Although it is not a saga as neat or as overexploited as others, the role of ‘Age of Empires’ in the history of video game’s real-time strategy and indisputable. Relic Entertainment, creators of other titles also essential as ‘Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War’ or ‘Company of Heroes’, are in charge of repackaging the classic franchise, something they have done by approaching a historical installment, the second, and returning to a scenario we already know.
At the presentation event of the first installment of the saga in ten years after ‘Age of Empires Online’, we were reminded that the genre has evolved, and ‘Age of Empires IV’ wants to be a bridge between the classic style and the new way of looking at the genre. These eight questions answer many of the questions about this highly anticipated installment, but above all one: how to remember the classic games of the series while still innovating?
Back to the Middle Ages
Age of Empires IV’ returns, as it has been revealed this weekend, to the Middle Ages, that is to say, the same epoch that vertebrated the second delivery. There will be four campaigns with specific historical events, and the first announced is the English conquest of Normandy. According to the game’s head of narrative, Philippe Boulle, “from a historical perspective, the Middle Ages is an incredibly rich era to delve into. (…) Many people today don’t understand how much of our life today is based on what happened in those periods, not just in Europe, but around the world.”
Similarly, Relic said that there will be 8 civilizations, of which China, England, Mongolia, and the Delhi Sultanate have been revealed so far. Of the four that remain to be announced, it has already been announced that not all of them will be part of Europe and Asia, so let’s not rule out African or American empires coming into conflict.
Only eight civilizations?
Each of these civilizations will be different from each other: they will have different ways of moving and attacking, as well as managing resources, that is to say, they will not be eight cloned civilizations with mere aesthetic changes or changes in the number of units. Each of them will be handled differently and will require the player to adapt to their peculiarities. An example given by the team was that of the Mongols: being a nomadic empire, all the cities can move from one place to another. This is what the team calls “asymmetry of civilizations”, or rather “semi-asymmetry” because they will share some units.
In any case, according to Relic, “starting with eight civilizations is in itself a big enough effort, but from then on we will expand the armies”. In other words, following the custom in the franchise, future expansions of the game could bring new civilizations to play with.
What changes are there in the mechanics?
Essentially we are facing a classic ‘Age of Empires’, but adapted to the new times, although there are still many details to be known, such as the number of troops that can be managed. The videos we have seen so far and the figures that are handled in the multiplayer make us think of battles of a much larger scale than what has been experienced so far in other games in the series.
Some classic mechanics, such as triangles of forces and vulnerabilities in combat are still present but adapted, as the team does not deny, to appeal to players not seasoned in the genre. Other options that the game has presented are ambushes, with which some armies will be able to surprise others by hiding; or sieges, which will serve to weaken walled settlements. Urban battles have also been mentioned, which suggests that the cities will have a colossal size.
Will there be characters in the campaign?
Yes, but in a different way than in other installments, such as the second and its historical characters, or the third, with anonymous characters involved in historical events. Here the example was given of the only campaign that has been talked about, the Norman campaign. It starts with William the Conqueror at the battle of Hastings, and the successive campaigns will allow to play with his sons, Henry I and Robert Curtshose, and his sons’ sons, leading to the foundation of England. Relic wants the campaigns to be very human, and the three hours of video putting the player in a situation in each campaign will contribute to this.
What proposals does the game have in terms of graphics?
Relic has decided to remain faithful to the classic aesthetics of the game, which could translate into little visual spectacularity, but it is in the details where the enormous work of the company is reflected. For example, the scenarios will initially be half-hidden in mist, as befits the Middle Ages where everything is yet to be discovered, but as the empires grow, they will become clearer and more colorful.
On the other hand, the accent of realism has been placed on lighting and fluidity, leaving the troops in the background. They do this to avoid what they have called “cognitive overload”, that is, that an excess of graphic detail in the characters prevents the player from concentrating on the big movements and mass combats.
How will the languages work?
Aiming for absolute verisimilitude, the team has carefully documented (and reflected it in the game) aspects such as languages, which are heard in the game with different accents that evolve over the centuries, to the point of making them incomprehensible, for example, in their initial stages. And this will be true for all the languages in the game, including oriental ones.
What will the multiplayer be like?
From the beginning, it was designed with four vs. four in mind. Figures have been given here: 200 troops for each army, i.e. a total of 1600 in four vs. four.
What remains to be known?
A great deal: this was only a first approach. Apart from more specific figures about the number of units we will be able to see in action in the game and other types of statistics, we still need to know more about naval battles, which, to the delight of players, we know will exist in this game. We also have to know everything about possible expansions and modes of edition and creation of campaigns.
And, of course, future releases: Relic is already talking about “the Middle Ages is a great setting to start with. We’ll see what the future has to offer”, which inevitably brings to mind their classic franchise ‘Company of Heroes’. And with it, the possibility that we will see the next ‘Age of Empires’ with combat in the twentieth century.