Age of Empires IV was one of the best games of 2021. But for a lot of returning fans, it was also one of the best games of 2022 — and could still be one of the best games of 2023. That’s because, like many competitive online games, AoE4 still has an active player base and a steady drip-feed of new content. Between weekly challenges, multiplayer seasons and two brand-new playable civilizations, it’s a good time to be an Age of Empires IV fan.
However, it’s also time to start wondering when we’re going to get a big expansion, rather than just piecemeal updates.
I recently returned to Age of Empires IV after a yearlong hiatus, and even though there’s plenty on offer, I found myself wanting more. Granted, “there’s not enough” is a much better problem to have than “that dragged on for too long.” But given the series’ storied history, we’re about due for a substantial addition, and that presents a few exciting options.
The Russians are coming
For those who haven’t played it, Age of Empires IV is a historical real-time strategy game that takes place in the medieval era. You take control of one of history’s great civilizations, and build up from a humble village into a mighty empire, improving your economy and waging war with your enemies along the way. The game’s challenge lies in gathering and managing resources, as well as in building up the correct kind of army to counter your foes.
I reviewed Age of Empires IV when it came out, and that means I had to spend some time in each of the game’s myriad modes. Between random skirmishes, historical campaigns, single-player scenarios and a bevy of multiplayer options, AoE4 has a lot to do, especially when you’re first learning your way around the game’s eight (now 10) varied civilizations.
Before I reviewed the game, I finished three of its historical campaigns: the English, the French and the Mongols. That left only one campaign to complete: the Rus. I decided I’d get back around to it someday, and the opportunity arose when I came back from holiday break with a whole stack of mouse pads to review. PC gaming and RTS go together like the Delhi Sultanate and war elephants, so I dove in and started Dmitry Donskoy’s long and challenging war against the Golden Horde.
Like the other campaigns in AoE4, the Rise of Moscow is an excellent journey, combining varied and challenging gameplay objectives with real-world documentary footage. I learned a thing or two about the Rus, the Lithuanians and the Golden Horde, in addition to wooden building construction, the distinction between infantry swords and cavalry sabers, and how the Russian Orthodox Church helped shape the country’s history.
And, like the other campaigns in AoE4, it wasn’t especially long. After eight exciting missions, I was done with the Rus campaign — and, essentially, done with the directed single-player component in Age of Empires IV.
Granted, it’s not as though there’s nothing left to do in the game. The developers have expanded and refined AoE4 since launch, especially on the multiplayer side, where there’s almost always a new challenge to complete or rank to earn. Even if you’re just in it for the single-player, there are two new civilizations to master, the Ottomans and the Malians — and Microsoft didn’t charge a penny for either one. (Compare and contrast to new civilizations in Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition, which tend to cost about $5 apiece.)
Still, history suggests that we’re about due for a bigger addition to the game — and if there’s one thing Age of Empires does well, it’s history.
Campaigns of expansion
A year after the original Age of Empires launched, Microsoft put out an expansion called The Rise of Rome. A year after Age of Empires II launched, Microsoft put out an expansion called The Conquerors. A year after Age of Mythology launched, Microsoft put out an expansion called The Titans. Less than a year after Age of Empires III launched, Microsoft put out an expansion called The WarChiefs.
You can probably see the pattern here.
Before it was practical to release tiny DLC updates, Age of Empires used to grow with substantial expansion packs, each one of which included new civilizations, new multiplayer options and, most importantly, new campaigns. The Conquerors, for example, added substantive scenarios for Attila the Hun and Montezuma, while The WarChiefs added the American Revolution and the Sioux Wars.
While campaigns are only one part of the much larger AoE4 experience, they were my favorite aspect of the game — and I wasn’t alone. Other critics also praised the game’s fantastic campaigns, which were well-researched, educational and presented in a gripping documentary style. Getting new maps and new civilizations to play is exciting, especially as we’ve gotten them for free. But both the Ottomans and Malians have fascinating histories, and I would have gladly paid money to play through some bespoke, polished missions about them.
AoE4 got off to a strong start, and it’s well worth revisiting the game to see what new features the developers have added since launch. However, it’s high time for a proper expansion — particularly if the developers want to add some New World races, as they did back in the Conquerors. Western Europe, eastern Europe, the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, east Asia and south Asia are already represented in the game.
Granted, making campaign missions for AoE4 is probably more difficult than it was for previous games. Rather than storybook pages or in-game cutscenes, the game’s campaign mode involves a lot of real-world footage and drone photography, which is probably neither cheap nor easy to produce. But the results in the main game were well worth it. I’m ready to learn — and so, I wager, are a lot of other returning Age of Empires fans.