Age Of Empires IV

Age Of Empires IV

In 2001 my daughter Ali's bat mitzvah was based on Microsoft's Age of Empires.  I'm not talking about just her party, the entire service, music, sermon, and all was derived from or commenting upon aspects of the nation spanning game.  Even the invitation, which you can view here, unfolded to an 11x17 mini-poster of Ali which I created to look like the original, but with Jewish themes.  So, to say that I was looking forward to a new edition in the Age franchise was putting it mildly.

I was not disappointed.  The new game is so much prettier than earlier releases, and the single player campaigns so much deeper, that it has swallowed up an inordinate amount of my free time since release. 

I should note that Age of Empires II has become a popular eSport title, and at least at present, it seems to be the "go to" version of Age for multi-player action.  I have not evaluated that aspect of the game; I was, and remain, much more interested in the single person campaigns, and the ones here really deliver.

By the way, the diversity of the way Age of Empires can be approached is part of its charm.  Some are into competitive play, others find the challenging AI skirmishes engaging, others come for the history, and still others just love to play with the gorgeous animated soldiers, treating it as a magic toy chest full of animated action figures.  Whatever you play style Age of Empires IV has something for you. 

Although I have seen reviews that take the game to task for the resources spent on making the cut scenes and introductory videos that are used in the single person game, I thought they were terrific.  The designers filmed on location  of the original battles and then superimposed different styles of art on top of the modern videos.  As a result you see castles, for instance, with automobiles outside the gates, and then see them engulfed in medieval war.  The art is excellent and compelling, and the presentation novel.

The game is streamlined now; the more complicated aspects of home city building have been removed.  Landmarks have been added to the leveling up process.  Now, in addition to collecting sufficient resources, you have to construct one of two buildings before making the upgrade.  Much as the skill upgrades associated with the blacksmith, these give your civilization buffs that can really make a difference depending on your choice. New civilizations with new play methods have been added, though, spicing up game strategies.

There are some nagging issues.  There is no map editor and no integrated support for mods, yet.  The population cap remains stubbornly at 200.  But, in most other aspects, the game is just terrific, and you never know how Microsoft will improve on it in coming months.  Perhaps, as they have done with Flight Simulator, new features will be added.