Announced more than four years ago, Age of Empires IV will have been able to keep waiting. Indeed, although very qualitative, the third opus of the legendary saga had left many fans of the saga unmoved. They therefore wanted a saving return to their roots. That said, fans of real-time strategy have had much to wait since Microsoft has reissued the first three episodes in final versions, all available in the Xbox Game Pass to prepare for the comeback of a cult video game saga. But will this one be triumphant? Remember that the game is only available on PC via Steam and the Microsoft Store and that no console version is planned. It is, however, included in the Xbox Game Pass PC.
Back to home
From the start of the game, we are invited to an initiation in order to soak up the bases of the strategy. We discover in particular how to train villagers, collect resources (food, wood, gold, stone), build buildings, but also how to form an army to then defend against enemy invasions, and especially to annihilate them afterwards. Regulars will not be disoriented, since the grip perfectly recalls what the old episodes offered, but with some improvements. Unfortunately, we immediately see that the game technically does not honor high-end PCs. Indeed, we were lucky to be able to play it on a tower equipped with an RTX 3080, without exploiting its potential. If the textures of nature leave something to be desired, especially those of particularly aliased herbs, the cities for their part exude a certain elegance. All the buildings are to scale and we now admire the paths that are created automatically between the structures, which gives a much more city-like impression than before.
This tutorial allows us to appreciate a welcome novelty, namely a grid to position buildings. If at first glance one might think that it prevents creation possibilities, it actually allows buildings to be aligned, and also takes into account the spaces between them to prevent units from getting blocked. It is therefore now possible to have several barracks without the infantry getting stuck behind instead of going to fight.
Make way for history with a capital H
Once this tutorial phase is completed or skipped, it’s time to attack hostilities whether solo or multiplayer. We immediately notice that the main menu is different from what the old games offered, but unfortunately is much less intuitive. However, this will not spoil the in-game experience. By going to the campaigns tab, the game invites us to discover four rich historical periods, namely one on the Normans, one on the Hundred Years War, one on the Mongol Empire and one on the Ascension of Moscow . Embarking on one of its fascinating historical periods spanning several centuries allows you to watch magnificent cutscenes shot on camera and then reworked to stage landmark historical sequences. The facts are narrated by a pleasant female voice that will accompany us even during the missions.
In play, the actions carried out are intended to be very immersive since this famous voice accompanies the achievement of the objectives, giving the impression of being an actor in a historical documentary. Once completed, the various missions unlock bonus elements, such as mini-documentaries on different subjects such as trebuchets, crossbows or even chain mail. For fans of reading, pages of History will also be unlocked.
We were won over by the Campaign mode which made us want to immerse ourselves in history books to deepen the subjects, in addition to offering various experiences to understand the mechanics of the game.
History is fine, but a war of eight is better
If it is possible to continue to deepen your skills in managing civilizations through the Art of War, now is the time to embark on some hectic skirmishes. Like the first episodes, there are different game modes featuring one to eight actors to compete and cooperate on various maps highlighting land war, but also naval. This gives the opportunity to master all the cogs of the eight civilizations available at the exit, namely: the English, the Chinese, the French, the Holy Roman Empire, the Mongols, the Rus’, the Sultanate of Delhi and the Abbasid dynasty. They are all intended to be unique and offer different characteristics to vary the enjoyment of the game. For example, the Mongols are a nomadic people, while the Sultanate of Delhi can create a mosque as early as Age I and then place its scholars in buildings. and advancing technologies rapidly, technologies that take a long time to develop, but free of charge.
If for the moment we have hardly mentioned the keyboard / mouse gameplay in hand, it is because it is intended to be very close, even almost identical to the other games in the license. Indeed, each part consists in having a salvo of villagers to collect resources, build its base, develop its army, build fortifications, go from age I to IV and achieve victory by controlling all the sacred places, by building a wonder or by destroying the opposing buildings.
Strategy in the spotlight
Having a large army is not, however, the key to success, since it will be necessary to distribute its 200 units to have ground infantry, cavalry, archers and siege engines. Each unit is the executioner of another, but also the deadman of another, hence the importance of placing them well on the battlefield and taking advantage of the advantages offered by the terrain, namely the forests to hide, or the mountains to lay ambushes.
The towering stone walls can now accommodate ranged or melee units to defend the city. This provides a huge advantage for defenders as the height grants ranged soldiers increased range. Be careful not to let the invader destroy a piece of wall with a siege engine, since he will have free rein to attack the city from the top of the ramparts. Very discreet during the development phases of his city and his army, OST intensifies when it comes to leading the assault. These elements contribute to being fully involved in the battles offered by Age of Empires IV.
A saga that struggles to renew itself
Although we had a great time on this real-time strategy game, there are a few things to regret. As we mentioned above, the game is technically not very successful despite an attractive artistic direction. In addition to that, the formula evolves very little, if at all even if all its elements are perfectly mastered. Finally, the map editor replies absent, which is a shame insofar as it made it possible to create original scenarios on the first episodes.
However, it should be noted that a Mods tab is present in the main menu, perhaps it will be intuitive enough to allow the community to make a contribution to the building of Age of Empires IV.
We will not comment on the multiplayer mode since we have not found games to face other strategists, although it is possible to conduct games against AI, which is exactly the same as Skirmish mode. Unfortunately, this does not allow us to give an opinion on the balancing of different civilizations in PVP.