Relic Entertainment's latest real-time strategy outing has come a long way from its launch back in October 2021.
Since then, the game has seen countless bug fixes, quality-of-life tweaks, and a host of other improvements. Balancing eight asymmetric civilizations is no easy task and the dev team chose to buff up weaker plays instead of nerfing overpowered strategies whenever possible. But things always felt incomplete, as if a decisive balancing act was right around the corner.
All that changes with Season One: Festival of Ages.
Featuring a brand new content editor, Age of Empires veterans will find a lot to love here, from unit and map modifiers to a custom map browser. For those of you who prefer a more traditional experience, Season One kicks off the Ranked mode in earnest, with rewards for climbing up the competitive ladder. Expect things to get serious once Ranked goes live on April 13.
Rack up those wins and you'll go from a Bronze coin to a Conqueror in rank.
Enhanced hotkey support is also a welcome change, particularly for those with mice featuring a dozen buttons. The global build queue lets you see what upgrades and units you're working towards instead of cycling through buildings. And you can finally scout the map once a battle ends, regardless of its outcome.
Speaking of outcomes, balance changes radically alter the game as we know it.
Is Age of Empires 4 perfectly balanced? Almost
Season One gave me a good reason to dive back into Age of Empires 4's cutthroat matchmaking. And before I get to balance changes, note that I was matched with a Level 139 player. My skill level, you ask? Level 28.
I was mentally prepared to tap out at Age 2 (of four).
As the Delhi Sultanate, I chose to build the Tower of Victory (+20% attack speed for infantry that walk near it) over the favored Dome of the Faith (-50% Scholar cost). The former's name was rather ironic in the game as top-tier players seldom chose it. But with a recent buff (+15% to +20%), I embraced the uncertainty.
Had I been playing on a previous patch, the outcome would have looked nothing like what ensued.
A host of welcome changes evened the odds against a powerful Abbasid Caliphate opponent. While his infantry could build advanced siege engines on the field, the update drastically increased their build times. The update buffed Camel Archers so I was glad that he still considered them fragile and expensive.
But my opponent still knew a Delhi team would earn bonus gold off each Sacred Site (a victory condition).
Amidst the early tussles, I made the tough call on prioritizing Sacred Sites over my dwindling economy. Secretly nabbing five of the map's six Relics (100 Gold/30 Food/30 Wood/20 Stone per min) with my swift Scholars negated the villager losses due to effective enemy raids.
He now had three targets: my base and two Sacred Sites.
Sacred Site wins in Age of Empires 4 trump traditional victories
In a desperate bid at map control, I spotted enemy villagers rushing to build towers across the map. The update came to my rescue once more. Buildings took +50% damage before they were built. Initially devised to stop players from instantly building walls, the update also made expansion risky.
A risk that my enhanced Lancers took advantage of.
Capturing the second Sacred Site triggered a 10-minute timer to victory. While my opponent was trying to run my base into the ground, I strengthened the two Sacred Sites. A risky gamble, one that fortunately paid off.
With two minutes on the clock, his main force was forced to abandon the siege around my base. In moments, a horde of infantry and siege weapons were upon the lone Keep defending the Sacred Site, tearing it apart. I wonder how he must have felt when a battalion of handcannoners struck from the rear, wiping his entire army off the map.
Remember that +20% attack speed boost? Apply it to gunpowder. Sheer chaos.
A strong economy bowing to a crafty opponent after a nail-biting finish was a true David vs Goliath moment. I couldn't have done it without Season One's new balance fixes. The Delhi Sultanate's Tower of Victory now lives up to its name, etched in the walls of history by hand cannons.
I can't wait to see new metas emerge after Season One's massive changes.
See you on the Ranked battlegrounds, footsoldier.
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