The 'Age of Empires' series has achieved the success that many real-time history strategy games could only dream of; massive commerical success and critical acclaim.
The franchise has been relatively quiet over the last decade following 2011's ill-fated 'Age Of Empires Online' but the franchise is back with a new update for the modern age.
In a word, it's a brilliantly crafted, welcome return for the series.
The very best RTS games hit that elusive sweet spot of being easy enough to attract novices, but having enough deep and satisfying gameplay mechanics to keep hardcore fans coming back.
'Age Of Empires 4' threads the needle beautifully.
Any good RTS game is one you could boot up for a quick spin and end up playing a 6-hour session almost by mistake.
In playing this game for the review, an intended hour-long session that began at 7 o'clock in the evening turned into an accidental odyssey that ended at half 1 in the morning.
In other words, the game is a tremendous timesink and represents extraordinary value for money.
'Age Of Empires IV' has that wonderful quality that's present in the likes of 'Football Manager' or the 'Civilisation' games, where 'just one more go or just one more level' turns into an hours-long session.
At time of writing, the online servers are not yet available, but the prospect of multiplayer games is incredibly tantalising and will keep players going for years.
The addition of mods, coming early in 2022, will also add endless replayability for fans going forward.
An in-depth hour-long tutorial is smartly framed as the retelling of an old civilisation and how they grew, and is a great way to introduce fans old and new to the mechanics on display.
The game really goes out of it's way to make it more accessible to newer players, from the aforementioned in-depth tutorial, and what should be highly commended, the game can run on just about any laptop or PC.
Regardless of having an off-the-shelf laptop best used for spreadsheets or a top-of-the-range gaming PC the price of a second-hand car, the game is optimised well enough that it will run on just about any configuration you can throw at it, and for that extra bit of love and care for the fanbase, the developers deserve major kudos.
Aside from the technical side of things, the game again goes out of it's way to make sure everyone can get on board (the English faction in the game was specifically cited by the developers as the one to play while you get to grasps with the game) while still facilitating old-school fans.
The factions are varied enough that you're encouraged to jump between the different factions and see what playstyle suits you best.
The campaign is a solid framework to give the game a bit more structure and lets you play as the various factions, but in truth, the real fun in any 'Age Of Empires' game is starting up on a random map and seeing where the game takes you.
Missions take on a quasi History Channel approach where you see live-action footage of the units you're playing as, and the game uses the same narrator throughout, but as stated, the campaign is just there to give the game a bit of formality and lets the developers show off.
The video files are also probably a large part of why the game takes up a significant amount of hard drive space.
To that end, long-term fans may be slightly disappointed that the game hasn't received a major facelift or overhaul, but on the other hand, the familiarity is what draws players back to the game after all these years, and the simple minute-to-minute gameplay of the series - order new villagers, get them to chop down a tree, build a new barracks, send out a scout - remains as fiendishly addictive as ever.
'Age Of Empires 4' doesn't rock the boat in any substantial way, but the game gets the fundamentals so perfectly right the problems fade away.
The thrill of gathering up your troops and positioning them to storm your rivals' heavily fortified city never grows old, while the same can be said from watching your civilisation start as a pack of nomad farmers all the way up to a naval powerhouse in the Imperial Age.
The game is a tried-and-true experience for veterans yet is accessible for newcomers, and the game is recommended regardless of your experience with the franchises' previous entries, your PC specs, or even your interest in real-time strategy games.
This accommodation of new fans at the expense of the long-term fans may irk some, and indeed is is the latter that will dictate the success of the game, but the developers have already indicated they are in this game for the long haul.