Age of Mythology represents Microsofts latest efforts to own a piece of every market in the world. Teaming up with Ensemble Studios, they set out to create the next great hit in the Age of Empire family. So what is this unholy beastchild of Ensembles talent and Microsofts endless supply of money? I think youll be pleasantly surprised.
At its heart, Age of Mythology is basically like every other RTS made in the past decade. You harvest resources, use them to build units and a base, and go attack someone. That said, AoM throws in a few of its own tricks along the way. There are three different cultures you can play, each with its own very different styles of play. Yes, you heard me right. Instead of the different cultures being carbon copies of one another with a few unique units sprinkled in, each culture has radically different buildings, units, and ways of gathering food. This variety allows you to pick a culture to suit your fighting style. The Norse are built for hit and run attacks, the Egyptians build masses of cheap soldiers, while the Greeks have slow and powerful units. To further differentiate the cultures, you can choose one of three major gods to worship, which influences your tech tree and what god powers you receive during the game. God powers are spells that do everything from helping you to gather food faster to giving you an uber powerful unit. They can only be used once, which adds a strategic element to their use.
The single player campaign, while engaging, is rather spotty. The story follows the leader of Atlantis, Arkantos, as he tries to stop an evil demon from releasing an ancient evil. Sadly, that's the same plot used in most computer games, and this one provides few twists. Although some missions are extremely fun to play (like storming the gates of Troy), most are simply more of the same. There are also a few obligatory manage-a-small-force missions, and overall the single player campaign is rather easy to beat. You do get to play as all three cultures during the 32 missions in the game, by the end you will have a solid knowledge of which culture you like best. The single player campaign also best illustrates the cool graphics and design that went into the game. Units automatically form up into military formations, and range units instinctively move in the back while melee stand in front. Since the unit cap in AoM is rather generous, this gives you the ability to fight truly epic battles. Watching your units line up and march to the enemy gives you a feeling you are actually commanding an army, as opposed to just a rabble of units. Unlike other RTS games, AoM is the first one I've played that really rewards players for using combined arms tactics. Since every unit is strong against one type of unit and weak against another, building different types of units are the only way to compensate for the others weaknesses. If you build all cavalry and attack, dont be surprised if your opponent builds their counter unit and kills them all. Sadly, the computer doesnt play any better as the difficulty level increases; it simply cheats more. The AI, while aggressive, generally doesnt react well to rushes or surprise attacks, and it seems strangely confused by the presence of walls. Unfortunately, I cant recommend AoM rookies should practice playing the campaign or the computer to increase their skills. If anything, newbie players should avoid playing the campaign if they wish to play against humans, as the tactics used in the single player missions will get you creamed online. This gives those who play AoM and dont plan to play online little reason to play the game again.
But, those of you who do plan to play Age of Mythology online are in for a real treat. The game is a blast to play against other people, and its while playing against other humans that AoM really shines. Since the game is so balanced, you dont have to worry as much about being rushed 10 seconds into the game. While there are tactics to win, there is no Ultimate Tactic that will kill anyone regardless. This practically guarantees that every game you play will be different. Best of all, ranked games are played against others with roughly the same rank. Therefore if you suck, you will only be put with other players that suck as well. This ensures that matches dont become too lopsided or that good players will go hunt for newbies to beat and raise their score. Of course in unranked games you may play with whomever you wish. That's not to say Ensemble Online isn't without problems. People tend to lag out, and everyone votes to see whether or not the lagger will stay in the game. The problem? If I'm playing a ranked 2v2 and my partner lags, am I going to vote him off? I dont think so. There is no timer to automatically boot someone if they take too long. Since the vote must be unanimous in order to boot someone, anything over 2v2 quickly devolves into a grueling contest of wills as everyone waits to see if the laggers partner will vote to boot him, or simply get bored and quit himself. Hopefully, one in Ensembles constant stream of patches will get around to addressing this problem.
By the Gods!
Age of Mythology is everything you could hope for if you enjoy playing real time strategy games online. It offers a great mix of balanced units, different cultures, and tactics. Although those with slow connections or no access to the Internet might want to give this game more though before plunking down $50 to get it, its a decent enough game that I can still recommend it to them.