Review – Age of Empires IV: Anniversary Edition (Xbox Series S/X)

I grew up playing the Age of Empires games, as well as Age of Mythology, to near exhaustion. Whilst everyone else was having the time of their lives with Blizzard’s real-time strategy offerings, I was standing on the hill that Ensemble Studios’ creations were much, much better in terms of depth, replayability, and overall amount of content. One of the worst things Microsoft has ever done to gaming, in fact, was shutting that studio down altogether, giving Relic Entertainment the keys to their RTS kingdom.

The result, a few years ago, was Age of Empires IV. Less of a sequel to the impressive Age III, and more of a soft reboot of Age II (being set on the same period, for starters), it was one of the most disappointing games I have ever played back when it first came out. I didn’t even bother writing a review back then because of how annoyed I was. It felt like a horrendous step back, with less content, poorer visuals, and much less depth. Age of Empires IV was lauded as “accessible” by most outlets, and while I do agree with that, I don’t think it ended up garnering the expected results. It did not kickstart a new wave in RTS popularity. It made newcomers play it for a while, scared away long-term fans of the franchise, and then just vanished.

Age of Empires IV UI

I appreciate the improved UI, but Age of Empires IV just doesn’t look very exciting when it comes to its visuals and art style.

But I guess I was just too annoyed at launch to properly give it an honest review. After the clunky, but very impressive port of Age of Empires II, released earlier this year, Age of Empires IV is now available on Xbox consoles. I can already preface that, just like that other port, if you have access to a capable computer, do not bother wasting your time with a vastly more complicated version of the same game. You will never find a more suitable home for a real-time strategy game than a computer. That being said, is Age of Empires IV still worth giving a look if an Xbox is your only source for strategy games?

If the Xbox One or Series X|S are your only source for a strategy game, then go play Age of Empires II. Simple as that. I gave Age of Empires IV another fair shot, but I can’t recommend you do the same. This is just extremely dumbed down when compared to any other RTS out in the market. I’m not even talking about some of the removed features, such as a scenario editor, or the decreased amount of formation options on console; that’s to be expected in such a port. I have no complaints about the implementation of controller-based commands on a herculean task like this one, to be honest: it is the best possible way to experience a game like this without a keyboard and a mouse. It’s the base game that just doesn’t shine at all.

Age of Empires IV feels painfully simplistic. Stuck in time. It’s basically a polygonal Age of Empires II with less features, less civilizations, vastly smaller maps to play on. The main addition to (supposedly) promote replayability within skirmishes is the selection of landmarks whenever moving from one Age to another. It basically gives you a specific building with some special attributes whenever you change your tech level, but rarely does this become a new source for units, for instance. Considering how every single civilization has the same kinds of units, they barely play differently from each other, with the possible only exception being the Mongols.

Age of Empires IV combat

Don’t expect a lot of complex combat strategy in this port. Build up an army, and throw the poor bastards onto their inevitable demise. Rinse and repeat.

There is one thing that this game does better than any other non-Mythology Age game, however. Even though the visuals are much less exciting than the ones seen in Age of Empires III, each civilization does feel visually distinct from one another. No more spawning halberd-wielding knights for the glory of your Japanese daimyo; Age of Empires IV does the bare minimum to ensure some visual variety, as well as some audio improvements over the previous console port. The UI also looks cleaner than the amateurish mess seen in the Xbox port of Age of Empires II as well. Once again, the port itself is not the issue… the core game in which the port is based on is.

It doesn’t matter if you’re playing it on a PC or on an Xbox. Sadly, Age of Empires IV feels like a massive step back when compared to the immense levels of fun, customization and depth offered by Age II, III, or Mythology. Playing it on a controller just adds an unnecessary layer of complexity towards the gameplay, even though I still commend the developers for their impressive efforts. I doubt anyone else would have been able to pull off such task. With that being said, I can’t recommend playing this particular version, or Age of Empires IV as a whole for that matter. Just stick to its much better predecessors.


Graphics: 6.5

The UI issues have been fixed, but Age of Empires IV just doesn’t look as sexy as its sprite-based counterparts.

Gameplay: 7.0

You will need to get used to the initially confusing control scheme, but considering how hard it is to properly translate RTS controls onto a console, this is still a very impressive feat.

Sound: 8.5

Much better when compared to the console version of Age of Empires II. Even if the soundtrack isn’t as exciting, the voice acting sounds more professional, and the sound mixing has been fixed.

Fun Factor: 6.0

Age of Empires IV wouldn’t have been considered exciting on a computer, feeling like a less exciting version of its predecessors, let alone on a console. Just stick to Age II.

Final Verdict: 6.5

Age of Empires IV: Anniversary Edition is available now on Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X and PC.

Reviewed on Xbox Series S.