When will Age of Empires 4 finally be released? Will it be released at all? Those are questions many of us, Age of Empires fans have been wondering for years. Even though the franchise is still owned by Microsoft, no Age of Empires 4 title has been announced. However, after several years of silence, three titles have been announced in the last two years, bringing back hope to the community.
Clues of Age of Empires 4
Some unnoficial game trailers and many forum threads can be found on the internet but the only official clue we have about a fourth version is the art book apparently included with Age of Empires III Complete Collection:
The art book shows five versions. The first three pictures match the three released titles. A game set apparently in World War I or II is foreshadowed as Age of Empires 4 and a game set in the future as the fifth version. This in general has not pleased the AoE community. Most commenters prefer games set in the middle ages as AoE II.
Age of Empires alive, Ensemble Studios dead
Even after Age of Empires II official servers were shut yeas ago, the 14 year old game is still being played online by other means like GameRanger. There are more AoE II than AoE III players on this service. An unoffical expansion, Age of Empires II - Forgotten Empires was released in December 2012.
The last AoE expansion and latest title of the saga, Age of Empires III - The Asyan Dynasties was released in October 2007. Almost 6 years later no new titles have been announced. The AoE III community has shrunk over the last years, just alleviated by the release of the game on Steam.
Ensemble Studios, the studio that created Age of Empires I, II, III and was part of Microsoft, closed in 2009 after releasing Halo Wars. All their projects, none of which was an AoE title, were cancelled. A smaller independent studio called Robot Entertainment was formed with former Ensemble employees. Robot Entertainment was in charge of maintaining AoE III online servers for several years. Later on, Microsoft took over this task.
Age of Empires Online: a bad idea
Robot Entertainment was initially in charge of developing Age of Empires Online. Gas Powered Games took over the production of this title and kept giving support and content creation for the game until January 2013. This has been, according to metacritic.com, the worst game of the saga with a user score of 5.6/10 and metascore of 7/10:
It was released on August 2011 as free to play with paid premium content. The business model and pricing were critized. Later on executive producer Kevin Perry pointed out the issues during a speech titled "F2P The Wrong Way". The game system was changed, making it possible to access all premium content without paying. On January 2013 it was announced that no more content would be added because "creating top-tier content, as we have been for the last year and a half, is very expensive... and adding more is no longer cost-effective".
In August 2013 it was announced that the game will remain functional until July 1, 2014 when the Games for Windows - Live servers shut down. The Windows Live Marketplace was shut down meaning no new players can download the game.
2013: new activity
On a surprising move, Age of Empires II - HD Edition was made available on Steam in April 2013. This somehow followed what a lot of gamers were asking for: another game set in the middle ages, and not in modern ages as the art book suggests. This time Hidden Path Entertainment was in charge. The remake did not meet the expectations of most players. It was criticized due to graphic and multiplayer issues, game crashes and the fact that no new features/corrections were added. What most gamers seem to be waiting for is not a remake, but a new game set in the past with significant gameplay improvements.
Age of Empires was announced for iOS and Android in June 2013. It is being developed by KLab (a Japanese studio), to be released on March 2014. It's not the first time AoE goes mobile as Age of Empires - The Age of Kings was released for Nintendo DS in 2006. Age of Empires - The Rise of Rome was also available for now dead Windows Mobile. There has been no serious attempt to take the game to consoles, but there has been speculation on AoE 4 being released for Xbox. It was clarified in the statement that the agreement with KLab was just for a mobile version of the game.
Microsoft Games: not a priority
Having Age of Empires 4 released soon is definitely not as important to Microsoft as it is to us, fans of the saga. The company is being restructured and it's 'Entertainment and Devices' division represents a very small part of its income:
Even though Microsoft is making money with games, most of it comes from Xbox 360 and not PC game sales. 2013 earnings show similar numbers for this division, with $342 million income for Q3 2013 (fiscal year). PC games have never been a priority for Microsoft. However, as more and more and more people turn to mobile gaming it is less likely that Microsoft will develop a PC only Age of Empires 4.
The last hope of Age of Empires 4
Without Ensemble Studios, the awaited Age of Empires 4 is far. However, it is closer now than two years ago when the franchise showed no signs of life. The addition of three new titles brought back hope of the game being announced soon. It's time for Microsoft to get a hit after AoE Online and AoE II HD failures. If the game is not announced this or next year, it's probably going to be a very long wait for it, if it ever comes.
Feel free to share your thoughts on this great saga. Which game did you enjoy the most and what do you expect from Age of Empires 4? Will it be announced soon or did it die with Ensemble Studios?