Age of Empires IV Review

Microsoft has been preparing us thoroughly for the triumphant return of one of the oldest strategic series. Within three years, wonderful reissues of all three classic games have been released, and today we review Age of Empires IV.

Microsoft has been preparing us thoroughly for the triumphant return of one of the oldest strategic series. Within three years, wonderful reissues of all three classic games have been released with completely updated graphics, a lot of changes in the interface and gameplay, and even generously supplemented with new story campaigns and civilizations. The legendary second part broke into the esports space with renewed vigor, continuing to acquire new additions to this day.

It was from the monumental Age of Empires ll that the developers of the fourth part, represented by two studios — Relic Entertainment and World's Edge, were repelled. From the rattle of gunpowder guns and the roar of howitzers, we were again brought back to the ringing of medieval swords and the whistling of Mongolian arrows to the drumming chorus of hooves.

The economy, degraded by the third part, has returned to its original depth: peasants can no longer endlessly chop down wood and pound a gold mine without leaving the cash register. We need sawmills for planks, farms for collecting food and mines for storing gold and stone. There are four types of resources again: food, wood, gold and stone. The extraction of provisions in the early stages has again become a whole science with stealing sheep from an opponent, hunting, fishing, plucking bushes with berries and gambling slaughter of a fleshy, but very angry boar. At later stages, the messing with food is automated by sowing fields or building sheep pens, so that the player finally distracts from the economy and focuses on fighting. It was the slowness and depth of the early economy that was the highlight of the series, which was lost in the third game. The rebuilding of the first farms and houses, the stretching of the stockade, the rhythmic blows of axes on wood, the ringing of a gold mine and the bleating of sheep gave the game some kind of unique comfort, somewhat akin to the series with the first Stronghold. Fortunately, the developers listened to the long-standing grumbling of the community and returned this idyll to us.

The very first gameplay demonstrations of Age of Empires 4 inspired a share of skepticism about the visual component of the game. The fourth part really does not surprise at all graphically, not much different in appearance from the third part republished a year ago. In addition, the developers have slightly distorted the proportions, which makes buildings and trees look somewhat reduced relative to the actual size. The huge, awe-inspiring castles from the second part have gone into oblivion, giving way to less impressive outwardly dungeons. However, no one canceled the “castle drop on the opponent's face” tactic, because the deceptive appearance did not eliminate the destructive power of these buildings.

Nevertheless, the proportions and not the most presentable appearance of the game are more than covered by the work of artists, visibility and, importantly, the ability to comfortably drive spearmen across the fields on almost any "potato". The author of these lines cautiously expected the arrival of the fourth "Era", having only an old laptop with a dilapidated Core i5 and Geforce GTX 1050 on board. Fortunately, the game flies perfectly at high settings, giving out an unacceptably juicy picture for such dilapidated hardware. In terms of optimization, the developers were inspired by DOOM 2016, and the game really holds the balance between beauty and performance as masterfully as the adventures of Dumsleer before last. Even massive battles with hundreds of knights, dozens of mangonels and crumbling fortifications on the screen do not drop FPS.

The models and animation of the units are hardly outstanding, however, unlike the disgusting remake of Warcraft 3: Reforge, Age of Empires 4 feels the hand of people who understand how real-time strategies should look and feel. In the aforementioned Reforge, with very high-quality graphics from above, everything merged into an indigestible porridge in which the devil himself would break his leg, what is happening on the battlefield. In the fourth “Epoch”, on the contrary, what is happening is very clear. The balance of forces is easy to read, the fighters stand out vividly against the background of a simply designed landscape and convincingly wave their swords. It was clearly not amateurs who were responsible for the color scheme, soft light green colors were selected for the vegetation, from which the eyes do not get tired. I was pleased with the technical condition of the project: unlike the remasters of the second and third parts, there was not a single bug, departure or hang-up, and the network code did not cause a single gram of complaints.

In addition, the game pleases with small but pleasant visual details. Around the constructed buildings, the territory is transformed — there are paths, plots with small vegetable gardens, bags and buckets of water, stretched skins next to the hunting lodge, stone tiles and bushes near the monastery... As usual in the series, with transitions to a new era, buildings are modified, and new uniforms appear on the models of fighters after improvements.

The most pleasing thing is working with sound. Never before have strategies sounded so convincing. That the sounds of nature, that the chaos of brawls came out excellent, you can close your eyes and easily assess the scale of the battle on the screen. Dynamic music and voice acting work for this. Music has always been the hallmark of the series, and the title theme of Age of Empires has forever settled in the heart of any RTS fan. During the peaceful rebuilding of cities, calm melodies sound, and skirmishes with enemies acquire a more dynamic musical color. When the scale of the battle begins to exceed hundreds of souls, a majestic orchestra thunders, and as soon as the enemy begins to smash your buildings and kill peasants, the most disturbing composition begins to play. There are also many musical themes that are unique to each civilization and convey their unique flavor.

I want to talk about voice acting separately. Units got a lot of replicas for each situation. As usual, each civilization speaks its own language, and we were especially worried about the voice acting of Russia. Even in the third part, the Russians were pleased with the pure pronunciation without an accent, but then the developers got confused with the Old Slavic flavor. Instead of the “I'm coming" on duty, your wards give out phrases like "I need to go quickly, that's the order!", and when sending peasants to hunt, you will hear something like "I like to beat the beast”" They tried to give each nation some kind of unique dialect and an unusual old accent, which works perfectly for the atmosphere.

Speaking of Russia, it should be noted that this civilization got a full-fledged story campaign "The Heyday of Moscow”, telling how for three hundred years the great city grew out of a small village under the yoke of the Mongol invaders. Here we will participate in the construction of the first Moscow Kremlin, conduct a battle on Kulikovo Field, recapture Novgorod“ "stand” on the Ugra River, capture the Lithuanian fortress Smolensk, and finally squeeze out the Golden Horde in Kazan together with Ivan the Terrible.

There are four story campaigns in total: we will conquer England for the Normans, help the Franks fight off the British in the classic Hundred Years War for the series, capture half the world for the Mongols and grow the Grand Duchy of Moscow. You are free to dive into any campaign, except that before that you need to complete a couple of training missions for the Normans. In each campaign, 8-9 tasks are waiting for us, between which videos are soldered. In the videos, the female voice of the narrator tells the player the historical background of the events taking place, while on the screen, to the accompaniment of atmospheric music, entertaining videos with live actors are shown, reminiscent of the releases of historical programs. Often the game uses a curious technique — we are shown real objects these days, but against their background the golden translucent silhouettes of medieval soldiers are fighting. For example, we see a real shot of the Kazan Kremlin, but on top of it, the ghosts of soldiers and siege structures drawn on a computer exchange a hail of arrows. A kind of spirit of history in reality.

It can be seen that the developers liked the visual trick with golden silhouettes, so they use it in the game itself. Now we see the ghosts of workers flashing on different floors during the construction of buildings, although they themselves are also hammering at the foundation with hammers. The same silhouettes are responsible for the management of siege guns — a kind of compromise between the crew of howitzers in the third part and unmanned mangonels from the second.

According to the precepts of Starcraft 2, tasks delight with elaboration, variety and constantly change the pace of gameplay. After a sweaty hour-long mission with the rebuilding of the base under the yoke of enemy attacks and the capture of the fortress, the game necessarily throws up some kind of ten-minute walk with the hero and a small detachment, and epic defenses are interspersed with some dashing robberies of trade caravans. You can fully taste the idea of each mission only at high difficulty, when you need to take into account all the features of the nation given to you and solve the tactical puzzle through a series of defeats and downloads.

In terms of gameplay, the fourth part is largely based on the mechanics of the monolithic second part: here and almost literally moved the system of economy and development, the familiar structure of story campaigns, the same limit of 200 souls, the same trebuchets and mangonels throw stones at the heads of English archers... But there are quite a lot of radical changes that turn the gameplay upside down.

For example, all the mechanics related to the siege have been heavily redesigned. The fighters no longer intend to beat the buildings with blades for a long time, the throwing of burning bundles from the third game has moved to Age of Empires 4. The damage from them is quite strong, because it has become much more difficult to defend, the tactics of building a wall of houses are no longer so effective. Buildings with a low margin of safety are now catching fire and require speedy repairs. Completely redesigned the mechanics associated with stone walls. From now on, it is allowed to place infantry on them, and the gates serve as an entrance place. You can also attach towers with loopholes to the wall and even choose one of several add-ons, like a cannon. The enemies raging under the walls can be watered with boiling oil, as in the notorious Stronghold. To help the storming infantry, they were trained to build some siege weapons right on the battlefield without the help of siege workshops. Fighters can build a battering ram and from now on an extremely useful siege tower, but for more advanced mangonels, trebuchets and cannons, you still have to get a workshop.

In general, in addition to the design talents of the infantry, many classic fighters have acquired interesting features. English archers learned to sculpt traps with stakes in order to endure a not very massive cavalry raid. Mongolian mongooses, like their real prototypes, can shoot arrows directly while riding, which is not given to ordinary horse archers. The men-at-arms have acquired knight's spears, which break during a raid, but cause huge damage. Over time, the spear is restored, allowing you to break into the carnage again effectively. Warriors with crossbows and crossbows, who were previously only stages of development of standard archers, moved to a separate subclass. Self-firing guns shoot slower than bows, but ignore part of the armor, which makes them indispensable in battles with specially protected cans like men-at-arms. Extremely situational scorpions have been replaced with springalds similar in appearance, causing additional damage to siege weapons, which made them much more useful and nasty.

The most controversial gameplay change in battles would like to call simplified ballistics. If in the second part it was really possible to dodge arrows with good microcontrol, now they always fly exactly on target, like in some Warcraft 3.

A system of transition to a new era has developed. In the second part, we just saved up the necessary resources, clicked on the "transition” in the town hall and waited a long time for the holiday. In the third, the choice of the ruler was added to this, which gave certain bonuses. Now, to update the era, it is necessary to build a special historical building of your choice — a landmark that gives powerful bonuses. For example, for the transition to the feudal era, Russia must create the Kremlin or the Golden Gate. The first one plays the role of a powerful fortress that allows you to fend off annoying fans of "dark Rush" (a tactic based on attacks in the Dark Era). The Golden Gate also plays the role of a market with a slightly more favorable exchange rate. By the castle era, the choice will already be between the Trinity Monastery and the Highest Trading House.

There are eight civilizations now: Russia, the Franks, the British, the Chinese, the Mongols, the Holy Roman Empire, the Delhi Sultanate and the Abbasid Dynasty. Of course, against the background of the latest version of Age of Empires 2, where the number of nations has almost exceeded the fourth decade, I would like to write “only 8”, but not everything is so simple. Given the bet on the uniqueness of each nation, it is much more logical to compare the game with such RTS mastodons as Warcraft 3 or Dawn of War, because the elaboration of each side is impressive. Having switched from some Franks to the Abbasid Dynasty, you will hardly understand what to do in general to win. Everyone has an impressive list of unique units and features, a philosophy of combat and ways to extract resources.

The same Mongols, for example, do not know how to build walls at all, they do not need houses to increase the population limit, the population limit is 200 at once. Almost any of their buildings can be turned into a cart and moved in a matter of seconds. The extraction and use of stone they have little in common with other civilizations. On the site of stone deposits, the Mongols are building a special building - oboo, which, without the help of peasants, pumps out the resource and creates a useful aura around itself. All buildings located around the oboo can create two units at a time for an additional "stone" fee and make improvements much faster. These mechanics force the player to lead a nomadic lifestyle for the Mongols, periodically moving the entire base to new and new stone deposits. In addition, adherents of the Golden Horde receive substantial rewards for setting fire to enemy buildings, so they should be played for extremely aggressively.

Naturally, we could not do without a detailed study of Russia, which is also radically different from the same classical Englishmen. The passion of the Russian soul for forests and hunting has degenerated into interesting features of civilization. Their unique building, a hunting hut, replaces standard farms and generates gold depending on the number of trees nearby in the area. Especially Russians in Age of Empires 4 love hunting, because slaughtering wolves, deer and boars also brings a little gold and even has a cumulative bonus effect, forcing the player to quickly settle all over the map near forests. The Russians are also big fans of wooden buildings here, in particular the stockade and siege guns, which translates into certain bonuses.

The Rook is a unique and unique naval unit of Russia. It is versatile, and you can rebuild it on the move into a fishing, combat, transport or trading rook. The Orthodox component of the issue is not ignored either — not only can Russian monks get many unique improvements in the temple, but they also move on horseback, which makes them the fastest thieves of relics.

What's nice is that every epoch in Russia reflects a certain historical period and the influence of other peoples. The dark era is fragrant with a classic Slavic flavor with a taste of Norwegian barbarians. The feudal one is already saturated with notes of Byzantium, the castle one could not do without a piece of the Golden Horde, and the imperial one reflects all the greatness of the Moscow Principality, referring to the times of Ivan the Terrible with bearded Streltsy smelling of gunpowder.

But I would so like to mention the glorious scientists and elephants from the Delhi Sultanate, the fireworks of the Chinese and the unshakable power of the Holy Roman Empire, but in this case the article will drag on to imperial proportions. The only important thing is that this time the nations are really worked out to glory, both tactically and aesthetically. There was a place for European, Eastern, and Arab civilizations. There are not enough classic Native Americans for the series, but seeing how the past games of the series have developed rapidly, there is no doubt that the new "Era" will still have time to grow "fat".

At the time of release, Age of Empires 4 is an exemplary return of the great series to its roots and an excellent basis for future additions. Although graphically the game looks a bit simple for the AAA project of 2021, this oversight is more than compensated by the opportunity to launch a new "era" on almost any dense balalaika, the good work of artists, the best work in the genre with sound and the competent development of monumental gameplay. The developers' reverent attitude to the history of Russia deserves special praise, which, for once, received high-quality voice acting, a separate story campaign and features of civilization reflecting the national flavor.