It’s an unusual situation. It feels like we already know a lot about Age of Empires 4. The game should be released in October 2021. It won’t take that long until then! But nobody has a fully comprehensive feel for the actual game.
Relic is now releasing new videos for Age 4 at very short intervals, in which you can also see gameplay scenes on a regular basis. Some content-related details are also supplemented or expanded on the official website. What the campaigns are about, how the peoples play, and all that kind of thing. And yet the overall impression is missing. Even the closed beta on August 5th will not change that, because all participants sign an embargo and are not allowed to talk about it.
Of course, that doesn’t stop fans like me and you from reading between the lines beforehand and discussing every detail in detail. And one topic keeps coming up. The graphic. Possibly also because a more in-depth impression is missing.
Only the last trailer about the sea battles caused very sharp criticism of the graphics again. But there could be more to this sharp tone. Because Age of Empires 4 is not an ugly strategy game, most likely the critics know that too.
A loud minority?
The mass of critical comments may create a skewed picture. Even if these reviews can be found almost everywhere. Both here with us and on YouTube or Reddit. You don’t have to search long before the subject of the overwhelming graphics is brought up again.
But this criticism does not seem to have an overwhelming effect on how many fans still trust the RTS hope and are looking forward to it. For example, the graphics in the comments are often criticized. But measured against the YouTube thumbs, the videos still hold up quite well. In the video with the naval battles, 1,500 thumbs up are currently compared to 240 thumbs down. Certainly not a flawless one. But no death sentence either.
For the sake of interest, we asked for your opinion on Casus knacks on our homepage. 2,163 people decided here how much they like the graphics. And the result was surprising. Only 8 percent rated the graphics as very bad, 13 as bad. This would mean that 21 percent would have a rather negative attitude overall. But only 13 percent found it very good. The majority are in the middle for the values. Even more positive. 33 percent of each thinks the graphics are mediocre or good.
Judging by the comments, other values might have been more understandable. The point here is that Age 4 doesn’t look “very good.” It doesn’t look bad either. It looks okay to good in the perception of people. But in the case of Age 4, one must not forget what is attached to it.
Ambitions we like to believe
The developers themselves repeatedly emphasize how important the success of Age 4 is for the genre. That only this franchise can do what many believe is impossible. And also what their ambitions are. The “largest and most expensive real-time strategy game since Starcraft 2” is to be Age of Empires 4.
And at this point graphics, ambition and challenge drift past each other. Age of Empires 4 is the spiritual successor to Age 2. Perhaps the best strategy game of all time. That is still alive today. That practice doesn’t make any mistakes. Age 2 wasn’t even affected by the new editions and remakes. Age of Empires 4 is measured against this.
That does something to our expectations. Every publisher and every developer likes to fall back on superlatives. But if you are also the heir to a masterpiece, then these promises work differently. Then players are more willing to believe that ambition. Especially since there is no small publisher behind it with Microsoft.
More than mediocre
If that’s the starting point, then even mediocre or even good graphics have a different effect. A reasonable gamer knows by now that bombastic graphics say nothing about whether a game will be good. Graphic bezels are nothing new. Conversely, however, it is harder to believe that the “largest and most expensive RTS since Starcraft 2” is visually not approaching any absolute highs.
That doesn’t get any better because Relic almost relativizes these statements itself. Because in the meantime Company of Heroes 3 has been announced. This will only appear after Age 4 and will be financed by Sega instead of Microsoft. Here we have another RTS from the same studio, but it caused fewer graphic discussions.
As a fan, you start to doubt. Can Age of Empires 4 be what fans and developers have chosen it to be if the look doesn’t reflect that? Especially since none of the trailers shown was cohesive gameplay. Those were short scenes. In a promotional video. An environment in which you can otherwise show your best side.
And this is exactly where Age 4 is currently just not capable of anything more than good mediocrity. Or rather: can not show more than that of itself. But fans don’t expect a good average from Age 4. The hope was that it would be the next big strategy game. And the optics alone simply do not convey that.
And what does that mean?
So do we have to write off like Age 4 now? I would not go so far. In all of the discussions about Age 4’s graphics, it’s just important not to forget what the expectation is. And this is currently not yet being met. Because there is currently no counterweight.
Everything we know about gameplay comes from blog posts and the promises made by the developers. That can sound interesting. Whether it plays that way is another question. Graphics are much easier to classify there.
Perhaps the graphic is an indication that Age of Empires 4 will not be the strategy masterpiece that gets the heart of classic real-time strategy beating again. But maybe nobody can. Instead, let’s see things in a positive light: Microsoft is not even trying to dazzle us with graphics. Rather, rely on strong player loyalty through gameplay that runs smoothly on a variety of devices. In the end, they may succeed so well that at some point nobody asks about the graphic.