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Age of Empires: Mobile is a “very different experience” for the series

Ahead of the launch of Age of Empires: Mobile later in the year, Pocket Tactics spoke to Robin Xin and Brayden Fan about its development and what to expect.

Age of Empires Mobile gameplay trailer screenshot

Age of Empires 2 (both the original 1999 version and the updated ‘definitive edition’ 20 years later) remains one of the greatest RTS games of all time and has helped bring the broader AoE franchise up to legendary status within the genre. Now, Age of Empires: Mobile, releasing later in 2024, will attempt to bring the wonder of the series to a new audience on mobile platforms, all while trying to retain the intricacies of the gameplay that make the games so special in the first place. You don’t need us to tell you that that’s a difficult task.

In the quest to find out more about the journey to bring Age of Empires to mobile – and hopefully to develop one of the best mobile games of the year – Pocket Tactics’ editor, Ruby, spoke with Robin Xin, the producer of the game, and Brayden Fan, a general manager at TiMi Studio who leads the development team working on Age of Empires: Mobile.

Naturally, as an Age of Empires devotee herself, the first thing Ruby wants to know is how Age of Empires: Mobile can capture the epic scale of the series at its best on the small screen, with touch controls. Reflecting honestly on the challenge of this, Xin explains that “mobile development requires you to balance performance and quality, so we’ve developed an advanced engine for mobile games so we can make sure that the experience of engaging in these enormous battles still feels good.”

With that in mind, existing Age of Empires fans should brace themselves for a “brand-new experience” within the context of the series. Xin continues, “it will feature gameplay and controls made for mobile, which is a very different experience from playing the PC versions. We’ve changed how players will manage combat units and the frequency of operations.”

He adds that the team “want to make sure players are still having fun though, so we’ve tried to make the pre-combat phase, when the overall strategic planning is happening, more fun. We’ve also streamlined the user interface to better fit the needs of mobile play.”

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So, don’t necessarily expect this to be a ‘full-fat’ Age of Empires experience as you’re used to: there are clearly going to be a lot of twists here (necessary, given the shift to a new platform) and the emphasis is on building new ways to play Age of Empires, rather than just trying to reconstruct the classic games onto mobile. That’s made clear by Xin’s emphasis on what fresh additions the team brings forward with the mobile game, as he explains that “we’re adding new single-player and multiplayer modes, most notably the alliance gameplay, which puts massive teams of players in epic siege wars.”

Referring to these huge-scale battles, Fan adds, “I’m passionate about our massive siege battles, which require huge player alliances to defend and attack each other’s citadels.” Going into more detail about what this will entail, he says that “when defending, you’ll use your city wall, archers in your towers and other defensive buildings to protect the city from the swarming hordes. And when you’re attacking, you’re using trebuchets and other powerful siege weapons to destroy the fortified castles. Plus, these alliances offer a deep social meta game with each alliance vying for power.”

Equally, other new mechanics that mobile games are accustomed to (though traditional Age of Empires games are perhaps less so) are incorporated here, too. Fan explains that for Age of Empires: Mobile, “in-game events are very important. We’ll implement a variety of events into Age of Empires Mobile, including daily activities, single-player-focused events, multiplayer-focused events, and more. We see events as a way for players to earn different rewards, such as new heroes, hero XP, base building resources, troop training, and more.”This will also, of course, involve monetization.

Age of Empires Mobile gameplay trailer screenshot

Also inherent in the fact that Age of Empires: Mobile is a free-to-play game is that the title does feature in-game microtransactions. “We will offer in-game purchases,” says Fan. “These will include items that speed up progression, including resources, speed-ups, and hero progression items. We’ll also feature cosmetic content for sale to customize the look of their citadel and troops.”

A core part of the new game is a focus on some famous historical leaders, who you’ll use as you play the game to control your armies and build your civilizations. The rota of leaders (and factions you can play as) will expand in future updates. “Historical heroes are a big part of the combat in Age of Empires Mobile as hero skill effects and heroes will synergize with each other to offer different combat experiences, depending on your team makeup,” says Zin. “We think the use of different skills together offers a lot of fun for players who try to get creative with their teams.”

Xin goes on to say that “these combinations of heroes extends to troop types as well, offering different ways to layer your military might. For example, some hero lineups are more suitable for long-term solo play, whereas other hero lineups are better suited to rallies with other players. We look forward to being surprised by how players find new strategies to suit their playstyle.”

Age of Empires Mobile gameplay trailer screenshot

Finally, always of interest to Age of Empires players is the friction between loose entertainment and a grounding in historical accuracy. For Age of Empires: Mobile, getting the balance right between these two factors isn’t as hard as you might think. Being very clear, Robin explains the game is “not intended to recreate the past.” Instead, he claims that “Age of Empires Mobile is intended to be a strategy game, not a history simulator.” However, Xin does conclude that respecting different global cultures (and this game is aimed at a global audience) is something to stay conscious of.

“Uniting many different cultures and creating gaBrayden Fanmeplay around dozens of historical heroes offers a challenge as a development team. We want to root our game in truth, but you’re also going to have a little romanticism – especially with heroes who, in some ways, are more like myths than historical figures in modern times… So when it comes to telling stories about these heroes in our game, we’re going to lean into the more interesting parts of the mythology.”

If you’re looking forward to Age of Empires: Mobile, you should check out our picks for the best gaming phones and our picks for the best mobile strategy games. Or, see PCGamesN’s list of the best RTS games you can play right now.