Age of Mythology
Does Wielding Godlike Power Corrupt?
by Jim Bray
Real time Strategy Games is one of the most popular
niches for PC playtime, and if youre a fan of such adventures youll
probably love Microsofts Age of Mythology.
Following such other fun games as Age of Empires, and in fact
descended from it, Age of Mythology (created by Ensemble Studios) puts you in
command of the classical ages of Greek, Egyptian, and Norse mythology.
The game itself is quite similar to Age of Empires and the other
RTS games on the market, and thats good: this is one of my two favorite
game genres (first person shooters being the other) and Im glad when they
dont deviate too far from the tried and true.
That doesn't mean they shouldn't try new things, of course - just
that they shouldn't screw up what's good about this genre in an attempt to be
different for the sake of being different.
Fortunately, that hasn't happened here.
AOM not only lets you unleash God powers on unworthy opponents,
it gives you a whole bunch of new mythical characters to control, characters
that would do Ray Harryhausen proud. In fact, between the Cyclops, the hydra,
and other lovingly rendered creatures, Id think they owe Mr. Harryhausen
some royalties for, if not stealing his designs outright, for being so
influenced by them that its obvious from whose mind and hand they
This is actually a good thing in the grand scheme of things,
because the critters look really neat and, as a long time Harryhausen fan, I
cant imagine anyone doing them better short of today's artists at
Industrial Light and Magic - who themselves regularly pay homage to Mr.
Harryhausen (watch Star Wars Episode II:
Attack of the Clones, for example, for a wonderful Harryhausen-esque
monster sequence in the arena).
As is usual with RTS games, you start by creating your
civilization, building up resources and your forces until youre strong
enough to sally forth in search of conquest - or just looking for trouble
(which is also looking for you, of course). But you also get to call upon the
Gods, and choose which Gods youll worship, to advance your cause - and
depending upon the Gods you choose to worship your powers will grow
accordingly. This adds lots of interest to the adventures.
Each God provides different strengths and powers; when youve
built up your civilization to the point where you can advance to the next
stage, you choose a God to worship and that God brings his or her
own particular mythological critters to the mix.
Not all the God powers are meant to be used to wreak havoc on your
opponents, though there are some dandy ones like lightning bolts and meteors.
Some powers can also help you at home, for instance by bringing rain to help
your crops (you can choose the part of the map you want to bring moisture to,
thereby directing it at your farms and not at, for instance, the field of
AOM offers a variety of game modes, from the usual single player
with scenarios to online gaming. And since there are more than 15 map types, 13
game variants and five starting conditions, it isnt likely youll
get bored quickly. Ive been progressing from the very beginning through
ancient Greece to the Norse (a particularly warlike bunch), though I must admit
that when I first noticed the game included Atlantis I experienced a pronounced
Okay, maybe I'm just all wet...
I also like the way population limits are handled in AOM. Instead
of being limited by the number of houses you build, youre limited by
settlements. This means that, when youre ready to pounce but havent
built up your force enough to assure total annihilation of your foes - and you
get that damn warning that your population has reached its limit and creation
of your subsequent forces has been curtailed, you can add to your population
potential by starting a new settlement.
The drawback is that you cant just build a new town center
at will; you have to find a vacant settlement first and build your town center
over that. Sometimes these settlements arent easy to find - or may not
even exist depending on the particular adventure you're living vicariously.
But its still better than just sending some cannon fodder
into action to die to free up space in your civilization! I wish there were an
easy way to kill off some of your resource gatherers other than sending them to
slaughter, for just this reason, but I guess if there were no challenges one
would get bored pretty quickly.
Oh, yeah, you also need to accumulate favor from your Gods which,
depending on who or what you are, means you have to pray, fight, or build
Producing mythical units, whether they be minotaurs, fire
creatures or whatever, is done the same way you create regular forces and
citizens, as long as you have the resources to pay for them. If youre
rich enough, you could put together a whole whack of frightening yet valuable
creatures to send into battle, and theyre a real help when push comes to
You also produce heroes the same way, and for the same reason.
Heroes also cause favor with the Gods to be generated more quickly, though it
never seemed quick enough for me
This is a pretty quick look at the game, but it should give you
the idea: if you like RTS games, this is a good one
Gameplay is very good. You can select plenty of soldiers (or
whatever) at once, unlike some games that limit you to a lousy dozen or so, and
by clicking on a banner at the top left of the screen you can organize them
into a discrete army, activating them later merely by single clicking on the
banner. This is really nice.
The graphics are wonderful, too (I ran the game at 1280x1024). The
landscapes are well detailed, richly textured and nice and colorful. Buildings
and, more importantly, your forces, are all very well rendered and move about
as realistically as Ive seen from this type of game.
Audio is also very good, and I like the music they chose.
There is a storyline to follow through the single player
adventures, and plenty of nicely animated cutscenes to watch and to use as
reference. Most of them are easily skipped if you choose to ignore all that
work and jump straight into the game itself. And you can access info on your
quest, find idle workers and locate your heroes, easily from the main window,
and this helps keep track of all your cyber-critters.
Sometimes your mission doesnt require, indeed allow, you to
build up troops but merely go navigate them from Point A to Point B - to
advance the storyline. These werent my favorite episodes, but
theyre also generally fairly brief.
Anyway, I shouldnt really give away this tale of Arkansos et
al, any more lest I spoil your enjoyment of its many twists and turns. Suffice
it to say I really enjoyed playing Age of Mythology and look forward to seeing
what comes next from the combination of Microsoft Games and Ensemble
Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.
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