Sorry if this counts as a necro. Just wanted to get my thoughts out here as well. For full disclosure, I played through the closed and open betas. I picked the game back up in the last few weeks and haven't played a lot. I'm also not that good, in team around a Gold 2 at the moment.
AoE4 has been out officially for almost 1.5 years and it just isn't a polished, competitive game. There really isn't a reason to spend time in it when there are very similar games that are better and healthier (AoE2) or have that nice comfy nostalgia (AoE3).
[Edit:]The following is influenced by a mix of quick matches and ranked matches. Probably not indicative of the real experience.
The maps in AoE4 are not competitive. Remember AoE3 tournaments where admins had to scan the map to make sure resources were distributed equally? That feels necessary on every ranked match I play. Below are two screenshots of ranked matches I've played. The first one is just unfair in resource and land distribution. The second is unplayable with one player not having gold or stone. The sample size for these is admittingly small (I've probably played <20 ranked games total), but it completely turns me off from seeing this as a game that is based on skill.
There is a bug in the game that allows players to negate most risk in a risk vs reward scenario. A civilization came out that is able to take further advantage of this and was pointed out during the PUP.
In their response, you'll see that the dev team really didn't care enough to avoid a broken civ, we're 6 months in and you can still do this. They also classify it as an exploit.
Even if the community makes videos on how to use the exploit
Masteries (especially training) and their rewards are bugged.
"Smart" drag box option doesn't seem smart. I haven't found a button to affect the drag box to just include military units like in AoE3. This is annoying when trying to do anything near villagers.
Memory leaks and visual bugs.
Unlike AoE3, AoE4 likes to hide information from the player. I still don't know how charges mechanically work (is it distance based? time based? and how much?). You can't see how much damage a unit will do to different units with different weapons. There's a learning section, but none of this is covered.
It's taking a page out of late 90's and early 00's single player games of not telling everything to the player. This is somewhat okay for AoE2 and AoE3 because of how much publicly available information there is. But in our modern internet, that information isn't on public forums. It's in Discord channels that you have to figure out how to get into or in informational YouTube videos.
Here's an example: I can quickly google and find an Aztec BB rush from 2010
. (Yes, this wouldn't work in 2023, but this is to show how easy it was to get info for the game when it was modern.) I can also see other people's comments on the strategy and see the author defend their position or amend it. This collaboration doesn't exist in YouTube, and YouTube doesn't even have a dislike button any more. Additionally, you have to watch a fully padded out video instead of quickly reading text and seeing the discussion. How are you supposed to know if someone actually knows what they're talking about? Now try googling HRE Fast Castle AoE4. You'll get some responses on Reddit and sites that just have build orders, but no dedicated forums or discussions. There's no way to easily figure this stuff out like forums.
The compounding problem: player base
Due to a shaky release, pros and normal players alike left the game. This has now resulted in pretty bad match making. It's not uncommon to be facing opponents that are either way below your level or way above. I'm not good at the game, and queued into some 3v3s with friends. We matched against a pro steamer and his friends almost instantly. I dodged since it doesn't make sense wasting 30 minutes of my life on a pointless game. The pro and his friends weren't on smurf accounts, they were Conq 3 vs 3 golds. While that is one example, it just shows that the player base isn't in a healthy enough state for team games.
Single player is okay
I've played almost all of the Norman campaign, so this might not be totally accurate. The campaign feels slow. Even when you're playing well and will win, it just feels like it takes forever. The videos are really interesting and the tidbits are nice, but it feels like a short YouTube documentary with a huge budget with a really slow objective based RTS in-between each episode.
There's also just a lot of the game that doesn't feel good. Hitboxes for clicking is a big one. Let's say you're chopping a Woodline from north to south, and you want to pull a villager to build a house and go back to chopping wood. You probably aren't going to be able to shift click on the tree that the villager was working on, you'll end up clicking on another tree that they'll have to chop down first. Or trying to select a few villagers that are gathering food from sheep. Trying to individually select 5 to go on a landmark will usually result in clicking dead or alive sheep. Or trying to intentionally click a sheep that is surrounded by gathering vills to see how much is left.
Given the above, let's create a few scenarios
- You're an AoE3 player. You're looking at a slower game where you need to relearn everything. Additionally, the base of the game is AoE2 (basically everything dealing with the economy) and there is probably a reason you don't play AoE2. The selling point is it's a new AAA RTS, but why deal with all of the above?
- You're an AoE2 player. Why sink time into a game that is less competitive and has much worse match making? 2023 graphics won't overcome the many comparative short comings
- You're not an AoE player. Why would you jump into a game that looks like it's dying? There are healthy alternatives in AoE2 and SC2 if you want to get competitive and a lot of smaller, casual games that have more tailored experiences.
My apologies for assaulting you with a wall of text. Thank you if you made it all the way to the bottom.