Age of Empires 4 - Graphics criticism for developers no reason to panic
We caught our first glimpse of Age of Empires 4 at a fan preview event on April 10, 2021, and since then there's been constant debate about whether or not the game looks bad. I've followed both sides of the argument closely - there seem to be just as many people who like the look of the game as those who don't - but I don't think it will ultimately matter whether the game is a success or not. As with the other games in the Age series, the gameplay will be the most important thing.
The dispute over the graphics of Age of Empires 4
Age of Empires 4 is being attacked from both sides of the graphics argument. Some say that the gameplay we've seen so far is more "cartoony" than previous Age of Empires entries, with some vivid colors and unit scaling that seems out of whack. Others highlight the attention to detail and the beautiful procedural environments that are the backdrop for epic battles.
In an Age of Empires Fan Preview interview, Zach Schläppi, art director at Relic Entertainment, had this to say about the accessibility factor and some of the artistic choices we've seen so far in Age 4:
When we pan the camera from the battlefield back to a village, you should be able to quickly see the structures. We try to make that as clear as possible by having a unique identifier for the rooftops, the banners, the logo of the buildings, and the logo on the UI HUD. All the units are very recognizable. We have exaggerated the weapons and the helmets. The legibility is stylized so players can easily see them from a distance and up close.
It's true that the game is aimed at broad accessibility (no doubt with the competition in mind), and it's true that the game should run on as many systems as possible. You can check out our collection of the best laptops for Age of Empires 4 to see the variety. Is that an excuse for not having a nice game? No. Is Age of Empires 4 ugly? Certainly not.
There is, of course, a fine line between accessible and impractical. I'm largely neutral on the graphics argument, but that's probably because I'm focusing my attention on the information we've received about gameplay. And especially because the team has already made changes to the animations - the arrows no longer look like halberds being thrown around - and will continue to tweak the look after getting feedback from fans.
Age of Empires 4 gameplay is what really matters
So the debate continues. Just a few hours ago (at the time of writing), the top post in the Age of Empires 4 subreddit was someone saying how great they thought the graphics were, with over 50 mixed responses. The debate is getting old, and many people are looking forward to the closed beta, which starts on August 5. It should give people a much better idea of what the game looks like, and although the content is under an NDA, I'm sure there will be a lively revival of the arguments.
In the end, it doesn't matter what you think about the graphics of Age of Empires 4. Not because nobody cares, but because it's the gameplay that matters. Many of you already know this and are patiently waiting to get your hands on one of the eight playable civilizations to see what the game really has to offer.