Age of Empires 4 ultimate guide: Release date, gameplay, and everything you need to know

Age of Empires IV Gameplay Reveal
Age of Empires IV Gameplay Reveal (Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

Microsoft's return to beloved PC gaming titles includes Age of Empires 4, a revival of one of the best real-time strategy (RTS) series ever produced. While the first three Age of Empires games have been remade and re-released as Definitive Editions, Age of Empires 4 is a new look at the RTS formula while still holding true to its roots. Here's everything you need to know about Age of Empires 4.

What's new with Age of Empires 4?

Age of Empires 4

(Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

It was announced today during the Age of Empires anniversary broadcast that Age of Empires 4 is coming to Xbox in 2023. This announcement comes alongside the reveal that Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition is also coming to Xbox at a sooner date on January 31, 2023.

Details about the Age 4 console release are still sparse, but we do know a few things about the Age 2: DE version. A new tutorial has been created to help players adjust to controller inputs, though keyboard and mouse support will be included. There will also be a new in-game AI that can help with micromanagement. And, perhaps most exciting, crossplay will be available between Xbox and PC.

Age of Empires 4 Anniversary Edition and new civs

The Age of Empires 4 team announced at Gamescom 2022 that the game is getting two new civilizations on October 25, coinciding with the one-year Age 4 anniversary and the overall series' 25-year anniversary. The Ottomans and Malians civilizations will be added to the game for free for all players to enjoy as part of the Age of Empires 4 Anniversary Edition.

The West-African Malians have a focus on economic strength with mining and gold investments, while the Ottomans bring the most devastating siege equipment yet to the battlefield with the Great Bombard siege unit. The Anniversary Update is expected to also include some new maps, as well as achievements and masteries for the new civilizations.

(Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

Red Bull Wololo: Legacy tournament

Red Bull Wololo: Legacy

(Image credit: Red Bull)

Red Bull and the Age of Empires team announced the return of the Red Bull Wololo: Legacy tournament, set to run October 21-30, 2022. The tournament will include competition across Age of Empires: Definitive Edition, Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition, and Age of Empires 4 titles. This tournament coincides with the Age of Empires 4 one-year anniversary and the 25-year anniversary of the series.

The tournament, in which games are played in a 1 vs. 1 fashion, is open to anyone who can make it through qualifiers running from June until September 2022. The same location that hosted the 2021 tournament, Castle Heidelberg in Germany, is the setting for the 2022 rerun.

Sign up to get into the action at the Red Bull Wololo website.

Age of Empires 4 season one and two PUP

(Image credit: Source: Xbox Game Studios)

The Age of Empires 4 initial Public Update Preview (PUP) began on March 10 and continued until March 25, 2022 after a mid-run extension. This came on the heels of the Age of Empires 4 2022 roadmap reveal, which laid out Season One and Season Two plans.

Age of Empires 4 Season One, which was originally called the Spring Update, brought a beta version of the anticipated Content Editor plus mod support. This allows players to create everything from their own maps and scenarios to completely new experiences using the game's engine.

Season One also kicked off the first Ranked Ladder where players go head-to-head with others at a similar skill level. There are six divisions to move through, each with three tiers. Rewards are available for players who participate and rank up during the six-week season.

A number of quality-of-life improvements were also included. Global build queue and the ability to "Patrol Move" units were introduced, and you can now view the entire map following a match. There's a new Art of War to test your skills, and you can play MegaRandom maps.

Age of Empires 4 at Gamescom 2021

World's Edge Creative Director Adam Isgreen introduced a deeper look at the game's "Hands-on history" segments during the Xbox games showcase at Gamescom 2021. These live-action video segments, produced with help from Lion TV, are interspersed throughout the game's campaign as a way for people to better relate to the history they're playing. This is all part of the "humanized history" angle that the developers are attempting.

Isgreen mentioned that including this type of content in the game has been "insanely nerve-wracking," though reception has been positive so far. You can take a look at the segment about trebuchets (embedded above) yourself; expect plenty more videos in the game, including those about castle building, falconing, horse taming, and even Mongolian instrumentation.

On Opening Night Live at Gamescom 2021 we were also treated to some new gameplay and a reveal of the final two civilizations expected at launch: Rus and Holy Roman Empire.

Age of Empires 4 at E3 2021

(Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

It was revealed at E3 2021 that Age of Empires 4 would release Oct. 28, 2021. This firmed up plans to release the game "Fall 2021," which was previously the closest time frame we knew about. It was also revealed that mod support is expected "early 2022."

Perhaps more exciting and relevant for a lot of PC gamers was a list of Age of Empires 4 minimum system requirements on the game's Steam product page. An Intel Core i5-6300U CPU, 8GB of RAM, and Intel HD 520 integrated graphics are listed.

In an extended Xbox Showcase segment, Adam Isgreen and Emma Bridle of World's Edge revealed further details about the game; you can check out the video above for the full seven-minute segment.

While we saw two new civilizations in the E3 trailer — Abbasid Dynasty and French — we received more information during this extended segment. The Abbasid Dynasty has a unique building called the "House of Wisdom" which can be upgraded throughout the game with different buffs that will aid economy and military. Their unique camel units also buff allied units around them, which developers hope will move players to include camels in all armies.

The French are more economy-based (great for a pocket boomer), with a unique landmark called the "House of Commerce." Knights and Lancers are the focus for the French, and they're directly involved in the "Hundred Years War" campaign centered around Joan of Arc.

We got a closer look at naval warfare in the extended showcase, with some sea-to-sea and sea-to-land fighting. Isgreen mentioned that player feedback definitely helped drive home the point that naval warfare is a key part of the Age series.

Age of Empires 4 fan preview event

The April 10, 2021, Age of Empires fan preview event gave us a whole lot of new information about Age of Empires 4. The event highlighted the (then) four known civilizations, we got more details about the campaigns, there was a closer look at art direction and gameplay, and there was a reveal of naval warfare.

Six members from the dev team took time behind closed doors following an advance viewing of the fan preview for an extended Q&A period to answer our burning questions. We were able to wring out a lot of information about the game from this session, which is detailed below.

I also sat down with World's Edge Senior Executive Producer Michael Mann, Relic Entertainment Game Director Quinn Duffy, and Relic Entertainment Art Director Zach Schläppi for a more intimate Age of Empires 4 developer interview about how the game fits into the series and what we can expect at launch.

Age of Empires 4 release date

Age of Empires 4 is now available everywhere! The game requires about 50GB of space on your PC, though this will grow with updates and DLC. You can pick up the game through the Microsoft Store, Steam, or with a subscription to PC Game Pass.

If you're new to the game, we have a couple of beginner's guides to share. Our Age of Empires 4 civilization guide lays out what to expect from each of the eight playable civs, while our Age of Empires 4 tips and tricks are more generalized and will hopefully help you get your first win.

What is Age of Empires 4?

If you ask just about any longtime RTS fan what games rank at the top of the list, the Age of Empires series is likely what comes to mind. The first entry, released in 1997, focused on human history from the Stone Age to the Iron Age, while the second entry focused more heavily on the Middle Ages. Age of Empires 3, released nearly 15 years ago, moved ahead in time to the colonization of the Americas.

Playing the games involves micro- and macro-management of workers and military units belonging to historic civilizations. You must grow a small starting population, collect resources, advance through the ages, and defend against invaders while also planning your attacks. You can enjoy lengthy campaigns, skirmishes against AI, or multiplayer battles while alone or teamed up with friends. The games are relatively easy to pick up, but the best players employ in-depth strategies to get a slight edge on the competition.

(Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

Age of Empires 4 is a revival of the series that hopes to capture the old magic while offering something new to veterans and newcomers alike. As mentioned by Relic Entertainment Game Director Quinn Duffy, this is "a spiritual successor to Age of Empires 2." The game spans medieval generations just like the second game, only on a larger scale. Campaigns aim to humanize our history through storytelling, not just through gameplay, but also through live action documentary-style cutscenes and narration.

The team wanted to push the borders of the Age series without stepping out of its bounds. There has been much work done with community members to ensure the game feels like it was built for Age players when it launches. Regular play sessions with a community council made up of series veterans has helped steer the game in the right direction.

Many RTS fans are also returning to Age of Empires thanks to celebrated Definitive Edition remasters that bring updated graphics, reworked mechanics, and overhauled campaigns. Be sure to check out our Age of Empires: Definitive Edition review, our Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition review, and our Age of Empires 3: Definitive Edition review for some extra hype.

Who is developing Age of Empires 4?

Age of Empires IV Gameplay Reveal

(Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

The first three Age of Empires games (as well as other titles, like Halo Wars) were developed by Ensemble Studios, a team based in Dallas, Texas. After Ensemble was closed down in 2009 following the release of Age of Empires 3, it didn't look good for a fourth title. The Age of Empires series was left to the community, which did its best to keep the games enjoyable and populated.

Thankfully, an internal development studio at Microsoft called "World's Edge" — lead by Shannon Loftis — has been overseeing new Age content, including remasters of the first three games with help from third-party developers like Tantalus, Wicked Witch, and Forgotten Empires. In an interview with Windows Central's Matt Brown, Loftis clarified that Age of Empires no longer belongs to one studio:

"Age isn't ours anymore. We're stewards, it belongs to the community, and it belongs to the globe," said Loftis. "There's no world in which a Redmond-centric game development studio is going to get the right global set of voices in. [...] We have contracts; you know about three of our partners, Relic, Tantalus, and Forgotten Empires. We have others that we're not talking about yet. But it is genuinely a global development team. All the teams work together to share assets, share ideas, and the legacy teams are working with Relic."

Age of Empires 4 has been in development alongside the Definitive Edition remasters, with Relic Entertainment taking the lead on the latest entry in the series. According to World's Edge Creative Director Adam Isgreen, this has helped with efforts to keep Age of Empires 4 feeling true to its roots while also standing out:

"We've learned so much with all of the launches. It's been a real growing experience, but it's unfair to say that it's one way. We've learned things in the development of Age of Empires IV that we can even put into Age II. For example, the network technology behind the scenes is actually from Relic. All of the Definitive Edition games are now going to have Relic's modern networking backend. [...] It's this great two-way conversation between the old games and the new one, about what we're going to share and how we're going to grow the games."

Age of Empires 4 is built with Relic Entertainment's proprietary engine that has been used in previous games, now in its fourth version. It has undergone a substantial overhaul over the course of the game's development.

What is gameplay like in Age of Empires 4?

Our first glimpse of Age of Empires 4 gameplay was at X019. This quick glimpse included Pre-Alpha gameplay, but there were plenty of small details to take in. Adam Isgreen had this to say:

"Everything in that trailer is real; everything we show will be in the final game. We have wall combat working. That falcon is real, that's gameplay; it's a scout unit. But all that's real, genuine gameplay, and nothing we will show won't be in the game. [...] That is why we waited so long, and what we'll continue doing with Age going forward."

Age of Empires 4 is a modernized version of the RTS that still feels like an Age game. Your villagers must collect wood, food, gold, and stone. There is still the rock, paper, scissors setup between troops that provides counters for ranged, mounted, and foot units. You'll still need to research technology that benefits your civilization, and you'll still need to advance your civilization through Dark Age, Feudal Age, Castle Age, and Imperial Age.

The Dark Age consists of herding animals, hunting deer (which looks like it can now be accomplished by a scout), building houses, collecting berries next to a mill, planting farms, and building palisade walls to defend against early aggression. Scouts look out for resources, relics, and the enemy. Villagers can still defend themselves, apparently with ranged or close-quarters attacks. And it looks as though monasteries will be a Dark Age building.

(Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

The Feudal Age sees stone and gold mining, further domestication of herdable animals (potentially akin to the renewable feature in Age 3), holy site capturing (on part of the Mongols), tower defense, razing of building with a new fire feature, trading, tax collection (on part of the Chinese), and further confrontations with the enemy.

Castle Age moves the game into heavy stone walls, siege equipment, massive armies, and thoughtful city defense. Castles are back and seem to be just as powerful as in previous games. And finally, Imperial Age sees the most powerful units of the game go head to head. Roads between buildings are paved, gunpowder units are present, and enormous armies lay siege to cities. Wonders make a return, allowing for a different sort of victory. Trebuchets take time to set up but do massive damage, and monks can still convert enemy units.

Despite a lot of familiar elements, Age of Empires 4 isn't attempting to rest on the success of Age 2. It has plenty of new features to behold. Military units can now be assigned atop stone walls, and enemies can capture ramparts to rain fire down on a defending city. Pikemen can brace against cavalry charges, archers can create temporary fortifications, monks can convert entire areas of the battlefield, and units can hide in heavily forested areas to ambush enemies, whispering to each other while hidden. There won't be hero units, but there will be support units that can bolster troops in battle. We saw this in the trailer with the Mongol Khan.

Battles will still consist of up to 1,600 units on a multiplayer map, with eight players each having a population cap of 200. Siege will play an important role in the game, allowing slower or defensive players a chance to hold out while they boom an economy. Aggression will almost always be beneficial, however, and the addition of a fire mechanic should get turtled players moving. This is, after all, a game about warfare.

(Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

Naval combat has made a return in Age of Empires 4. Developers have stated that they know how important it is to the fanbase, and we saw some glimpses of it during E3 2021.

Pathfinding, an RTS game's chief concern, has been overhauled. Instead of the traditional move from point A to point B in the shortest way possible, Age of Empires 4 should introduce a far more realistic movement. Adam Isgreen explains:

"If you know real-time strategy games, behind the scenes, it's been run by a find path solution called A* for a billion years, pretty much since its invention, with a few exceptions here and there. One of our big changes is moving to a more organic, more modern solution for find-path, which is called flow-field."

Age-up mechanics — which apply each time you want to move onto the next age — have been tweaked and resemble more Age of Empires 3 than 2. Each civilization has a landmark choice to make when aging up, which will influence the playstyle through the rest of the game. For example, if you're being rushed by an enemy early, you might want to choose a military upgrade on your move to the Feudal Age to defend your city.

What civilizations are in Age of Empires 4?

Age of Empires IV Gameplay Reveal

(Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

There are eight playable civilizations in Age of Empires 4, including English, Chinese, Delhi Sultanate, Mongols, French, Abbasid Dynasty, Holy Roman Empire, and Rus. More civs are expected in the future, with the Malians and Ottomans coming with the Age of Empires 4 Anniversary Update.

There is more of a focus on diversity and asymmetrical balancing in Age of Empires 4. There are still generic units and there's still the triangle between pikemen, cavalry, and archers. But civs will differ far more than in previous games. For example, Mongols can pack up their entire city and move on to the next spot. They employ the stone resource differently owing to their nomadic nature. And while some civs will push the boundaries of the Age feel, others — like the English — will play a lot like Britons in Age of Empires 2. This is intentional and will give returning players a sense of familiarity.

Civilizations all have a sense of union between present and past, and it's the civs that left a lasting impression on our world that have made it into the game. Not only will gameplay mechanics change between civs, but so will the graphics and artistic decisions. There is far more detail in Age 4 than in any other Age game, and it's all historically influenced.

What are graphics like in Age of Empires 4?

(Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

Age of Empires 4 graphics are a bit of a departure from previous Age games, leaning more on playability than ever before. Art Director Zach Schläppi explained that the cognitive load had to be balanced carefully. There was a need to give players a "what they see is what they get" experience from the game. Passive upgrades are all visually represented in-game, and armor and weapon upgrades are visual to ease accessibility. Weapons are larger, colors are distinct, and buildings are easily identifiable thanks to a similar footprint across civs.

Individual units don't need a ton of detail and so appear a bit more cartoonish, especially set against the incredibly detailed landscape with photo-realistic lighting. This game is beautiful, and it's expected that it won't falter on low-end machines.

As for individual civilization art, the through line of history first is still present. Textures change through the ages. Rooflines of buildings are altered, and as you progress through the ages you begin to see more intricate and ornate architecture. Even the lighting changes as you age up; the Dark Age is dank and gloomy and grim, with more light and saturation appearing as you approach the Renaissance.

Does Age of Empires 4 have a campaign?

Age of Empires IV

(Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

Yes, Age of Empires 4 features a campaign with a focus on improved and humanized historical accuracy. Whereas a lot of civilization meta in previous Age games played somewhat similarly, there's now a more significant emphasis on separating cultures. This is helped along by a new method of ensuring historical accuracy. Adam Isgreen explains:

"We went to Mongolia, learned about Mongols. We didn't go to a professor here in London or someone back in the States. We went to the source to learn how those cultures operated because respecting them and doing them justice is so important."

At launch there are four playable campaigns set in the Middle Ages. The Age 4 team took Age 2's history and blew it up to a much larger scale. Campaigns are now divided into chapters spanning multiple generations, with hours upon hours of playtime.

(Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

In order to bridge the gap between game campaign missions and real-life history, Age of Empires 4 attempts to create a sort of interactive documentary. Film crews and documentarians collected footage on location in the places the campaigns visit. This footage is mixed with narration and a golden overlay that shows how these areas looked in the past and where your units would be standing if they were transported to the present. It's an intriguing way to blend past and present, and with 28 of these historical segments unlockable through the game, it's sure to teach a whole new generation of kids.

Who is composing the Age of Empires 4 soundtrack?

Music in the Age of Empires games has traditionally been epic, and many longtime fans of the series can hum the different tracks without any thought. Age of Empires 4 continues this tradition, bringing on composer Mikolai Stroinski to handle the music. If that name sounds familiar, it's because Stroinski composed the music for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.

Each civilization has its own theme that expands as the player ages up. Units on the field speak appropriate languages that also evolve as you progress. For example, you won't understand the English units in the Dark Age, but by the Imperial Age the words spoken will be much closer to the modern tongue.

What about community modding?

Mods are a huge part of the Age of Empires world, and many people still play modded versions of the old games instead of moving to the new Definitive Editions. Speaking with PCGamesN, Adam Isgreen agrees:

"I will tell you that one of the pillars of all of the Age of Empires games is mods and allowing people access to tools that allow them to build great content. We all believe that's one of the reasons Age has lasted as long as it has — because the community has been able to support the game. We have no intention of stopping now with Age IV. It is an integral, huge part of Age IV and is showcased more heavily in some ways than any previous Age game."

Age of Empires 4 mod support was added through the Content Editor, the tool that lets you create new content. You can create new handcrafted or generated maps, modify individual unit stats, and come up with your own game modes.

Age of Empires 4 system requirements

We now know some minimum PC system requirements for Age of Empires 4. The game's Steam page includes an Intel Core i5-6300U CPU, 8GB of RAM, and integrated Intel HD 520 graphics.

If you're interested in upgrading, be sure to have a look at our collection of the best graphics cards for some great options.

Is Age of Empires 4 coming to console?

Our sources now suggest that Age of Empires 4 is coming to consoles. A reveal in 2022 is likely, and there may even be a launch date later this year. It will definitely be on Xbox, but whether it's also coming to competing consoles remains to be seen.

Does Age of Empires 4 include microtransactions?

No, Age of Empires 4 does not include microtransactions. In an interview with PCGamesN, Adam Isgreen explained that expansions and DLC "will be explored" while microtransactions are left off the table.

Cale Hunt

Cale Hunt brings to Windows Central more than eight years of experience writing about laptops, PCs, accessories, games, and beyond. If it runs Windows or in some way complements the hardware, there’s a good chance he knows about it, has written about it, or is already busy testing it.