Review by FinalBoss
"Ensemble Studios have proven yet again to be on the top of the RTS genre. Truely"
Age of Mythology is the latest in the series of games by Ensemble Studio, a developer well known for its legendary Age of Empires series. Does Age of Mythology have what it takes to live up to its predecessors?
First off, let's begin with the usual description about the game that should not be surprising if you have read any other reviews. Unlike the historical setting in earlier games by Ensemble Studios, Age of Mythology is set in a time where ''history and mythology are one'' as its developers words it. While you will still see historically accurate Greek units such as hoplites, peltasts, and such, you will also see mythological monsters such as Hydras, Minotuars, and Cyclops. Age of Mythology also contains two more unique civilizations: the Egyptians and the Norse (aka. Vikings), each with their regular human units and mythological units. For each of the three civilizations (Greek, Egyptian, and Norse), there are three major gods to choose, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, essentially making the game have 9 civilizations. During the game, players will eventually chose from a set of minor gods to worship, each also with their own focus. Thus, you will find yourself confronted with dozens of different paths to chose that will determine the inherited strengths and weaknesses of your civilization.
Age of Empires and Age of Kings veterans will see the familiar gameplay present in Age of Mythology. Like AoE and AoK, a standard, non-scenario game, begins with a town center and a few villagers. Like AoE and AoK, there are also four ages to advance. So in terms of gameplay, AoM feels similar to the previous ''Age of'' games. But that does mean that Age of Mythology is an exact clone of Age of Kings with better graphics - this is where ''Mythology'' come in. First is the element of god powers. God powers are essentially ''spells'', as Warcraft III players might think of it as. God powers range from being economically beneficial, such as the Rain power, which increases framing rates, to being potentially devastating, such as the meteor shower, and tornado, both of which can obliterate an entire town. God powers are a new an exciting element for the game that can turn the tide of wars. But use them wisely - you only get 4 god powers, and each can only be used once! The Second new element is the favor system. Favor is essentially the resource required to make myth units (such as hydras, giants, phoenixes) and research certain ''myth technologies''. Each civilization has a different way of gaining favor: the Greeks obtain favor praying to their gods, the Egyptians obtain favor by building monuments, and the Norse obtain favor by fighting enemies. Favor, and its subsequent myth units, adds a whole new dimension to the game. Compared to regular human units, Myth units are very tough in combat. Many myth units have unique capabilities. For example, Medusae can turn other units into stone and frost giants can freeze another unit in place. While myth units can easily trash regular units, their power is checked by the advent of heroes, which are essentially human units that counter myth units. However, heroes are not cost efficient against normal units. This new system of Myth Units > Normal units > Heroes > Myth units, adds even greater potential for strategy besides the already existing tradition counter system (Cavalry > Archers > infantry > Cavalry).
Unlike the micro based style of Warcraft III, Age of Mythology focuses more on the macro side. That is, economy is very important to success. Instead of focusing on a single hero like in Warcraft III, AoM focuses on battles with numerous units, taking advantage of positions, and just about any large-scale operation you can think of. In Age of Mythology, town centers are no longer built freely on the map. Instead, they can only be built upon fixed settlements on the map. Since town centers provide your army with extra population spaces, controlling and defending these expansions are very important. Without a doubt, gameplay in Age of Mythology is very variant and deep in strategy for an RTS game. This is what I find to be the most exciting part of the game. The great amount of variety that comes out of it will simply make you want to keep playing and try new things.
Without a doubt, multiplayer in Age of Mythology is a trill. For those of you who tend to stick with single player, you'll find that it too, is very exciting. Unlike the many short campaigns in previous ES games, Age of Mythology's single player features a massive campaign of 32 scenarios that centers on a single grand story. Players will follow the quest of Arkantos - an admiral from Atlantis who at first has his mind on chasing pirates, but eventually realizes that he is involved in a much larger case. Players will follow Arkantos, as he goes around and becomes part of many familiar stories such as the Trojan horse and the recovery of the scattered pieces of Osiris. Honestly, when I first played it, it really felt awkward how they managed to fit a single personality into many well known stories from mythology; but somehow, Ensemble Studios did it so proficiently, that the story flowed like wonder. In the end, I was quite surprised that ES managed to write such story, as you can only modify the original myths to an extent, unlike the fantasy world of Warcraft III where you are not restricted to ''common acceptance of how the story goes''. Age of Mythology's storyline is not as epic as Warcraft III's but that doesn't make it any less interesting.
The 3D graphics are wonderful. Unlike the cartoonish style of Warcraft III, the graphics in Age of Mythology are very organic and realistic looking. The terrain and scenery in Age of Mythology surpasses anything Warcraft III has to offer. The Water, waves, and lava look very realistic, and the sight of god powers such as lightning storms, meteor showers, and tornados are absolutely astounding. The units, however, are somewhat less detailed than the units in Warcraft III, but this is not noticeable as the units in Age of Mythology are smaller. The animation for units are smooth as silk. You'll see Cyclopes and krakens (giant octopuses) pick up unfortunate human soldiers and hurl them at great distances.
The 3D cutscenes in the campaign are also very satisfactory, and they surpass those of Warcraft III in all aspects. Although ES had to cut back on the detain of regular in-game units to save system requirements, the 3D cutscenes did not suffer from this cutback. The cutscenes uses a different set of ''cinematic'' models that correspond with regular models in the game. Cinematic models are highly detailed and can perform an array of special animations unparalleled in Warcraft III. For example, you will see Odysseus use hand gestures when speaking; you will see Arkantos do a jump attack in one scene, and many more unique animations. Sadly, the full motion video is not close to Warcraft III caliber, but the normal 3D graphics are very detailed.
Music: 10 /10
Perhaps the only in-game shortcoming of Age of Mytholgy is the sound. Although it is fun to hear the units speak their historical languages (Ancient Greek, Anicent Egyptian, Old Norse), it ultimately lacks the pomp seen in Warcraft III. The music, however, is very well orchestrated. The music is similar in style to the previous ''Age of'', with a a continuous flow rather than the ''staggered themes'' style of Warcraft. New to the ''Age of'' series is the element of battle music that comes on when there're enough units fighting on the screen.
Prensentation, Documentation, and Extras: 8/10
In addition to the solid game itself, Age of Mythology also includes and in-game encyclopedia and a scenario editor. The encyclopedia describes the background mythology of the myth units and the gods in the game. The scenario editor is fairly powerful, although not as powerful as that from Warcraft III. The manual is fairly disappointing and even contains some errors, but when combined with the other documents, documentation should be completely sufficient.
Age of Mythology is a solid product, easily one of the best games of the year. The tradition of excellence of Ensemble Studios continues!
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 12/09/02, Updated 12/09/02
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