Home » When video games play with nostalgia. The return of Age of Empires

When video games play with nostalgia. The return of Age of Empires

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Damn Indians. Not even the time to build the stone walls and they are already on the border with their war elephants and siege engines. In an instant they tear down the defensive fence and spread. As the battle rages in our Holy Roman camp, we see a priest running senselessly to the few remaining soldiers and peasants to dispense care and blessings. Shortly after, he is lying on the ground, mowed down by a Bengali lancere. It is now clear that it will not end well.

Here’s what it means to play with Age of Empires IV, which from October 28 is available for PC and Xbox Game Pass. A step back, sometimes painful, in time. Not so much in the imaginative past that the videogame stages, but in 1997, when the first chapter of this real-time strategy game was released, or “real time strategy (Rts) if you prefer, which soon became famous throughout the world.

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Do you remember 1997? It was the year of Titanic, Jurassic Park, Man in Balck e Jackie Brown, from Contact e LA ConfidenceL. And it was also the year of the smash Barbie Girl of the Aqua e Bitter Sweet Symphony by The Verve, from the album Ok computer of Radiohead and the first novel of the Harry Potter saga. Congo was called Zaire, Hong Kong passed to China in July, civil war raged in Algeria and Mother Teresa of Calcutta died in September. Some masterpieces for consoles and PCs were also released: Final Fantasy VII, Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, Tekken 3, Grand Theft Auto and, in fact, Age of Empires.

The rise and fall of this saga took from 1997 to 2005, when Microsoft released the third installment. Then nothing more, because the domination of consoles seemed to have put an end to the world of PC games. And rts are a thing for a pc, not a console. Or so it seemed then.

Age of Empires IV refers to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance seen in the second game of the saga, but it is above all a return to the nineties: the new graphics, the 35 missions to play that recall great battles of the past such as those fought by the Normans in England, the possibility of challenging others online or conducting solitary matches against artificial intelligence, are all tools used to maintain the original footprint. And in the end it looks like the same video game, updated without distorting it to recreate the nostalgia effect without appearing ancient.

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Eight civilizations present: English, French, Rus, Mongolian, Chinese, Abbasid, with the addition of the Sultanate of Delhi and the Holy Roman Empire. Each, of course, with its strengths and weaknesses. The inhabitants are sent to collect lumber, to dig quarries to extract stone and gold, to cultivate fields to accumulate food. And with these resources, buildings are built that allow infantry, cavalry, archers and new technologies to access other structures, other armaments, other military units. A small village that becomes a diorama, an approximate representation of an entire historical civilization that lives and evolves. And if you are not quick enough to make it progress, you end up being invaded by the neighbor who in the meantime has managed to build a more powerful army.

The narrative mode, in which some military campaigns between the early and late Middle Ages are retraced, interspersed with short sequences that have the look of the documentary, tries to resemble at times other strategy games such as Total War. However, without being able to come close to that level of detail in the dynamics of the clashes. It is true that the individual units have specific abilities and that they should be used at the right time and against the right opponent, but it’s all a bit crude in terms of tactics and artificial intelligence does not help. As often happens in video games, he is too skilled in certain things and too little in others. Overall, the underlying scheme is close to other types of rts such as StarCraft, released in 1998, oa Command & Conquer, which instead dates back to 1995. A great classic from twenty years ago re-proposed with a certain philological skill. With all that goes with it, for better or for worse.

Speaking of nostalgia. It affects that Age of Empires IV was developed by Relic Entertainment. It was founded in 1997 in Vancouver, Canada and two years later released one of the most inspired real-time strategy games in video game history entitled Homeworld. It told of the exodus of what remained of humanity, after the destruction of the Earth, through deep space. Accompanied by the notes of Lamb of God by the composer Samuel Barber, we traveled among nebulae and asteroid fields illuminated by the cold light of some distant star and always hunted by enemy forces of which nothing was known except obstinacy and military power. It was a bolt from the blue, Relic’s only real stroke of genius. After all, they were other years. In those days, video games still knew how to amaze.


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