Here’s a little nugget from me. My first Age of Empires game was Age of Empires III (not the remastered version). I’d played Age of Mythology (the spinoff series) and loved it but never touched Age of Empires. Now that I think back about it, it’s weird. Why didn’t I play Age of Empires earlier? Hmmm…Anyways, that’s moot because I sure as hell played Age of Empires IV.

Hell, I’m looking forward to going back to it later once this review’s all done!

That should tell you something about the quality of the game, right?

So let’s get down to the nitty gritty!

What is Age of Empires IV?

Age of Empires IV is a Real Time Strategy (RTS) game developed by Relic Entertainment (the guys behind the Dawn of War and Company of Heroes series) and World’s End (a Microsoft internal studio tasked with managing the Age of Empires series). The game’s published by Xbox Game Studios.

Like most modern RTS, there’s a solo campaign (and other solo content), plus multiplayer options for up to a total of 8 players.

It’s currently a PC exclusive though it might come to the Xbox down the line. The game is available on Game Pass, so if you’re a Game Pass PC or Ultimate subscriber, you can play it on the PC free come October 28.

Our copy was kindly given to us by Microsoft. Thanks a ton guys!

I played on the Aorus 15 on 1080p with every setting maxed and had no issues whatsoever with stuttering or slowdown.

Age of Empires IV comes from a great lineage so it certainly has some big shoes to fill.

From the time I’ve spent with the game, I’m honestly proud to announce that it fills those shoes magnificently. This is a quality RTS that’s going to eat up months of my time. It’s a bit different from Age of Empires III but different isn’t necessarily bad.

In this case, it’s good…very, very good.

One thing I really like about Age of Empires IV is how everything is elegantly presented. I love the blue/gold aesthetic they’ve got going on for the menus. It’s sleek without being ostentatious and gives off an air of regality to the whole UI.

Like Age of Empires III, there’s a persistent level system in the background.

As you play matches in any of the game’s modes, you’ll steadily gain XP to unlock new stuff. There’s a whole boatload of challenges you can do to get extra XP. There’s also a Daily Challenges category, which nets you XP for doing what it requests daily.

The whole experience feels like an MMO, though thankfully there’s no consecutive login bonus for XP.

You’ll want to level up too, as doing so unlocks customization options for your profile. Doing campaign missions also get you numerous unlocks too, ranging from the aforementioned customization options, to short video packages deal with a multitude of game related subjects.

In the campaign, you’re given free reign on which civilization to start with. You get to play as the Normans, the English, the Mongols and finally, the Russians. I wished the Chinese (who are available in the Skirmish and Multiplayer modes) got their own campaign. Perhaps one that deals with Qin Shi Huang or even one set during the Three Kingdoms.

The first one campaign, the Normans, are a blend of tutorial and regular gameplay. It holds your hands and shows you the ropes of Age of Empires. It’s a bit too heavy handed for the hardcore, but newbies to RTS will like it.

That’s the whole overarching theme to Age of Empires IV in fact; to be as welcoming to new blood as possible. There are a lot of concessions to that. In fact, there’s even a whole section of the game dedicated to just teaching you about the factions and their buildings.

I have nearly no issue with this. While the pandering can be a bit too over the top at times, I found that I did become more efficient as I was guided by the game.

What I don’t appreciate about this is that the overviews for the civilizations aren’t in game. Click on them and the game opens up your browser and loads up the content on Age of Empire IV’s website. I’d have loved it more if the game had all that info inside instead.

I particularly love the new documentary style presentation.

No longer based off fictional stories, the campaigns in the game all reproduce real events and battles. Between each of them, there’s a narrator talking about the history of what’s happening, overlaying CGI with real footage of the locations now. It’s all pretty cool and gives Age of Empires IV a truly unique spin of its own.

No cutscenes with CGI actors or what not, just the facts. I truly hope the style carries over the inevitable expansions down the road.

Once you’re in a game though, it’s all familiar again.

While the game ditches Age of Empires III’s ability to ship in extra supplies and reinforcements (as well as that game’s town hub), the rest of the gameplay remains the same. You’ll send out scouting parties to hunt for resources. You’ll have villagers constructing, mining and harvesting. You’ll ready your armies to fend off invaders.

You’ll progress through 4 different ages, each unlocking better technologies and landmarks. You’ll war with opposing factions.

The core gameplay loop is intact and well and the game’s really fun whether you’re playing Skirmish or Campaign. In fact, the campaign deserves special mention. While a couple of the battles are your generic build a base and smash the enemy affairs, quite a few of them have cool objectives.

You might be tasked to go behind the lines of a siege to ambush incoming resupply caravans. You might be tasked with holding the line while your reinforcements come. They’re cool and a major part of why I keep playing.

There’s now added emphasis on the landmarks each civilization can build as they progress to a new age. In multiplayer, losing your landmarks can mean a loss for your side.

As a primarily solo player (I never touch multiplayer in RTS’ cause I suck), I love the multitude of content that caters to players like me. You can of course play the Campaign but there’s also the Skirmish mode that lets you fight against the AI.

Playing a huge ass 4 v 4 (or you can make it every man for himself) on Intermediate (the recommended difficulty) is intense. The AI isn’t stupid and will constantly test your mettle with raiding parties.

I was really impressed with one battle in particular.

I’d sealed myself up in a corner and fortified my town. The AI saw that and by the time the next skirmish party came along, it had siege weapons with them to deal with my walls. It also had a second party sneak around and infiltrate my town through forests my villagers had cut down (which were previously impassable due to the trees) and attack me on another front.

With me resources all sent to repel the first group, the second group swooped in and massacred a ton of my villagers as they ran to the safety of the guard towns and the town halls.

It’s really a testament to the decent AI that actually adapts to conditions on the fly instead of just following a cookie cutter response-and-reply battleplan.

Skirmish mode not only lets you set your own terms for the battles, but it also has a couple more Civilizations that you can play as that don’t have their own campaigns.

I love the skirmish mode a ton but I do have to say that I wish that you could tweak more settings.

Right now, you can only tweak the basic stuff, like teams and civilization selection. I want more nuanced options, like ones that allow you to tweak a map’s natural resource or place a unit cap.

It’s these granular options that are missing from the game’s Skirmish mode.

Hopefully they get added in future patches.

As before, each Civilization has its own special units though they don’t seem game breaking. The French do have a small advantage with their incredibly powerful unique warships though, especially on maps with a lot of water. I honestly ignored most of them in favour of the regular (more familiar) units. Besides, once you have a handful of cannons and Man-At-Arms escorting them, you’re unbeatable.

Speaking of maps, I’d also welcome a lot more maps than what we have…but I don’t think it’ll be an issue for long. Even if no official maps are incoming, the community will undoubtedly have user created maps but the boatloads soon after the game’s release.

There’s also the Art of War mode for those who play solo.

This mode’s mainly for newbies, teaching them how to micromanage and play efficiently.

It’s still challenging for the hardcore though, as you’re given medals on how fast you can accomplish the tasks. If you’re looking to show you have the stuff, you definitely want to dabble in the mode till you’ve cleared every challenge.

One last thing I’d like to highlight is the game’s sublime music.

I wish Steam had a soundtrack of the tunes from the game. I’d buy it without a second thought and just stream it in the background. The score’s a mix of soothing tunes and more upbeat ones but it’s the soothing ones that I love.

The Bottom Line.

Age of Empires IV is a great continuation of the series. The gameplay doesn’t really innovate but the presentation is better than ever. The leap towards a documentarian style gives the game a unique style that few RTS possess.

It does need more variety in maps, along with more options for Skirmish mode but those are really just nitpicks in the grand scheme of things. With 4 campaigns to play through, the Art of War mode to master and Skirmish (and multiplayer modes) to play, there’s already a ton of content to immerse yourself with.


Great gameplay, great music and great presentation.

The Good.

  • Great gameplay.
  • XP system gives incentives to replay.
  • Tons of unlocks.
  • Great music.

The Bad.

  • Not enough options in Skirmish.
  • Needs more maps.

Sal's been in the industry since the early 2000s. He's written for a ton of gaming and tech publications including Playworks, Hardwarezone, HWM and GameAxis. Recently, Sal served as a juror for the Indie Game Awards at Taipei Game Show 2020. A geek and hardcore gamer, Sal will play everything, on any platform.