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RTS Age of Empires IV - Medieval Again

Hag

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Yeah, the fact that there is one optimal way to base-build that will work all the time and any deviation from it will hinder you later on on is something I find off putting in many RTS. While I love AoE 2, I with there was more to it than "rush castle then rush opponents".
Somehow it is even worse versus the AI because if you play relaxed you'll get crushed and if you don't you'll stomp it anyway, while playing with some friends allow for some "ok let's meet in ten minutes in the big empty space in the middle and I'll teach ye the art of war" moments.

Disclaimer : I suck at RTS but I do enjoy fucking around.
 

Zboj Lamignat

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AoE2 isn't nearly as bad as SC when it comes to that. There are multiple viable build ups and if you wish you can pick a map that makes defending from rush, for example, piss easy even if you're horrible at the game.
 

Infinitron

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https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/...iew-the-classic-rts-rediscovered-and-restored

Age of Empires 4 review - the classic RTS rediscovered and restored
Wololonderful.

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History repeats itself with a joyful, educational flourish in Age of Empires 4, a game of sweet simplicity and bottomless depth.


Great first game; classic sequel; much-maligned third entry that takes an admirable but clearly doomed stab at something different; hiatus; and finally, a triumphant, boots-on-the-ground return to the classic formula. We've been here before! Forgive me for a truly agonising cliché with this one, but it does feel like history is repeating itself with Age of Empires 4.

Thankfully, that history is really quite good. Age of Empires is the game of the before times, after all, the pinnacle of pre-Y2K. The first came out in 1997, the second in 1999. The time of beige PCs, dial-up connections and the early internet's fabled golden age. This is the era right now. The pendulum has swung to crop tops, cargo pants, curtain haircuts and, apparently, historical real-time strategy games about little men in castles. Savour this one, because as quick as life giveth it can taketh away: the classic RTS is hot.

And AoE 4 feels about as classic as classic RTS games get. It's stripped back, simple (on the surface) but in a way that feels streamlined, light on its feet, as opposed to lightweight. There's a clarity to it's ever-so-slightly stylised visuals, and a famously basic core, the formula that worked so well with the earlier games of the series - and little more. Four campaigns, some premade and custom skirmishes, perfectly functional online multiplayer (that's admittedly still waiting for its ranked mode), and a handful of tutorials. It needs nothing else.

In a weird way, the tutorials might be one of my favourite things about AoE 4. Building a good explainer for new or long-lapsed players that actually brings you up to some kind of functional standard is an underrated craft, especially in this genre, but here Relic has quietly nailed it. Instead of leaving it at the early-game foundations, AoE 4 teaches you how to set yourself up for a mid-game economic boom, to rapidly siege a town and surgically remove its landmarks for a quick win. Of course there's much, much more to master beyond that, but there's a real challenge to hitting the "gold" rank with each tutorial, and doing so will genuinely help as you venture into the hugely competitive games against fellow humans online.

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What it strikes you with, really, is a sense of reverence. This is as storied a series as it gets, and the people who love it are the kind who picked up the first one a good 22 years ago and never really put it down. It's a good job really. With AoE 4, Relic - alongside the new, Xbox-owned studio World's Edge - has taken over from original developer Ensemble and in the process anointed itself rightful defender of the RTS crown. Age of Empires joins Company of Heroes and Dawn of War in Relic's catalogue of highly regarded strategy series with decades of history behind them. There must've been some pressure felt over there in Vancouver.

The easy thing would be to point out how safe AoE 4 is as a result, especially in light of that very predictable cycle of back-to-basics sequel after the less impressive third entry, and it really is safe - but that's also a little harsh. Playing it safe with a series like this comes with its own risks: you can't take aim at a game like Age of Empires 2 and do anything but nail it. For the most part Relic really has.

The campaigns, with about eight to ten missions each, spread across the Norman, French, Mongol, and Rus factions, are largely great fun. The Norman and French are mostly variations on "capture this castle" and "defend this castle", with a sprinkling of "save this village" and "raid that village" in between, but seemingly so was much of military life in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, so fair enough. The big twist is the addition of narrated, real-world footage delivered between campaign missions, which have that enjoyably anorakish, Time Team whiff to them that you find on a mid-budget, mid-noughties terrestrial history show here in the UK. As much as Age of Empires in general takes me back, AoE 4 takes me back to somewhere around Year 5 of school specifically, with some budget-friendly trips to crumbly old keeps around the country. Here's a nice drone shot of Lincoln town centre. Here's a field in Hastings. And oop - hold onto your hats - we're off to France!

That's underselling it a bit - the Mongol campaign takes you to the Great Wall, for a start - but there's such a parochial charm to the documentary sections that the tone still stands out. There are some quirks, as AoE 4 takes quite a bluntly factual approach to history: this battle happened here at this time, this side won, then this happened. At one point you take on the role of King John, crushing the "rebel barons" who held out at Rochester Castle. A slight bit of nuance missed there is that those traitors were doing a treachery because King John had signed, and then reneged on, the first Magna Carta, and as far as my admittedly very-much-still-Year 5 level memory of this history lesson goes, I'm fairly sure that document was quite important. In the historical community there's some back-and-forth about just how bad a bloke John was, and that's really the point: the occasional factual greyness of history, the debates about causes and outcomes and how much weight is assigned to them all is part of the fun. It would've been nice, in simple terms, for the historical campaigns of AoE 4 to dig into the foggier nuance a smidge more than "you're the King; kill the rebels".

It's barely a quibble though really, as although the campaigns miss out on the campy voice acted scenes of the series' wonderful spin-off Age of Mythology, they're otherwise still a perfectly enjoyable romp through time, and they get more varied as you move away from the knightly warfare of central Europe into the more aggressive Mongol playstyle. Occasionally, the pacing can be a little wobbly. Most of the more complex levels, for instance - especially in the Norman and French stories - involve a fairly flat middle section where you'll need to simply camp out and tech for a while, defending yourself from minor attacks while slowly but surely building up the resources for a decisive counter, and it means things do tend to drag a bit. But the challenge itself is significant - on Intermediate difficulty I failed a couple of missions the first time I tried them, just by virtue of not really taking things seriously enough. That just-tough-enough pitching is spot on.

Similarly well-balanced is AoE 4's multiplayer, which is where most players will spend most of their time. There are eight civilisations at the moment, spread quite evenly across Europe, Asia and Northern Africa. Naturally all of them have their own unique bonuses and specialised playstyles but in the first month or so after launch, what's noticeable is that there's no one civilisation that's clearly dominating the others, and no absolutely must-have strategy either. Obviously some elements dominate within the civilizations - the English peak earlier with their Longbowmen for instance, while the Chinese start slow but become a hugely challenging late-game powerhouse if you let them - but aside from some recently toned-down springald damage, AoE's sacred rock-paper-scissors triangle of spearmen, archers, cavalry remains level and intact.

That said, this is where AoE 4's main divergences from the formula start to pop up. For one, there's an official "light" and "heavy" distinction between military units for the first time, with specific counters within those. Crossbows do bonus damage against those heavily armoured units, for instance - including heavy cavalry - while light, raiding cavalry get the major bonus against archers. It's one seemingly small tweak, but also one that immediately doubles the level of complexity, splitting what is at its core a fairly small roster of units into a more sophisticated matrix of counters and counter-counters.

There are other small tweaks: one little early game change has been made to sheep, that puts the herding responsibility on your scout specifically, who must gather and lead them back to your town centre when you first start the game. Immediately there's a nice little trade-off between aggressively scouting your enemy for a rush, and gathering more food for your villagers to speed into the second era. Villagers gather faster, generally, than in spiritual predecessor Age of Empires 2, meaning you'll need fewer overall by comparison. In the late game, you win by taking out those aforementioned landmarks - a few key buildings - instead of grinding away against toxically stubborn foes' every last building on the map. They're all very welcome changes, and there are more.

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Standard units can't attack walls anymore, which makes more sense in theory and, more importantly, places more emphasis on siege weapons in practice. Those have in turn become a little dominant in the first month or so until a couple of recent tweaks from Relic. And again, the theme here is balance - or really a kind of perfect imbalance, which is what true balance really is after all. Each civilisation has outsized strengths that can snowball a game, and each has to be dealt with in kind.

Beyond that, what stands out with AoE 4 is a seemingly loving attention to detail. I've spent far too much of my free time watching YouTube tutorials about farming efficiency, but one curious point that highlighted for me is how each farm is actually split into a hidden grid, with wheat regrowing in those mini-grids at a specific order and specific rate - but, the Chinese civilisation grows rice instead of wheat, and rice grows at a different rate in a different pattern within that one farm. The upshot is this leads villagers to move in slightly different patterns depending on the type of farm, and so the Chinese actually farm marginally slower in the early game but marginally faster after the same upgrades as other civs later on. It's an almost indiscernible difference to a layperson, but one placed there knowingly, and subtly it's one more little thing that tinkers with the teetering scales. Another quick food-based factoid, while I have you: unlike the other civs, the Abbasid and Delhi Sultanate civilisations can't set their villagers to farm wild boar, in an accurate nod to the rules of their religion.

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Picking up treasure can be weirdly fiddly, and pathing occasionally weird.

There are a couple of hiccups, still. Unit pathing is a tad clunky, with a lot of bumping into one another when in large groups and a tendency for ranged units to pump dozens of arrows into one foe at a time - although it's at least a predictable bit of AI logic, so that does mean that a player who's capable of putting that extra care into micromanagement will come out on top. It's less manageable against the AI enemies, which can get themselves into weird situations where groups of units perform a clumsy stop-start shuffle when chasing certain units across the map. There's also some fiddliness to things like actually clicking on and picking up treasure, and I found the odd, fussy bug with placing relics a couple of times.

But that's it, in my experience. Quite something, given this is a new studio taking up the mantle, and those little bumps do nothing to derail the otherwise brilliant nuance that Relic has added to an already wonderfully nuanced series.

It's those little nuances, too, that set AoE 4 apart, giving it that lovely vein of hidden depth to be mined from beneath the initial simplicity, the fabled "easy to learn, not just difficult but nigh on impossible to master" tag that's always been such a holy grail for games in this genre. A week or so with it and I can feel those old, familiar tendrils of strategic curiosity wrap around me, drawing me in with an urge to improve, to develop, to economise, to learn. It's wonderfully appropriate, and really, in a way, what this game is all about. Through its canny tutorials, docu-series campaigns and bottomless well of multiplayer depth, Age of Empires 4 wants nothing more than to simply teach, and I am nothing less than delighted to return to my role as its student.
 

Young_Hollow

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8 months after release, AoE4 is getting
-Fully remappable hotkeys
-Ability to vote on maps?
-Ability to choose player color
-More zoom-out on the camera
-Ability to unlock campaigns (which could be done very easily with the ''i r winner'' cheat in AoE2)

So besides looking like DOTA2 and playing like the inbred and mutated child of AoE2 and 3, AoE4 was a mobile game all along? I'm afraid to ask but does this SC2-killing esport game (which has had plenty of tournament $$$ thrown at it by M$) have a recorded games / game replays feature?
 

Zboj Lamignat

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This was obviously a low-cost and low-effort project and they still didn't exactly come to the grips with the fact that for some bizarre reason (probably just extreme classic rts thirst) it turned out p. popular. Whoever is managing it, though, is extremely incompetent and should be fired asap. They're doing a too good job of killing the initial momentum.
 

thesheeep

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This was obviously a low-cost and low-effort project
I have a feeling they blew a ton of their budget on that truly odd documentary footage for the "campaign".
Which is nicely made, but it also completely destroys any immersion one could have had in the campaign as it makes everything entirely impersonal.

have a recorded games / game replays feature?
I don't know about now, but initially it didn't :lol:

But, either way, you are right that this game's management and development is truly weird.
The slowness of it all really makes you scratch your head.
 

Zboj Lamignat

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Well, the big brain take is that they don't want to weaken the standing of the more popular game. Then again, that's the conclusion they should've reached before they even decided to greenlight this project at a time when AoE2 is extremely popular and shows no real signs of slowing down.
 

Lacrymas

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And the galaxy brain take is that the game isn't very good and ergo not very popular. When I played it during the open beta, it just felt schizophrenic to me and it wasn't clear what the idea even was. It isn't as improvisatory as AoE3 in which one element doesn't have anything to do with another, but it's still all over the place. They would've had more success with Age of Mythology 2 imo.
 

Zboj Lamignat

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It looks, runs and smells like poo, but it doesn't change the fact that it still maintains respectable player numbers and its initial peak was absolutely insane.
 

Young_Hollow

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Initial momentum could be because of many AoE2 pros switching over, although temporarily and tournaments being hosted relatively quickly after the game's launch. M$ was successful in carrying over a lot of the experienced people in both pro players and tournament organizers from AoE2, although it was not permanent. Initial playerbase was big but it fell off quickly. And here's the biggest reason for lack of developer attention:


I recall Grey Goo being panned and its uptake being delayed because of lack of replays, though it lacked the initial push that AoE4 had.
 

Lacrymas

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It looks, runs and smells like poo, but it doesn't change the fact that it still maintains respectable player numbers and it's initial peak was absolutely insane.
AoE3: DE pulls in the same numbers, yet nobody cares about it. Nobody cares about AoE4 either, that much is clear, maybe that's why its continued development has been so slow.
 

Zboj Lamignat

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It actually beats AoE3 DE and AoE2 HD (the one before DE) quite comfortably and those numbers are definitely nothing to scoff at. Of course, it's a far cry from low iq big hitters like nu-civ or cuck-a-dox games, but still a lot more than most contemporary strategy titles that are considered at least moderately successful.
 

Lucumo

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This was obviously a low-cost and low-effort project and they still didn't exactly come to the grips with the fact that for some bizarre reason (probably just extreme classic rts thirst) it turned out p. popular.
Did it turn out to be pretty popular? As you said, classic RTS thirst made it sell a lot in the beginning + marketing. Afterwards, they pumped a lot of money into the competitive scene but if the game sucks, that's simply not sustainable (see Starcraft II). So when they stopped, player and viewer numbers decreased a lot. I don't even know when I last saw the game being relevant and AoE II seems to consistently beat it (not surprising, considering it's one of the best RTS games ever).
 

Lacrymas

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It actually beats AoE3 DE and AoE2 HD (the one before DE) quite comfortably and those numbers are definitely nothing to scoff at. Of course, it's a far cry from low iq big hitters like nu-civ or cuck-a-dox games, but still a lot more than most contemporary strategy titles that are considered at least moderately successful.
If less than 200 players more is "beating AoE3 comfortably" then sure, I guess?
tuOu890.jpg
 

Lucumo

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Did it turn out to be pretty popular?
For a "classic" base-building RTS, yes.
You can't define popular by reaching SC2 numbers or nothing can be considered popular.
I didn't though and SCII is also a game that had "artificial" popularity. Blizzard sued the shit out of broadcasting channels in South Korea and the esports governing body to force them to switch from BW to SCII. They basically took over the existing infrastructure that existed there and in the rest of the world. And while the rest of the world was more accepting, South Koreans weren't as much. Professionals players retired to play BW on streaming websites but, of course, a lot stayed due to contracts and/or to earn money which was inevitably coming into the new scene. However, as the game wasn't good, players and viewers switched away (it's one of the reasons LoL became so popular in South Korea - BW was getting killed). And sure, money was coming into the scene but the viewers weren't there and dwindling. Blizzard pumped a lot of it into the scene to sustain it but eventually, they stopped and it broke down. Even taking forever with their releases to extend the life span didn't help. If you look now, what's the most popular RTS game? It's BW, it's still regularly getting 100k+ viewers on streaming websites alone (thanks to South Korea who never gave up on it). Another thing which helped SCII go as long as it did was inertia. The SCII release basically killed BW and Warcraft III outside of South Korea and the people who made and enjoyed content for many years couldn't just stop. They kept going and going, even if it was subpar...but one can only sustain something like that for so long before one becomes too miserable. So support dwindled slowly and people went back to Warcraft III or switched to something else.
The point is, with Microsoft pumping money into the scene, can popularity really be measured? For me, popularity is something that is organic and comes from the players, not something that is being propped up (most times at a loss) by entities tied to the game.

It actually beats AoE3 DE and AoE2 HD (the one before DE) quite comfortably and those numbers are definitely nothing to scoff at. Of course, it's a far cry from low iq big hitters like nu-civ or cuck-a-dox games, but still a lot more than most contemporary strategy titles that are considered at least moderately successful.
If less than 200 players more is "beating AoE3 comfortably" then sure, I guess?
tuOu890.jpg
And let's not forget that you don't need Steam to play AoE III. No clue if you do need it for AoE IV though.
 

Zboj Lamignat

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If less than 200 players more is "beating AoE3 comfortably" then sure, I guess?
It's slightly over 5k versus slightly under 3,8k on 30d average, so yes, comfortably.

Did it turn out to be pretty popular?
Of course it did. For a modern strategy game to achieve an opening peak on the level of some retarded AAA open world crossdressing looter shooter with visceral story and then maintain at least a couple of thousands concurrent players at any given moment is very impressive. There are a lot of modern strategies that are considered successful, get good reviews, strong post-launch dlc support yada yada that run under 1k and have a starting peak of like 10k.
 

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