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Here’s why Age of Empires 4 doesn’t have environmental destruction - sort of

Age of Empires 4's creative director talks to us about destroying surroundings in the RTS game

The Age of Empires 4 trailer shown at X019 gave us our first real glimpse at the upcoming RTS game and some of the battle action we can expect to get our teeth into when the Age of Empires 4 release date arrives. It showed trebuchets bringing down fortifications, and creative director Adam Isgreen has now confirmed “man-made destruction visuals” like this will be a feature of the game – but destruction of the natural environment won’t be.

In an interview with Isgreen, we asked him whether the Age of Empires 4 trebuchet attack is just a neat aesthetic touch or if environmental destruction affects gameplay. He tells us: “Semantics can catch here, so let me be specific – I’m interpreting your definition of ‘environmental’ to mean structure/man-made related elements, not, say, blowing up a cliff or causing an avalanche that changes the map topography itself – the latter is something we’re not doing.

“For man-made destruction visuals, yes there will be all kinds of dynamic elements regarding destruction and really combat in general. We go back and forth on gameplay impact, honestly.”

Isgreen provides a theoretical example to demonstrate this: “Let’s say you’re playing a regicide game and you for some reason happen to not have garrisoned your leader – they’re just standing in your well-fortified city, admiring their kingdom. An opponent has a trebuchet well out of range of hitting them, but not a semi-nearby wall. You smash the wall, causing debris to fly (in-line of attack, but still randomly in a cone behind the wall) everywhere, and one chunk happens to hit and take out the leader. GG.

“While this would be a ‘moment,'” he explains, “it wouldn’t be a fun win, or really a very earned one when it comes to how Age has played in the past; it’s a bit too random and unpredictable.”

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Isgreen explains that this would mean adding physics calculations to a simulation game that’s already pretty busy, which would need to represent them identically on each player’s PC. The team “goes through all the permutations of how we could un-random that interaction to something more predictable for both players” but this doesn’t mean the result will necessarily get added, it seems.

This “can sometimes water something down to the point that it’s not worth including,” he says, adding that “we go through these exercises all the time on just about every aspect of the game.” He summarises that, while visually the game will have a “lot of dynamic/kinetic things happening in combat,” the Age 4 devs are “still weighing the merits on if any of it will have more than just visual impact.”