Real-time strategy fans were treated to a spectacular demonstration of upcoming content on April 10 at the Age of Empires Fan Preview event. New Age of Empires 2 and 3 Definitive Edition content was revealed, as was a whole bunch of Age of Empires 4 information.
The standout news? Age of Empires 4 is expected to launch later this year. And while it certainly has a bevy of new tricks to show off, it's still most certainly an Age of Empires game both in style and play.
A few days after an advance preview I was able to sit 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 direct conversation about what we can expect from Age of Empires 4.
A true successor to Age of Empires 2
One of the overarching themes pulled from the preview event and following Q&A session is that Age of Empires 4 isn't attempting to reinvent the RTS genre. More specifically, the new game was referred to as "a spiritual successor to Age 2" by Game Director Quinn Duffy. Resources, including wood, food, gold, and stone look the same, and the ages begin with Dark and end with Imperial. Going deeper, core gameplay should also seem familiar to those who have played Age 2.
Core and surface gameplay mechanics aren't the only thing that will be familiar to series veterans. Art direction has also been heavily influenced by the older games. Even though Age 4 is using a brand new version of Relic's engine, players are going to immediately recognize that this is an Age of Empires game. And that feat falls on Art Director Zach Schläppi. He emphasized that the art team consists of many Age fans, so pulling traditional colors and landscapes made sense for the new game.
Schläppi also talked about architectural decisions and how they play into the core gameplay mechanics. It wasn't just a matter of creating attractive buildings; each structure had to contribute to the overall accessibility of the game.
The takeaway here is that Age of Empires 2 and its flanking entries have heavily influenced Age of Empires 4. Veteran players are going to be able to sit down and immediately pick up the core values. But what sets Age 4 apart?
Going places Age of Empires has never gone before
Age of Empires 4 might look and feel familiar, but it's not without a ton of new gameplay mechanics and systems. Most intriguing to me, a lifelong Age 2 player, are new siege, wall, landmark, age-up, fire, ambush, and conversion mechanics.
While we've already seen in Age 2 how siege plays an important role in late-Imperial battles, we've never seen units atop walls. And this new mechanic will factor in heavily when defending your city.
Speaking on the new age-up mechanics, Michael Mann explains how landmarks will now play an important role in how you aim your civilization. Age 4 won't just require a click up; it will require a decision on your part, similar to Age 3.
Instead of matches devolving into what is fondly known as a "Trash War" with relatively weak armies that don't cost gold facing off against each other, Age 4 is looking to bring some new mechanics that will break up late-game stalemates.
As someone who enjoys drawn-out offline games against computer opponents, I had to ask how AI is being handled. Can it still be cheesed? Probably. Is it expected to be a big upgrade over an enemy that can't easily deal with early aggression? Almost definitely.
Duffy also mentioned that these systems are bound to need tweaking as players encounter them. The team has plans to support and update the AI long term. As for the multiplayer side, the team is focused on building a strong game first. Discussions about leaderboards and ladders are still ongoing, and Duffy believes a community rallying behind an esports push must happen organically.
Age of Empires 4 is heavy on history
What would an Age of Empires game be without a strong focus on history? I learned far more from Age 2 than I did in any one history class, so I'm glad to see Age of Empires 4 is taking a similar approach. From the core art direction to the asymmetrical unit choices to the language spoken by those same units, the game is going heavy on history. Apart from the documentary-style campaign cutscenes that feature real-world locations in the modern day, the team explained how history is woven into the game.
Age of Empires 4 is expected later this year
It's clear that Age of Empires 4 is being designed within the scope of appealing to longtime fans of the series. But it's also not going to exclude players who are new, even to the genre as a whole. The four-part campaign spanning medieval generations will provide greenhorns with the tools needed to learn Age mechanics, but there will be multiple difficulty levels to challenge veterans. And the team also hopes to have a fine-tuned matchmaking system in place at launch to ensure all skill levels are matched accordingly.
Age of Empires 4 now has an expected Fall 2021 release window, and the team is confident about hitting the mark. Be sure to check out our Age of Empires 4: Everything you need to know article for a whole lot more information about the upcoming game.
Three of the best RTS games in one place
Want to enjoy all three remastered Age of Empires games? Grab the Definitive Collection bundle and save some dough instead of buying them all separately.
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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.