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Age of Empires 4 still has four ages, but some civs might break the rules

It’s been more than 14 years since Age of Empires III, the last full-fledged, built-from-scratch release in Microsoft’s legendary real-time strategy series. RTS, and gaming in general, has come a long way since then, and it’d be fair for fans to wonder how much is going to stay the same in Age of Empires IV.

We got the chance to ask creative director Adam Isgreen about exactly that at X019 yesterday. When it comes to Age of Empires IV civilisations, it sounds like we can expect a mix of the familiar and the radical – the English will feel familiar to the Britons from Age of Empires II, while the Mongols will be very different, with Isgreen implying that Age’s traditional “unique units and differences in tech” might be among the systems revised.

We probed further on such points as resources and progressing through different ages in time. “We deviate a little, but we really love the model from Age II,” Isgreen says. “So yes, there are four resources [in Age IV], and all the civilisations use them – but do they use them in the same way? Do they use them in the same order? Hmm, don’t know. You’ll have to find out.”

So what he means there, but isn’t allowed to say, is that some civs will use resources differently than we’re used to. It sounds like it’s a similar deal when it comes to the actual ages:

“We love the idea of moving through ages, and we’ve actually taken it even further in this game. Not in terms of the number of ages, although there are civilisations that don’t necessarily play by the four-age rule, I will say that. But there are also new aspects to ageing up from a presentation point of view that no one has ever seen in an RTS game before.”

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That last point is interesting. Ageing up would always update your civilisation’s building set – couldn’t have Iron Age Romans living under Stone Age animal skins, obviously – but the idea that presentational changes will be wholly new to the genre is an exciting promise.

Isgreen emphasises that these mechanics are among “the quintessential, important things for Age that we felt were worth maintaining,” so if you want to see some familiar Age of Empires gameplay with just a touch of modern polish, it definitely sounds like there will be civilisations for you. Reading a little between the lines, however, it also sounds like some civs will bend the series’ traditions around resource use, age progression, and perhaps even tech trees to throw us a few curveballs.

Personally, I think it sounds comparable to what Total War did with the Warhammer spin-offs in giving certain armies massive strategic asymmetries, and that worked out pretty well. I continue to be very excited.

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