6 things I wish I’d known before playing ‘Age Of Empires 4’

Jump into Age Of Empires 4 with a headstart

since Age Of Empires 4 launched last week, it’s been receiving plenty of praise from fans and critics alike. It’s a fantastic return to form for the series, and it’s no surprise that tens of thousands have flocked to game on Steam. That being said, it’s been 16 years since the last mainline Age Of Empires title launched in 2005. With that long a gap, the strategy game will, for many people (myself included), be their first experience with the franchise.

As a newcomer, it feels like a lot of lessons in Age Of Empires 4 are taught solely through defeat. Spinning my countless beatings and numerous defeats into something more positive, I’ve learned a lot about how to play – though I do regret not knowing some things sooner. Taking that into account, here’s 6 things I wish I’d known about Age Of Empires 4 from the start.

Avoid leaving units idle

Age Of Empires 4
Age Of Empires 4. Credit: Relic Entertainment

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The biggest sin you can commit in an RTS game is to leave something idling – in Age Of Empires 4, this is no different. Whether there’s a lazy villager that’s sitting there doing nothing or you’ve got a building which isn’t churning out warriors at an alarming rate, leaving something idle can invite a slow, boring defeat.

Making sure that you’re constantly growing reserves – recruiting troops and gathering the resources to do that – is the key to sustaining the momentum in any Age Of Empires 4 match or campaign. It’s easier said than done – micromanaging all aspects of your empire is a challenging task – but ensuring you’re always utilising your villagers and recruitment villagers is critical to pressing advantages or recovering from a nasty defeat.

Utilise your faction’s unique traits

Age Of Empires 4. Credit: Relic Entertainment, World’s Edge.

In Age Of Empires 4, every civilisation has a unique set of traits that sets them apart. This can range from powerful infantry units to distinctive buildings that offer handy bonuses. Before playing as a faction, take a moment to read their abilities and get to grips with them.

In one particular level of Moscow’s campaign, besieging an enemy city took so long that I actually exhausted every gold mine on the map. Without the means to pay for higher-tiered units, I started losing ground and eventually lost the match. In my next go of things, I made good use of Rus’ hunting cabins to ensure I kept a steady stream of gold – and subsequently had no problem seizing victory.

From the Rus’ hunting bounties to the vicious English longbowmen, identify what your faction excels in and make good use of those abilities – it’s critical to gaining the upper-hand.

Don’t be afraid to sell resources

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Age Of Empires 4 Market
Age Of Empires 4. Credit: Xbox Game Studios.

Depending on how you’ve configured your civilisation and what playstyle you’re aiming for, it’s unlikely that you’ll always need gargantuan stockpiles of every single resource. While the earlier moments in a game can demand a little bit of everything, later on it’s more likely that you’ll bring in more resources than you can feasibly use.

If you’ve got an excessive amount of something, don’t be afraid to use the market and offload it. This lets you trade in your surplus for gold, which can in turn be used to purchase anything you’re a little short on.

Take the time to play every tutorial

Age Of Empires 4 Tutorial
Age Of Empires 4. Credit: Xbox Game Studios.

For some of you, being told to patiently sit through the tutorial will go against every escape-button instinct you have. It’s fair – a lot of games will teach you as you go – but Age Of Empires 4 is so much harder without that extra preparation.

Instead of one long tutorial, Age Of Empires 4 breaks its introduction into several optional stages. The first one touches on the very basics of the game (like how to move units), but other stages touch upon niche subjects like managing a late-game economy and the finer points of warfare.

It may seem tedious, but give it a chance – the lessons taught in these tutorials will almost certainly save you from some messy failures later in the game.

Hotkeys are your friend

Age Of Empires 4 cavalry charge
Age Of Empires 4. Credit: Relic Entertainment, World’s Edge.

Without assigning macro buttons for your units, combat will be incredible difficult to manage. When enemies are nearby, I’ve noticed that friendly units have an irritating habit of charging off into battle without permission. There are toggles to force them to stand their ground, but they can be a little restrictive and in my case once caused a regiment of infantry to wait politely as they were squashed by a distant trebuchet.

To ensure you can control your units without frantically double-clicking, select the units you want to group up, hold control, and press the number you want them to be grouped under. This will allow you to access and order all of those units just by pressing their button. While making too many macros can be confusing, it’s helpful to start off with at least four groups – one for swordsmen, another for spearmen, a third for archers and a fourth for cavalry. It’s very basic, but it’s a great start for anyone looking to keep control of battles and boss units around quicker.

Adapt, scout, overcome

Age Of Empires 4 scout
Age Of Empires 4. Credit: Xbox Game Studios.

A scout is one of the first units you can recruit – for good reason. It might be tempting to spend your hard-earned food on more villagers or stronger soldiers, but scouts – while they’re not reliable fighters – are vital to staying one step ahead of your opponent.

Carefully sending scouts to probe your foe’s territory can give you early warnings if they dispatch armies to your land, and can give you a sneak peak into what sort of strategy they’re going for. If there’s a suspiciously large amount of army recruitment buildings early on, expect to weather an early attack – similarly, if a stone resource point is being mobbed by villagers and there’s little else going on, they may be working to build stone fortifications and raise a hardy defence.

Make use of scouts, and more importantly – utilise and react to the information they provide. Is your opponent leaning heavily on archer recruitment? Frontload your troops with cavalry. Expecting a rushed assault? Throw up some basic towers and fortifications. Use your scouts to glean as much intel as possible, and act accordingly.

Age Of Empires 4 is available now on PC – the title can be purchased on Steam or played through Xbox Game Pass.

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