentioned that there will be new maps focused heavily on naval warfare. He concluded by saying he hopes that the percentage of players who enjoy naval gameplay will go up with what they've done in Age of Empires 4.
Age of Empires 4 is approaching the finish line
Age of Empires 4 launches soon and the team is busy finalizing a lot of practical details. Certifications, bug backlogs, stability tests, and parsing continued feedback are all crucial right now, explained Duffy. It's also a time where the team has to balance adding new features and squashing any bugs that might arise from the addition. For example, the zoom level that was a hot topic during the beta playtest is still being worked on. "That's the big thing we're working on right now," said Isgreen. "I'm hoping we'll make a change for launch that will make a lot of people happy." Isgreen also mentioned that the global queue feature is being worked on, but likely won't be included at launch. The same goes for mod tools.
Ranked matchmaking will be disabled at first in order to give the game a bit of time to reveal any bugs and balance issues. "We want that to be a moment," said Isgreen. "We're going to be balancing this game forever." I asked about the inclusion of Deathmatch, King of the Hill, and Regicide modes at launch, and it seems that the team will monitor numbers from previous Age games to see what to add first. "We will communicate that pre-launch," said Isgreen. "We'll be sharing a lot more information on our launch plans and what we're going to do after and in what order so that people know certain things are coming."
Age of Empires 4 is set to release on Oct. 28, 2021 on PC through Windows, Xbox Game Pass for PC, and Steam. Be sure to check out our collection of best laptops for playing Age of Empires 4 if your current system doesn't hit the recommended system specs.
Epic historical battles
History, naval warfare, and more.
Age of Empires 4 is a continuation of the legendary RTS series with a focus on historical accuracy, asymmetrical warfare, and deep strategy.
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Cale Hunt is formerly a Senior Editor at Windows Central. He focuses mainly on laptop reviews, news, and accessory coverage. He's been reviewing laptops and accessories full-time since 2016, with hundreds of reviews published for Windows Central. He is an avid PC gamer and multi-platform user, and spends most of his time either tinkering with or writing about tech.
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