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Age of Empires 4: everything we know

Age of Empire IV
(Image credit: Microsoft)

More than fifteen years after the last game in the series, Age of Empires 4 is finally just about ready for battle. Company of Heroes and other well-loved strategy game developers Relic Entertainment have been developing it for some time now. Although new information about AoE 4 was scarce for a while, it's finally popped back up with a new gameplay trailer and a release date for 2021.

Age of Empires 4 is in development by Relic Entertainment, creators of the Company of Heroes series and other beloved strategy games. It's the first new entry in the series in well over ten years—AoE 3 was released all the way back in 2005—but we won't have long to wait. 

If you're looking for something to play in the meantime, check out our list of the best strategy games, or see what we thought of Age of Empires: Definitive Edition in our review

What is the Age of Empires 4 release date? 

Age of Empires 4 launches on October 28, 2021.

During the E3 trailer, Microsoft and Relic finally gave us a release date, but you can also get to play a bit earlier. Relic's already hosted some closed betas, and from Friday, September 17, everyone can play through Steam or the Xbox app, even if you're not part of the Insider programme. This will run until September 20. Hopefully we'll get some more opportunities before launch, too. 

Here's the E3 2021 Gameplay Trailer

The E3 gameplay trailer shows off some short snippets of combat, but focuses on a bunch of cinematics that use real-world footage overlaid with 3D models. It featured units from the English, Delhi Sultanate, French, Chinese, Mongols, and an as-yet-unidentified middle eastern faction using camels. There's also what look like Genoese crossbowmen at one point.

You can also catch a few past trailers for Age of Empires, though they've all been quite light on details. Here's the original Age of Empires 4 gameplay reveal from 2019 and the Age of Empires 4 reveal trailer from 2017.

Check out the fan preview

Accompanying the fan preview, we got a preview of our own, which included a few minutes of the game in motion and more details. 

"Three big things fans will want to know about right away: the plan is to launch with eight civilizations (largely from Europe and Asia, but not exclusively), there will be four campaigns tracing the histories of some of those civilizations, and naval combat is in. I would've liked to see a lot more of AOE4, but the short glimpses I got were still enough to pick up on how many changes can fall under the umbrella of modern."

Age of Empires 4 will have 8 civilizations, but there's room to expand

Eight civs is a decent start, but Relic plans to keep expanding them. It's not clear if they'll be appearing in free updates or premium expansions, though. 

"[Eight civilizations] is where we're starting," Relic told us. "The detail we're putting into the civilizations and the focus on making them more unique—you can imagine there's a reason StarCraft had three factions the entire time, because doing asymmetrical balance gets massively complicated. For us, starting with eight is a big endeavor, and then we're going to keep expanding."

Age of Empires 4 - gameplay screenshot showing the interface

Age of Empires 3 (Image credit: Microsoft)

Age of Empires 4 will contain 4 historical campaigns

Previously, Age of Empires has focused on historical figures, like Joan of Arc, or given us more of a story-driven campaign, as in AoE3. This time, however, we'll be getting four campaigns that give us a longer view of a civilization's history. In the Norman campaign, for instance, you start as William the Conqueror, but eventually you'll witness the conflict between his kids, and then their kids, and so on. 

"You get the whole story of the Norman conquest, from the time this ambitious duke made his way across the channel and said 'this is mine,' all the way to the point where you're signing the Magna Carta and laying the foundations of what England is today," said narrative lead Philippe Boulle. "We bridge the gap between missions with these wonderful historical films. We worked with documentarians to go to all kinds of locations like Hastings and Dover, where these events happened. And that's just one of the four campaigns we're shipping with."

Age of Empires 4's campaign will show 'humanized histories'

In an interview with GamesRadar, creative director Adam Isgreen hinted how Relic is evolving the RTS campaign in Age of Empires 4. "We're doing something very different with the campaign… I can't talk about it, but it's really crazy-cool," he said. "I can say that we will be bringing history in a fun and exciting way to people – the way we coined it for Age of Empires 4 is 'humanised histories'."

Age of Empires 4 will 'modernize' the series without overcomplicating

Talking to GamesRadar, creative director Adam Isgreen shared Age of Empires 4's goal to not overcomplicate the new game in an attempt to modernize it. "Generally speaking, the longer a genre exists, the games that are responsible for taking it forward tend to make it more complicated. With Age of Empires 4, it was important for us to be like, 'okay, how do we back away from that?'. We do not want to take on all of the complexity that we see in RTS games today," he said. "This is a fresh start for us. We want to modernize the series and that means we are going to do things differently."

Age of Empires 4 has the same composer as The Witcher 3

The Witcher 3 composer Mikolai Stroinski announced on his Facebook page in January 2019 that he'll be composing the soundtrack to Age of Empires 4. Perhaps this is a sign the game is making progress, and that we'll hear more about it soon. 

Age of Empires 4 is being made by Relic, creator of Company of Heroes

age of empires 4 screen

Relic added a few words on its own website about Age of Empires 4 back when it was announced. "[We] couldn’t be more proud to be a part of the legacy," the blog post reads. "We can’t wait to tap into our strengths as a studio to fuse historical context with deep strategic gameplay, and to bring this franchise back to the forefront of gaming and into the hands of its beloved community."

Age of Empires 4 will be Relic's first game produced for a publisher other than Sega, its owner, since it was purchased by auction in the selling off of THQ's assets in 2013. Speculating, it's likely that Microsoft paid Sega for the right to work with Relic, as it probably did for Creative Assembly, the Sega-owned studio that developed Halo Wars 2.

In 2009 Microsoft disbanded Ensemble Studios, the original creators of Age of Empires, eight years after acquiring it in 2001.

Age of Empires 4 won't have microtransactions

Speaking to PCGamesN at XO19, creative director Adam Isgreen said that microtransactions aren't in the game's future. “The idea of microtransactions in a real-time strategy game isn’t a thing,” he said. "DLC, expansions – all of that is things that we’re going to be exploring for Age 4.”

Thanks, Bill

Finally, hat tip to Bill Gates, who presumably got this whole Age of Empires 4 thing rolling after answering this question in a Reddit AMA in March 2016:

Need something to play in the meantime? Check out our best strategy games on PC, and check out our Imperator Rome review if you're after more historical strategy.