Within the gaming world, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who hasn’t heard or played Age of Empires 2. A glance at the top thirty streamed games over on Twitch on any given weeknight confirms this. Nestled among perennial heavy hitters like Dota 2 and Grand Theft Auto V, you’ll find the very Ensemble Studios-developed RTS cult classic that rivaled StarCraft in its heyday.
Microsoft, all too aware of the pedigree of the IP, has vowed to make Age of Empires 4 alongside remakes of previous games in the series starting with the release Age Of Empires: Definitive Edition in February 2018.
Although Age of Empires 4 is a ways off, we’ve compiled the trickle of details released by Microsoft. So, what can we expect from this reboot and how will it compare to the originals that cemented the Age of Empires franchise’s place in the pantheon of real-time strategy gaming?
Age of Empires 4 Release Date
Microsoft has yet to share a release date for Age of Empires 4. We can, however, speculate.
Instead of Ensemble Studios – the team responsible for all Age of Empires titles to date – Relic Entertainment, the studio behind the excellent Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III, is developing Age of Empires 4. If we look at their past development cycles, the studio generally takes around two to four years from conception to full-blown release.
Given Age of Empires 4 was announced at Gamescom on August 21, 2017, with only concept art on display and the notable absence of gameplay, we can reliably presume the game is by this point in time more or less a year into development.
We, therefore, tentatively expect the game to release anytime between the end 2020 and 2021.
It’s more than likely that the Forgotten Empires-developed Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition will see the light of day before we get our hands on Age of Empires 4.
Regarding platforms, Microsoft has announced Age of Empires 4 will be available on the Windows Store in the same way Age of Empires: Definitive Edition is.
Although Age of Empires has historically been a PC-only franchise, Microsoft did venture into the mobile realm with Age of Empires: Castle Siege back in 2014, and Age of Empires 2 was briefly available for PlayStation 2. The chance of Age of Empires 4 porting to Xbox is improbable, but far more likely than say a PlayStation 4 edition.
Age of Empires 4 Story
The early stages of development mean we are somewhat in the dark when it comes to deciphering in what historical period Age of Empires 4 will take place.
Past games have covered the Stone Age, Roman Empire, Middle Ages, and the colonization of America suggesting Age of Empires 4 will venture into more modern times, possibly the industrial revolution or even further towards the twentieth century.
Alternatively, Age of Empires 4 may offer a wider historical context with evolution through a broad range of periods, similar to games like Empire Earth.
The only visual media released for Age of Empires 4 is a short announcement trailer, which showcases a cross-section of historical periods ranging from the Romans, Conquistadors storming a castle, the American civil war, and feudal Japan. In many ways, it raises more questions than it answers.
Is the trailer referring to the setting of the original games or is it hinting at gameplay centered on movement through various ages?
Age of Empires 4 Gameplay
We know very little about the gameplay elements of Age of Empires 4 other than it will be a real-time strategy game molded on the formula of its predecessors.
We imagine a choice of different civilizations before the game starts with a town center from which players gather resources, expand, build an army, and upgrade technologies before engaging in battle with enemy players. Age of Empires has always been about balancing a strong economy with military might, and this combination is sure to return.
Much needed revamping of graphics, UI elements, and the like are sure to feature as well.
We can also expect a comprehensive single player campaign(s) similar to those from past games. Ensemble Studios was particularly adept at delivering games appealing to both solo play and online multiplayer in equal measure. The hope is Relic can provide the same.
Switching up developers will invariably result in some substantial departures from the original three games, but what shape these will take is, at the current time, up in the air.
Relic Entertainment would be ill-advised to alter too many of the basic gameplay mechanics given that they are what made the series so appealing in the first place. If Microsoft intends to capture the essence of the original then straying too far away from the core concept could incur the wrath of hardcore Age of Empires fans – presumably the target market.
Age of Empires 4 Trailer
The pickings are rather slim when it comes to trailers, with only one official announcement video released by Microsoft dating back to 2017.
The trailer is a sweeping cinematic affair voiced over by the guttural tones of a narrator intent on stressing the gravity of historical conquest and empire building underlaid by a suitably-emotive bed of orchestral music. We travel through a range of eras via concept art depicted in the brush strokes of majestic renaissance paintings.
Unfortunately, it reveals very little about the game itself and is more an exercise in hype-inducing anticipation.
The Final Word
With Age of Empires 4, Microsoft is hoping to tap into a subsection of gamers who fondly remember spending the rainy afternoons of their younger years building an empire from scratch.
With such fragile nostalgia, Microsoft has a responsibility to ship a game that caters not only to tradition but offers enough novelty to entice new players.
If it can pull it off, Age of Empires 4 could be in with a chance to challenge RTS behemoth StarCraft 2 and possibly carve out a cozy seat at the increasingly crowded eSports table.