Age of Empires IV could bring back RTS in a big way this fall

Microsoft gave fans a deep dive into Age of Empires IV today, and the game looks beautiful. It looks like it could give real-time strategy games on the PC a much-neeeded shot in the arm.

The company’s Relic Entertainment division has been making the game since 2017, and it finally announced it will be arriving on the PC on Windows 10, Xbox Game Pass for PC, and Steam during the fall of 2021. The fan event was a celebration of Age of Empires for those who miss the The Town Center. I feel like this RTS genre should be a mass market, not a niche.

RTS games are best played as mouse-and-keyboard games, and are far harder to play with a game controller. That has meant that the games can’t reach as many fans and they haven’t been as popular, even though they’re hard to develop. We’ve seen big lapses in Blizzard Entertainment’s RTS efforts in brand new installments in franchises such as StarCraft and Warcraft.

Above: You can zoom in pretty close in Age of Empires IV.

Image Credit: Microsoft/Relic

While Microsoft’s Age of Empires franchise has been stalled since 2005 (with the exception of some retro remakes), other key players have been carrying the RTS flag. Sega’s The Creative Assembly has a thriving Total War series, with the latest titles coming including Total War: Warhammer III and Total War: Rome Remastered. Meanwhile, Eugen Systems has been doing a great job with World War II titles with its Steel Division series. Other startups working on RTS titles are Frost Giant Studios and SunSpear games.

But Age of Empires IV could really fill the RTS gap. Microsoft’s success with Age of Empires started in 1997, and the marriage of history and RTS generated so much revenue that, in addition to Microsoft Flight Simulator, the game enabled a vast expansion in the company’s game investments and ultimately led to the debut of the Xbox game console in 2001.

Age of Empires and its sequels sold more than 20 million copies, but Microsoft shut down the studio that made it, Ensemble Studios, in 2009, during the Great Recession after attempts to branch out like Halo Wars met with limited success. Other games had higher priorities at Microsoft.

A new game

Above: Age of Empires IV will feature the Delphi Sultanate.

Image Credit: Microsoft/Relic

But this new game takes advantage of the last 15-plus years of graphics improvements that allow for much more detail to be used in the individual characters and buildings that make up the scenes in 4K HDR battlefields.

The game will have eight civilizations and Microsoft has revealed four so far. Today, Relic showed the Delhi Sultanate (which features elephant units), and it also showed campaigns of William the Conquerer in England, as well as campaigns in China with the Mongols and sea warfare.

Relic said the civilizations will play very differently, with strengths and weaknesses that play out  across campaign maps as well as randomly generated maps. The game will have four campaigns such as the Norman conquest of England.

Above: Age of Empires IV takes advantage of 4K graphics.

Image Credit: Microsoft/Relic

Players will be able to stage ambushes with stealth, which allows players to hide their units from the enemy unless scouts spot them first. Soldiers can also fend off attackers by shooting down from castle walls while attackers can use siege weapons.

Microsoft also said the classic titles — Definitive Edition of Age of Empires II and III — will be updated, as Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition will get a Dawn of Dukes expansion and co-op play this year. Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition will add the U.S. and an African expansion.

I’m looking forward to have real choices for RTS games in the future, and Age of Empires IV looks like it could consume an awful lot of my time.


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