— Microsoft

When you think of strategy games, few series hold as much influence as Age of Empires, a franchise filled with genre-defining games. In 2021, after nearly two decades of not having a new game, Relic Entertainment resurrected the historical franchise with a bang in Age of Empires 4, creating one of the most intuitive, real-time strategy games ever seen. Whether you’re a fan of historical games or just real-time strategy, it’s a fantastic playground to run around in, and with a massive discount in Steam’s Autumn Sale, there’s never been a better time to take the plunge.

Age of Empires 4 is largely set in the Early Middle Ages, with players choosing from a selection of civilizations from around the world, including those in England, China, France, the Holy Roman Empire, the Abbasid Dynasty, and much more. If you’re familiar with the RTS genre, you’ll know the crux of each match is to advance through the ages and balance economic and military expansion, with the ultimate goal of wiping out all other players. Age of Empires 4 also falls into the asymmetrical category of RTS games, which means each civilization has marked differences, even though the basics are the same.

The big advantage of the Chinese civilization, for instance, is that their villagers build significantly faster, letting you put up defenses and military buildings quickly. Meanwhile, the Mongols focus entirely on mobility — they can pick up and move entire buildings and settlements to stay mobile. A huge part of the game is learning the unique strengths of each civilization, but also how they play against others and what tactics you can use, depending on who you’re up against. This means Age of Empires 4 is easy to pick up and learn, but has a ton of depth to mastering it. Age of Empires 4 also makes some important updates to the series’ traditional gameplay, like allowing you to place archers on walls and setting ambushes up by hiding units in forests.

While the core gameplay is strong enough to stand on its own, Age of Empires 4 also has a phenomenal selection of campaigns that put you in charge of real historical battles, like a series of armed conflicts between the English and the French during the late Middle Ages. Each campaign mission feels entirely distinct with objectives and mission design built around the unique gameplay style of its respective civilization. What really makes the campaign shine, however, is the historical footage and information interspersed among the missions, presented as a kind of History Channel-style documentary.

The team at Relic consulted historians and experts in the fields of things like weapon forging and medieval battles, setting the stage for each mission with a dose of history. Part of why Age of Empires is so beloved is because of its focus on real history, and it’s fantastic to see Relic double down on that in a meaningful way. Of course, if you just want to get right to gameplay, you can skip all that, but for anyone who wants to learn real history and get more context on these battles and people, there’s an abundance of info presented in a snappy, stylish way.

Age of Empires 4 felt like a grand return for the franchise when it was released in 2021, but the game has only gotten even better over the last two years with liberal updates, changes, and additions. At the same time, the game’s first full expansion, The Sultan’s Ascend, was just released on November 14, adding in a whole new campaign and new civilizations, including the Japanese. If you feel like it’s hard to come by the sweeping real-time strategy experience we used to see decades ago, Age of Empires 4 might just scratch that itch.

Age of Empires 4 is available on PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.

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