The following review was written by community member Jake “GoldSh3ll” Mauchline.
The 4th installment to the legendary strategy juggernaut, Age of Empires IV, has arrived on your console; but how does it hold up on controller? To add some perspective, I have been playing the Age of Empires franchise off and on for over two decades. I am not a hardcore player by any means, but I do have solid insight on the franchise. Before I delve into how it feels on controller, let me jump into how it is as a game.
This is the most enjoyable Age of Empires experience to date! The visuals are stunning with bright colors and epic environments. It also showcases subtle yet impactful nuances of your units; pulling out torches to set enemy buildings on fire and even vivid cloud reflections on the rivers. There is an assortment of gameplay between the different civilizations ranging from European, Asian and African, even requiring different skill levels to master the differences.
The dynamic camera controls, troop cheers during conflicts and campaign narration add a substantial level of immersion. The music is masterful as well, each campaign has stark musical characteristics ranging from gorgeous classical to thunderous Asiatic folk music reminiscent of Mongolian metal band, ‘the Hu’.
One of my most welcomed additions to this game is the inclusion of the high-quality documentaries. This is content you unlock throughout your campaign progression that feels like they were created by the History Channel. This is by far one of the best interactive paths to plunge yourself into history.
Gameplay and Input
All of this sounds great, but it doesn’t matter much if it handles poorly on controller, right? As someone who has played both the PC and Xbox versions, I am beyond delighted to say that the Xbox version is better! Yes, I said better! The developers pulled some magic on this port. Honestly, calling it a port is a disservice to the work put in and it feels like it was built for Xbox from its conception. The Xbox version even has common options standard to PC like operating mouse and keyboard and mod support. How the teams modified villager’s automation and resource management is truly a marvel.
With a few buttons presses you are delegating resource gathering and building structures without any need to individually click villagers. There is even an auto-villager creation element at your town center that eliminates your need to manually create workers. While building you can request additional villagers to speed up production by simply hovering over the building, hitting your ‘Right Trigger’ (RT) button and select ‘Send villager’ on your radial menu. They will all return to their previous tasks when complete.
With this tedious micromanagement put on the backburner, you can now focus on building your metropolis and massing your armies to conquer your foes.
Constructing buildings is as simple as pressing ‘RT’ on empty land and utilizing your radial menu, where the nearest villager will automatically be assigned that task. While in your building menu, the ‘directional pad’ (D-pad) will further expand to other building types like defensive, military and advancement to the next tier. Controlling specific troop selections and movement can be done with modifiers on your ‘D-pad’. Holding both triggers will allow you to easily divide your troops up into subgroups to easily select them later with another radial menu.
This level of “Macro” or assigning complex tasks to simple buttons is crucial, as you may want to use your cavalry to flank some pesky archers for example. If you find the controls clunky remember to deselect, which is found with your ‘B’ button to allow a smoother transition to other radial menus. This all may sound confusing but once you get your hands on the game, you will understand.
The controller functionality is so splendid, you feel like you are successfully spamming hotkeys like a long-time PC veteran. This game is intuitive and simple to pick up with its beneficial tutorial campaigns and beyond. Commanding your armies to wage war with controllers on the big screen is an outstanding way to experience this genre.
The performance specifications on Xbox Series X are 4K/60FPS, the Xbox Series S is 1080p/60FPS and Xbox One is 1080p/30FPS. I have only experienced minor gameplay stutters when there is a colossal number of troops on screen with the Xbox Series S, emphasis on minor. For most of my experience, it has been a smooth bug free experience.
The game, however, does have its slight drawbacks. The biggest glaring issue with the game is the busy user interface (UI). The UI is crowded with objectives and menus. The objectives display can be increasingly irritating if you have a plethora of tasks to accomplish. A way to toggle off objectives with a press of the ‘View’ button would be much appreciated. Additionally, the ability to scale your UI down would be a fantastic way to give you more visibility of your base or the battlefield. The UI isn’t bad by any means, it is just a bit short of perfection and it is nothing a future patch couldn’t remedy.
As with most games there is a caveat, multiplayer can be a drastically different than the single-player experience. In the multiplayer matches I took part in; I noticed a mix of skill levels and very limited communication between my team. According to users in the Official Age of Empires discord, Xbox versus PC cross play is disabled.
It is hard to review the multiplayer as the game is new to Xbox. To new players, I would highly recommend playing the campaign and trying to skirmish with the varying difficulties of AI (which you can co-op with friends). Obviously, practice and seeking out tutorials by the community is always recommended to refine your gameplay.
With the minor issues aside, it still amazes how me well the developers were able to bring such a complicated strategy game to the console. The grouping options and ‘d-pad’ selections make maneuvering your troops a snap in the heat of combat. The villager management mechanics make the game more entertaining but also more realistic.
Even real-life commanders wouldn’t be making every menial decision, they would be dedicating it to capable subordinates. That is effectively what these new systems do, allowing you to delicate needed monotonous tasks while you focus on construction and conflict.
Microsoft has done phenomenal work reviving and revitalizing the Age of Empires franchise and it is an absolutely blessed time for the strategy genre, especially if you are an Xbox Game Pass subscriber who is looking for a new experience. I can’t put the Xbox edition of Age of Empire IV down; I am truly absorbed by the new way to play. ∎
Age of Empires IV: Anniversary Edition
Xbox Series S
- Stunning visuals and masterful music.
- Strong gameplay mechanics and variation between civilizations.
- Xbox port is well-done, controller inputs work well.
- Solid, bug-free and immersive experience.
- Lack of UI customization.
- Uneven multiplayer balancing.