Age of Mythology
Manticores, Scarabs and Giants! Oh my!
Ensemble Studios is back with Microsoft to produce the third in the Age series for late 2002. Previous titles in the series include Age of Empires and Age of Empires II: Age of Kings; and their respective expansion packs. This time Ensemble has raised the bar with the series, adding a superb 3D engine, fluid sound effects, intriguing units and to top it all off, a storyline to die for!
Did I mention that it has a 3D engine? That's right, 3DRTS now becomes the Age series, and boy does it fit nicely. Each unit has been painstakingly detailed, and the motions to go with them are almost life-like! As your units run around in formation and commence battle, only to be hurtled over a cliff by a raging minotaur, suspension of disbelief is at its highest possible. Myth units look great as well, and are envisaged just as one might expect them to look like. Of course it must be mentioned that the battlegrounds themselves are even better looking than the units. Waves crash into the beach, and the granulated sand melds perfectly into grass; trees sway in the breeze; deformed terrain doesn't just look like a smudge on a pallet; and far too much more to mention here. Last, but definently not least, is the ability to rotate the camera any which way you choose. All this comes at a price, however, and a rather costly one - high requirements. I run a 2.4 GHz Pentium 4, 512 MB DDR DRAM and a 64 MB GeForce 2 MX, and my system really strains with 1600x1240.
On par with the graphics is the sound. Pitched battles stir up orchestral pieces to accompany the clang of metal against metal, the screams of men and the roar of Myth units. In more peaceful times the music dims to a quiet score, and is sometimes non-existant, but always pipes up at precisely the right time. Ambient sounds are brilliant as well, the gentle rocking of boats, the sound of the ocean, wind rushing through trees, and the sound of your gatherers at work. One can even hear the sounds of trees crashing as your gatherers bring them down. Surround sound is also available, topping off the beautiful effects.
Even though the game is an Age game, and veterans will have no trouble picking up the game and jumping striaght in (initially), the similarites to previous titles end with the point and click interface. There are only three races available in this game, the Greek, the Egyptians and the Norse. Veterans will find themselves most at home with the Greeks, then the Egyptians, but the Norse are so out there that anyone new to the game will flounder. There are still three resources in the game, but stone has been replaced with favour. Favour is how much the Gods like you, and how willing they are to help you out. You must spend favour in order to research God gifts and construct Myth units. The Greek obtain this the easiest, simply by diverting droves of villagers to worship at their temple. The Egyptians gain favour passively by building monuments and allowing them to acrue favour over time. This means that the Egyptians gain favour much slower than the Greeks, and cannot increase their production of it. Finally, the Norse gain favour simply through combat (this excludes killing units defensively through towers and town centres), which makes favour rather difficult to obtain for a defensive player.
The other major change to gameplay is the introduction of Gods. There are nine major Gods: Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Ra, Isis, Set, Thor, Odin and Loki. As you advance ages you get to choose from two of the 27 minor Gods. Which ones are available are affected by your previous choice of Gods. Each God gives you access to certain God gifts (which are upgrades that affect certain Myth and/or Human units, or buildings) and Myth units. They also give you one God power, which may only be used once, such as Zeus' lightning that strikes dead any one unit. Choosing your Gods becomes as much a strategy as any other aspect of the game, as some Gods complement one another. Choosing a certain path can completely change the course of the game.
Multiplayer is back in virtually the same form as previous Age games, but there are now only two map sizes - Normal or Large. Also, the default Random Map games are 1v1, 2v2, 3v3 and 4v4. Free for Alls must be custom made through the custom option. Singleplayer is completely different from previous games, in that it is not historical, and all 36 levels (including the 4 tutorial missions) are one running campaign. The campaign is based upon various Greek, Egyptian and Norse myths, such as the Greek underworld, the Egyptian tale of Osiris and the Norse tale of Ragnarok. The game's main character is Arkantos, who the player starts with in the tutorial and stays with through the Greek, Egyptian and Norse campaign until the very end where all unite against the main enemy, Gargarensis. This story is rich and addictive; certain to keep you glued to the screen for hours on end.
Overall, Age of Mythology is a glorious title that does justice to the RTS genre, which seems to have been dying of late. It breathes life into the genre with its fresh gameplay and innovative techniques. I definently recommend this to veterans of the series, but this is a game for anyone of the RTS genre!