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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this game.
Kids will learn about medieval history, including The Hundred Years war and the rise of the Mongol Empire. Well-produced documentary films explore specific technologies of the time, including the making of chain mail and trebuchets, while "pages from history" dive into the politics and strategies of specific places and battles.
The campaigns and unlockable videos encourage interest in world history and politics, along with medieval war strategies and technology. Multiplayer modes foster friendly cooperative and competitive social gaming.
Positive Role Models
The historic figures described in the game -- such as William the Conqueror and Harold II -- are depicted more or less as they were, so far as historians know. Some are aggressive and power hungry, others are more concerned for their people, and still others are driven by other motives, such as family and religion. They aren't intended to serve as role models, but rather examples from which players can learn.
Eight nations/cultures from the first half of the second millennium C.E. -- including the English, French, Chinese, Mongols, Russians, Abbasid Dynasty, Delhi Sultanate, and the Holy Roman Empire -- are presented according to modern historical understanding. Players see and learn about key leaders within each, and learn about their political, cultural, and technological breakthroughs and contributions to civilization.
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Ease of Play
The mechanics are complex, especially for those who have never played a real-time strategy game. That said, there are lots of interactive primers focused on controls, strategies, and unique nation abilities, and the first campaign almost plays like an extended tutorial. Plus, multiple difficulty levels -- the easiest of which makes it almost impossible to lose -- allow players to tailor the challenge to their abilities.
Violence & Scariness
Players watch little armies composed of potentially hundreds of soldiers clash from a bird's eye view. There's no blood (except a small bit associated with the animals villagers hunt) or gore, though players will hear plenty of yelling and the clanging of swords.
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Products & Purchases
This is the fourth in a long-running series of real-time strategy games that has plenty of fans and a small amount of spin-off paraphernalia.
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Age of Empires IV is a real-time strategy game for Windows PC. It provides players with the choice to play as one of eight powerful medieval empires, including the English, French, Holy Roman Empire, Chinese, Mongols, Delhi Sultanate, Abbasid Dynasty, and Russians. Each of these empires -- including key figures and conflicts within them -- is depicted according to commonly accepted historical understanding, and unlockable content including well-produced documentary videos and concise descriptive text further explore the leaders, locations, and technologies of the time. In addition to its educational value, this game also promotes socialization in the form of friendly competitive and cooperative play in multiplayer skirmishes. Regardless of mode, play is focused largely on collecting valuable resources of the time, such as stone, gold, wood, and wheat, and using them to build towns, forts, soldiers, and siege equipment. Battles are shown from a bird's eye view, with lots of clanging steel and cries of pain but no blood or gore. Defeated soldiers simply fall and slowly disappear.
Is It Any Good?
Real-time strategy games don't get much more polished or satisfying than this, especially not out of the gate. Age of Empires IV feels like it was made for as broad an audience as possible, featuring the sort of depth and strategic nuance craved by the genre's most devoted fans while understanding that there are plenty of folks out there who've never played a real-time strategy game before. The first ten hours or so of the single-player experience are essentially a giant introduction to what real-time strategy games are, though if you crank up the difficulty many of these missions can be quite challenging even for veteran players. Once you've learned how to properly group units in order to pit strong against weak, you've only scratched the surface of the game's tactics. There are still ambushes to set, special abilities to research and exploit, and strategic choices to be made that could ease or make more difficult latter stages of the mission. And with four campaigns to work through -- with loads of satisfying rewards in the form of network-quality video documentaries and unlockable cosmetic items -- plus endless customizable skirmishes against computer-controlled opponents, there's plenty here for folks who just want to play alone.
That said, players will eke out exceptional longevity should they choose to jump online and take on human opponents, who are much more challenging and unpredictable. Up to eight players can vie against one another in multiplayer matches, either in teams or every player for themselves. This is where you can really test the skills you've honed in solo play, and see if you fully understand how to exploit various factions' unique advantages -- such the Mongols' ability to gain resources by pillaging enemy buildings and efficiently move around the map as nomads. Online matches can also make for great social experiences, with players chatting with and learning from each other to become better players. Age of Empires IV doesn't revolutionize real-time strategy games, but it's well-designed, loaded with high-quality content, and should prove quite satisfying -- especially for anyone with an interest in medieval history and warfare.
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