I’ve been playing the new Age of Empires 4 this week, and for all the good work that has been done in bringing a classic game into a modern era, the best thing about it are the bits that happen while you’re not even playing.
The game has been developed by Relic, and if there’s one thing Relic know from their Homeworld days, it’s that when it comes to vintage RTS games, gameplay is only half the fun. From Westwood’s Command & Conquer to Blizzard’s Warcraft to the company’s own back catalogue, the genre’s repetitive, hyper-focused mechanics meant that even early on in its history developers quickly realised that players deserved a break in between missions, a little narrative treat.
And so it is here, in this game that was released in 2021 but has the spirit of one released in 1998. In those fictional games relief would come in the form of either FMV or animated cutscenes, but in Age of Empires 4 we’re treated to something a bit more lavish.
In a wonderful throwback, the game’s singleplayer campaigns are preceded by then punctuated with video cutscenes throughout. If you haven’t played the game then you’re probably now feeling a creeping sense of dread, as memories of under-funded documentaries you had to watch in school come flooding back, the kind where shields are made of cardboard and major battles are filmed with five combatants.
Rather than try and tell the campaign’s story, though, these cutscenes are instead documentaries. And good ones at that! They’re short, sharp, beautiful to watch and best of all give us great insights into the technology and tactics that you’re using in the game.
As an example, here’s a collection of the cutscenes from the game’s Norman campaign, which runs to around 40 minutes and when you watch it like this can really just be confused for a very cool little documentary about chainmail and siege tactics.
Also, while playing on PC I was given the option to watch these in 4K, and they looked glorious. Anyway, that’s all, I just wanted to say thanks Relic, this was a lovely treat, and to any other developers out there working on games with a historical focus, more of this please!