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The Sultans Ascend: Variant Civilizations Deep Dive

The Sultans Ascend, the new expansion for Age of Empires IV is coming November 14th and is available for pre-order now!

The upcoming expansion will bring a host of new ways to play, including:

  • New 8-mission campaign
  • 2 new civilizations: Japanese & Byzantines
  • 4 new variant civilizations
  • 10 new maps
  • 2 new biomes
  • New unlockable rewards

Between now and launch, we’ll be sharing deeper looks at what’s included in the expansion. After hearing player feedback we’re starting with a deep dive on Variant Civilizations, which are new to both Age of Empires IV, and the Age of Empires franchise as a whole. We’re pairing this deep dive with a look at the Jeanne d’Arc Variant Civilization so you can learn more about how it’s structured, the new elements you’ll have to play with, and allow you to start thinking of strategies.

What is a Variant Civilization?

A Variant Civilization is a modified version of a classic civilization that you already know and love from the core game. They offer new gameplay elements and strategies, while keeping the familiarity and identity of the classic civilization intact. Variant civilizations are not designed to replace the classic civ they are derived from but instead provide an alternative way to play.

We start with historical inspiration from some element in the history of the classic civilization and then build gameplay from that theme. These elements can be a single individual (like Jeanne d’Arc), a philosophy (like the neo-Confucianism of Zhu Xi), or a particular historical group within the broader culture (like the Order of the Dragon). Although these seeds are often small moments, we explore the ‘what if’ of keeping that focus throughout the journey through the four Ages. Historically, Jeanne d’Arc lived at what would be the early part of the Imperial Age (just as France was adopting firearms at large scale), but we feature her across all four Ages in the variant that bears her name.

This builds on some of the “historical extensions” of the classic civilizations, such as the Abbasid Dynasty and Delhi Sultanate having full gunpowder units even through those particular groups never adopted gunpowder en masse (or were succeeded by those who did, such as the Ottomans).

Not everything changes between classic and variant. Many basic units and buildings remain the same, as do music and historical speech. Each variant has its own list of changes, which might be a new set of landmarks, new units, revised or wholly new technologies or civilization mechanics, and more. The changes are always significant, however, and remake how the civilization plays. Players of a parent and variant civilization will be making very different choices and pursuing different strategies throughout a match.

Why are Variant Civilizations being introduced?

First and foremost, all civilizations in Age of Empires (be they classics or variants) are there to deliver excellent and engaging experiences to our players. The classic civilizations are there to capture the history of civilizations over several centuries, capturing the evolution of whole cultures and expressing them as broad gameplay themes supported by art, music, speech, and much more. Variant civilizations take an element of that broad historical sweep and build a fresh game experience around it.

The variant civilizations are also a great opportunity for us to explore gameplay mechanics that push the envelope. The Jeanne d’Arc Variant Civilization, for example, is entirely focused on a hero unit who gains levels and transforms throughout the match. This is not something we have seen in Age of Empires IV before, and variants allow us to really lean into these mechanics.

What was the inspiration for Variant Civilizations?

History is always the first source of inspiration for the Age of Empires team, but we also look to our community and how they play the game. Looking at the landscape of play, we saw opportunities for fun RTS experiences we hadn’t yet explored. To cite just one example, we realized we had gone into elite units, but not an elite army. What would an Age of Empires version of a low-unit-count army of powerful units look like? What benefits would that provide to players struggling with cognitive load? What awesome gameplay moments could that deliver? From there was born the Order of the Dragon.

Since announcing the Variant Civilizations, you’ve changed two of the names. Why is this?

The names for the Variant Civilizations are:

  • Jeanne d’Arc (variant of the French)
  • The Order of the Dragon (variant of the Holy Roman Empire)
  • Zhu Xi’s Legacy (variant of the Chinese)
  • Ayyubids (variant of the Abbasid Dynasty)

Naming things is difficult. We need to balance historicity with trying to represent what is unique about a civilization. We talk a lot about names. We try out options. We consult with experts. We test and reflect. But sometimes we miss things or get things wrong. Some members of our community raised concerns that a few of our names were needlessly vague and needlessly exoticizing. World’s Edge and Relic take such concerns very seriously, and after much discussion and consultation with experts, we have decided to make some changes. We won’t always get things right, but we are listening and always learning and we appreciate you sharing your thoughts with us. Your voices are a part of our development process and we’ll continue to hear them.

Want more information of the other elements of The Sultans Ascend expansion? Keep an eye on our website and official community channels (click the link button in the top right of the website window) for information as we release it. You can also pre-order the expansion now!

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The Ayyubids Are Coming to The Sultans Ascend!

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