After more than 12 years in hibernation, the Age of Empires series is back for its fourth outing. In August, publisher Microsoft Studios announced that Age of Empires 4 was alive and kicking, and that it was being developed by Relic Entertainment, the team behind Homeworld and Company of Heroes (which is a hell of a lot of pedigree).
Cut to the chase
- What is it? The latest installment to the historical real-time strategy series Age of Empires.
- When can I play it? There's no release window just yet but it'll be late 2018 at the earliest
- What can I play it on? Windows 10 PC is the only confirmed platform
What is Age of Empires 4?
Age of Empires 4 is the latest installment to the historical real-time strategy series Age of Empires, which began life way back in 1997.
Follow-ups to the original were released in 1999 and 2005, and there’s been a couple of spin-offs during that period, including two Nintendo DS titles and the popular Age of Mythology, which took inspiration from myths and legends rather than history. Aside from those DS games, the series is only on PC.
Age of Empires 4 is the first game in the series developed by Relic Entertainment – all the other Age of Empires games have been made by Ensemble Studios, which folded in 2009. Relic says it wants to “fuse historical context with deep strategic gameplay, and to bring this franchise back to the forefront of gaming and into the hands of its beloved community”.
Age of Empires 4: release date
Unfortunately, no release date has been announced for Age of Empires 4 – not even a rough one. It could be a way off though, because all we’ve seen of the game is a trailer filled with concept art, which suggests development is in its early stages. If we were betting on it, we’d say it won’t be until late next year at the earliest.
What platforms will Age of Empires 4 release on?
So far, all we know is that it’s coming to Windows 10 PC – so bad luck if you’re running an older version (although this could be a good excuse to upgrade). However, with Microsoft Studios as the publisher the door is open for a release on Xbox One, too, although there’s been no word on that front. For the same reason, it’s unlikely to come to other consoles, such as the PS4 or the Nintendo Switch.
Age of Empires 4: trailers
The announcement of the game was marked with a trailer – and it’s still the only one we’ve seen to date. It’s exclusively concept art for the game, depicting large scale battles between various groups. Check it out below:
Age of Empires 4: gameplay features
Previous Age of Empires games have focused on one period of history: Age of Empires 3 chronicled the European colonization of the Americas, for example.
However, judging by the trailer above, Age of Empires 4 could paint with a broader historical picture, with lots of empires from across time returning from previous games in the series.
In the trailer, you can glimpse Native Americans, British Redcoats, Romans and Japanese samurai. It’s possible that this could just be demonstrative of the art style and themes, but we’d be surprised if they didn’t end up featuring in the final game in some capacity.
That said, it’s unlikely to break history by pitting armies from two eras against each other in the campaign, so expect a story that plays out over an extended timeline. And then perhaps the Romans could clash with the Redcoats in online multiplayer.
In terms of actual gameplay, we wouldn’t expect it to deviate too far from the formula that fans of the series know and love – it would be odd for the developer not to mine that ore of support. So, there will be the usual 4X fare (explore, expand, exploit and exterminate). However, the last Age of Empires game was more than 10 years ago, so we’re expecting some changes in terms of UI and mechanics.
Age of Empires 4: what we want to see
A sleeker UI
The Age of Empires games have always had decent UIs – most of the stuff you need is two or at most three clicks away and, generally, if you hover over a button you can find out what it does. But going back to it now, it looks a bit old fashioned, with a large box covering most of the bottom section of the screen, and can be overwhelming at first glance.
If the series is going to attract new players (and the more the merrier) then the UI needs to be sleek and inviting. Age of Empires Online, another spin-off, might perhaps be a good guide: that game had much less on screen at any one time, allowing you to see more of the battlefield. Smaller, contextual menus that only appear when you click on certain elements would work well.
Revamped unit tactics
The Age of Empires games do boast military tactics, and the positioning and stances of your units can turn a battle. But largely, fights are won by the biggest army, and they are over quickly. We’d like to see tactics play a bigger role in battles, and for it to be easier to make small adjustments to groups of units so they do exactly what you want.
There’s hope here: Relic has a lot of pedigree in this field. Imagine Age of Empires with Company of Heroes-style unit movement when you got close to an enemy’s base. That’s not what Relic will be shooting for (this is about clashes of large armies rather than small strike forces, after all), but we’re confident it will be more finessed than anything else we’ve seen from the series so far.
Age of Empires revels in its smaller scale. You start with a town hall and build out from there, never really expanding beyond a single settlement. Rise of Nations, also published by Microsoft, could be a good yard stick for how the game should expand; in that game you could build multiple cities and combine them into large territories.
If you apply that to Age of Empires then you get multiple hubs of production: one town could focus on food production, and transport the finished product to another nearby town, which is itself churning out military units. Planning out the structure of your empire, rather than just a single city, would add another layer to the game.
- These are the best Xbox One games you can play right now