A behemoth strategy game like Age of Empires 4 was never going to be the finished article on release. These things take years to refine—a fact which I acknowledge in my review—and if we're happy to give Age of Empires 2 about 57 years to reach its 'Definitive' form, then surely the latest iteration deserves a year or two at least?
Developer Relic has been wasting no time in building on the game's solid foundation, and yesterday took the first step on its six-month roadmap by releasing the Winter 2021 Update.
There are a few big changes in there, as well as a bunch of bug fixes. The most notable gameplay change for most people will be the weakening of the French Hulk—a Feudal Age ship that was nigh-on impossible to counter and so powerful that the French were basically a compulsory civ for any water-based maps.
Spearmen, meanwhile, have been bolstered to counter cavalry more effectively, and the Chinese Repeater crossbow has become cheaper, helping you make the most of those newly scalable castle walls by plonking your crossbowmen up there and plipping your enemies from on high.
But the most noteworthy change for me is the updated mini-map, which was previously as cluttered as that of an Ubisoft open-world game, albeit shrunk down to 1/8 of the screen. It's now more readable, with icons resized depending on their importance.
Those, and the rest of the changes listed in the Winter 2021 update, are all good stuff, though I can't be alone in thinking that a basic diplomacy system allowing for timed alliances and singling out players as enemies should make a comeback.
While that's not on the roadmap for now, in Spring 2022 Relic is aiming to release tools that will allow players to create their own content, so who knows? Perhaps it will, as it so often does, come down to the players to bring back some of the best features of AoE past.