Age of Empires 4: what to expect, and when to expect it

A fan preview event has finally offered insights into the long-awaited Age of Empires 4, which is set for release later in 2021.

After 16 long years, the world is being blessed with Age of Empires 4 and we’ve finally got a whole lot of details about what to expect. Not much has previously been known about the highly anticipated next instalment in the beloved Age of Empires franchise, but a fan preview event has offered our first look into Relic Entertainment’s take on the classic game.

For those who aren’t instantly overwhelmed by nostalgia at the mention of Age of Empires, it’s a series of historical real-time strategy games that was first introduced in 1997. The third main series instalment was released all the way back in 2005, so it’s about time that the fourth title finally emerged.

Age of Empires 4: first looks

Each game has explored a different period of history; the original Age of Empires focused on the Roman Empire, the sequel Age of Kings was set in the Middle Ages, and the third title took on the early modern period when Europe was colonising the Americas. Age of Empires 4 appears to be returning to the Middle Ages quite broadly, with a specific focus point of the game not yet clear.

Players will be taken through four ages in the game; Medieval, Feudal, Castle, and Imperial. The first four out of eight promised playable factions have been revealed, with the available civilisations including the English, Mongols, Chinese, and Delhi Sultanate.

The first campaign has also been teased – the Norman campaign will begin at the Battle of Hastings, telling the story of Duke William of Normandy and his fight for control of England. It will then follow his descendants, with changes of perspective throughout various playable missions.

This first glimpse at the game’s campaigns gives some insight into the gameplay, which appears to feature all the classic medieval units, from the knights clashing on horseback to a castle siege. It all essentially looks exactly how you expect Age of Empires to look, just a whole lot smoother and more detailed.

Update (July 9 2021): In the time since this article was originally published we have received a few updates. First of all, the Russians, French, Abbasid Dynasty and Romans have all been confirmed as playable factions – completing the 8 available civilisations. It has also been confirmed that the French will receive a full campaign, based around the happenings of the Hundred Years’ War. So expect Joan of Arc to make an appearance. Vive la revolution!

Features to expect

Gameplay footage from the fan event seemed to highlight very similar game mechanics to previous titles in the franchise, so don’t expect Age of Empires 4 to make a massive departure from its origins. The developers have teased some accessibility goals, with the design allowing players who grew up with the game to enjoy it with their kids, but they haven’t revealed what kinds of tweaks this includes.

The final teaser from the gameplay footage revealed that we can, in fact, expect more naval battles in the upcoming game. There’s no further information on what to expect here, but it will likely be similar to naval combat in previous games.

Those who are into competitive play can get excited, as it’s been confirmed that tournaments will be supported, with Relic already having hosted some private in-house competitions. Don’t expect this to mean the end of Age of Empire II’s competitive scene though, as nailing the Age of Empire 4 gameplay first is a priority for its developers.

There will, of course, be new features integrated into the familiar gameplay. This includes the introduction of a stealth mechanic, involving scout units being kept around the map to keep track of your enemy’s army. The map provides various patches of dense forest where units can be hidden to set up ambushes, offering a whole new strategy for attack.

Age of Empires 4 gameplay

Historical integrity

Realism is certainly something that Relic Entertainment is gunning for with their new entry into the franchise, with the campaigns projecting historical events over present-day, real-world locations to give a feel for how the events would have unfolded.

Philippe Boulle, narrative lead for the game, has described their approach to setting up campaigns as similar to BBC-level documentaries to enable players to understand the historical context of the missions:

“It’s that attention to detail, that understanding, that we were celebrating real cultures and real events and real people and bringing a sense of respect and appreciation and celebration to those moments.”

The developers worked with historians, documentarians, and weapon experts to “strive for the highest level of authenticity”, so expect a much more insightful step into real history than previous games allowed.

With the creators of Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition working with cultural experts to amend racist depictions of indigenous civilisations from the original game, it’s clear that historical accuracy has become an increasing priority for the franchise. Relic appears to be taking this mission seriously, collaborating with experts of culture, history, and linguistics specific to each represented civilisation in Age of Empires 4, as well as using voice actors and musicians from those cultures.

How about a release date?

A solid release date has not yet been confirmed, which might be a good idea with so many recent and upcoming games facing continuous delays. It has, however, been confirmed that Age of Empires 4 is coming some time in the third quarter of 2021.

16 years later, it’s finally happening, folks.