The Mongols were a fascinating civilisation, spreading in all directions from the barren plains of the Steppe in a dust cloud of horses, yurt encampments, and a whole lot of pillaging. Yes, the Mongols killed an unthinkable number of people, but they were also brutal pragmatists who would much rather their enemies capitulate so they could recruit their finest generals, thinkers and troops to their cause. And if you refuse to surrender? Well, don’t say they didn’t warn you…
This meant that by the late 13th century, with much of the world from China to Hungary under its control, the Mongol empire was incredibly diverse – religious freedom, a super-squad of international generals, and prestigious scientific institutions that attracted scholars from Persia, China, even Greece.
Beyond Genghis Khan’s marauding years, the Mongol empire became so vast and varied that it doesn’t easily fit the traditional Age of Empires mould of distinct civilisations with their clearly defined traits and tropes. I sat down to chat with Relic about the Mongols in Age of Empires IV. Unsurprisingly, they’re probably the most leftfield civ in the game, but they also encapsulate Relic’s philosophy to make the the most asymmetrical – and tactically deep – Age of Empires game to date.
There will be four campaigns in Age of Empires IV – English, French, Mongol, and Rus – divided into 35 missions. What’s interesting is that there is some historical overlap between them. The Mongol campaign, for instance, takes you deep into Europe where you eventually besiege Kiev, an important economic hub of eastern Europe. The chaos experienced by cities like Kiev and internal divisions among the Mongol lords eventually created an opening for the more northern city of Moscow to flourish, which segues neatly into the Rus campaign.
The Mongol campaign spans three chapters – the first up is Genghis Khan’s well-known conquest of Jin China. The second chapter puts you in charge of legendary general Subutai and emperor Mongke Khan in their European campaign that stretched into Hungary and Poland, before the third and final chapter charts Kublai Khan’s push to take over the rest of China with the climactic Battle of Xiangyang.
But beyond the military conquests, Relic also wants to depict the diversity of these misunderstood people. “The Mongols have a reputation for being this unstoppable horde, but they were very good at recruiting locals to come work for them,” says the game’s narrative lead Philippe Boulle. “So at one point you’ll get to play as the famous Chinese general Zhang who ended up siding with the Mongols with Kublai Khan in his battle against the Song empire.”
Of course playing as the Mongols will involve its fair share of meat under-the-saddle horse archers and yurt encampments (more on those later), but you’ll see that some of the Mongol landmarks as you enter new ages have Buddhist and Chinese influences too. In the latter stages of the campaign you will take Chinese gunpowder units to Poland, and even benefit from Persian engineering ingenuity.
During the Mongol war against the Song Dynasty (the final chapter of the campaign), Kublai Khan summoned an engineer called Ismail from the Ilkhanate of Persia to design a revolutionary new counterweight trebuchet called the hui-hui pao to break the Song defences. So you’ll get to use Persian-designed trebuchets used by Mongol forces led by Chinese generals – how’s that for military multiculturalism?
A couple of years ago, creative director Adam Isgreen said that Age of Empires IV campaigns will portray “humanised histories”, but didn’t reveal any more about this intriguing idea. I ask game director Quinn Duffy what he meant by this. A big part of Relic’s process was to go hands-on with the history, so members of the development team were flown to England and France on research trips, while film and audio teams were sent to Mongolia and eastern Turkey to meet the people continuing to live this nomadic (if less marauding) way of life.
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