There seems to be something of a pattern in most of the games I’ve played this year: take a “classic” game genre, add lots of spit and polish, and turn it into an incredibly entertaining although thoroughly unoriginal title. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—we’re getting a lot of solid and enjoyable titles in all of my favorite genres. Age of Mythology
fits this profile exactly. It is the best classic RTS game I’ve seen in years, it looks great and it’s a blast to play. And there’s nothing even remotely revolutionary in the entire game.
Age of Mythology is the next in the “Age Of…” line from Ensemble Studios. For anyone who has played Age of Empires II, AoM will seem very familiar. The gameplay has been tweaked, the graphics are quite good, and there are some new units and a bit of magic thrown in. Some of the bad things from Age of Empires have been changed (farms now supply infinite food, for example). A few new ideas have been added (town centers can only be built in specific locations on the map). Other than these few changes, however, AoM is essentially the same game as its predecessor. Those who liked the previous title will very much enjoy AoM. Those who didn’t care for the original certainly won’t be wooed over.
I’ve covered much of the game in my preview, and not a lot has changed from the Beta version, so I don’t want to repeat too much here. In a nutshell, gameplay happens in typical RTS fashion—Empires gather resources that are then used to construct buildings, research technologies, and build troops. Those troops are then sent forth to conquer whoever might be in need of a good conquering. The resources include the familiar gold, wood, and food, along with a newcomer: divine favor. Favor is used to buy the special mythological troops and divine technologies.
Divine technologies? Mythological troops? Maybe I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself. Age of Mythology isn’t exactly like Age of Empires. Three empires have come to play this time around, and they’ve brought a healthy dose of their gods and mythology along for the ride. The Greeks are the most straightforward of the empires to handle. They behave most like empires from Age of Empires II. The units are more expensive that those of the other empires, but they tend to last a bit longer. Greek armies can call forth units such as the Pegasus, the Cyclops, and the Manticore, to name a few. They can also summon famous Hero units, such as Jason the Argonaut or Hercules. These hero units are quite a bit more powerful than ordinary mortals, they have the ability to regenerate health, and they do very well at defeating other mythological units. When the Greeks want to generate favor from the gods, they have to set some of their gatherers to pray at the temple, tying up units that could be useful elsewhere.
The Egyptians have slightly cheaper units that lack some of the staying power of their Greek counterparts. Their hero unit is the very powerful Pharaoh, a unit with interesting abilities. First, the Pharaoh is quite a powerful fighter, and does very well against myth units. He also has a habit of returning from the dead, which is quite handy. So he seems a prime candidate to send into battle. However, the Pharaoh is also able to empower a building, causing it to be constructed more quickly, research technologies more rapidly, and churn out troops quite a bit faster. So Pharaoh is also nice to keep around the home base to make everything run a bit more quickly. It makes for some tough decisions to play this unit, at least until the ability to have two Pharaohs comes up. Egyptians gain their favor from building monuments. The more monuments built, the faster favor is gathered, and the quicker they Egyptians can field their Giant Scarab Beetles, Sphinxes, and Giant Crocodiles. This empire also has the priest unit, which is capable of healing others on the field of battle.
Finally we come to the Norse empire. The Norse have a slightly weaker infrastructure, but some fairly powerful units to balance things out. They gain favor through fighting—any time there’s a battle, favor is gathered. Norse myth units are quite formidable, including several flavors of Giants and a frightening Fenris wolf which gains strength in packs. Rounding out the units are several hero-caliber infantry and cavalry that are quite good at dispatching enemy myth units. In another twist, the Norse infantry are also the builders. The gatherer units only collect resources; the army grunts construct the buildings. This makes for some easier “build as you conquer” tactics, as the vulnerable gatherer units no longer have to wander into the war front to place watchtowers or forts.
While there are only three empires to play, there are a lot of varieties in those empires though the choice of gods. There are four Ages that are achieved by the upgrading of the town centers, and each of these Ages requires the patronage of a particular god. Each god grants a few unique technologies, a unique myth unit or two, and a one-shot god power that can be as benign as increased gold production or as earth shattering as a meteor storm. With that many combinations of gods available, even two opponents of the same empire can be quite different by the final age.
On the technical side, the graphics and sound were top-notch. Even at higher resolutions with hundreds of units on the battlefield, it isn’t all that difficult to distinguish an archer from an infantry unit. And the myth units are really enjoyable to watch. The first time I saw my “Battle Boar” go berserk inside a swarm of enemy foot soldiers, it warmed the cockles of my heart. And I didn’t even know I had cockles. The music is good, adding to the moment without overpowering it. The sound effects and voice acting are also strong; make for a very fun ride.
The single player campaign in AoM is very well done. It details the travels of Arkantos, a Greek hero, as he tries to save the world. The story does a pretty good job of walking through Greek, Egyptian, and Norse scenarios, without too much stretching. The scenarios are well balanced, with the “defeat this enemy” goal sprinkled with a few puzzle levels, some defensive levels, and a game or so of “capture the flag”. There was also an incredibly enjoyable scenario on a particular island in the Greek mythologies in which some of Our Heroes run afoul of a familiar witch. Saying more would be spoiling, however.
Multiplayer and skirmish are fun, although I haven’t had enough time to fully see how the three empires balance out when the enemies are human opponents. Most of my multiplayer games consist of me carefully thinking out my plans, mercilessly taunting my opponent, and then promptly being ground into dust. There’s a fatal flaw somewhere in there, but I have yet to figure it out.
Overall, Age of Mythology is a very good game for fans of real time strategy. Again, if you found yourself enjoying Age of Empire II, this is better, with the few problems fixed and a much stronger single-player campaign. If the previous game turned you off, there’s nothing here to really change your mind. AoM won’t have a lot of staying power on my hard drive, but while it’s there it certainly is a fun ride.
A classic real time strategy in the age of classic mythology. A great game for fans of previous Ensemble titles or for RTS fans in general. This game wonâ€™t, however, make converts of those who donâ€™t care for the RTS genre.