To sum up, this game is so playable, it nearly hurts
I thoroughly enjoyed playing the original AoE - it was fresh, innovative and a joy to play - not too frenetic, but not too laid back either. With AoE II I seemed to lose my way - seen it all, read the book, got the T shirt etc, so much that I couldn’t be bothered to buy the bolt ons as it was all ‘much of a muchness’. So, despite the hype (or possibly because of it), it was with a great deal of trepidation that I approached AoM. Only finding the small manual in the CD case and seeing the ‘more online’ bit didn’t help - I like a manual to do what it says and not have to go searching through an online database to find the answer to a simple question. So, I loaded the game & fired it up - within minutes I was gobsmacked by the fantastic intro - Ensemble have done a superb job, the animation is flawless and, all of a sudden, my early misgivings had vanished into the ether & I was desperate to get into the game proper (but not before I’d shown the intro to my kids & then banished them from the room & forbade them to go anywhere near the PC for the next week or so). So, to the game itself…
Natural as well as artifical walls can shield your base.
The cutscenes are entertaining, and sometimes humorous.
History plays a fair part in this, as with any of the Ao’s, but it is all a bit ‘tongue in cheek’, giving you the opportunity to try out mythical units to bolster you mortal troops, as well as having the ability to invoke Godly powers and rain destruction upon your opponents heads (or benefit your own burgeoning civilization). The user interface has been spruced up a bit, with little drop down banners to show any hotkeyed units, heroes, idle peasants or objectives which make the gameflow even better, and just hovering the mouse pointer over just about anything brings up a detailed description of what it is/does or can be used for.
You can set up all the normal game controls via the options menu, which gives you the opportunity to set up different profiles for different players, thus effectively stopping anyone playing ‘your’ game as they can set their own up (but will probably still play yours if further advanced). As normal, the options screen layout is about as user friendly as they can get & it will only take a few clicks to set the game up exactly the way you want it. Again, I set my game up to the 1024x768x32 option with all detail on high and it runs as smoothly as would be expected from a game with this pedigree with absolutely no sign of slowdown even in the most ‘cluttered’ scenarios. The system requirements state PII 450 minimum and I would say that is accurate. The only problems I had with my PIII 500 being some slight stuttering during the superb intro scenes.
The ingame tutorial works well, letting you in to the AoM world easily (although veteran players will probably skip this bit), and then continues flawlessly into the single player campaign. Various cut scenes introduce you to all the main characters and forthcoming scenarios, & can be skipped if required (but they are worth watching, really) and they do set the scene nicely. Once you get into the 1st few levels, everything suddenly seems so familiar and you will have your peasants scurrying about doing their jobs in no time at all, while you admire the smooth movement & inspiring visuals created by the 3D engine. As the campaign progresses, so the scenarios and landscapes changes, from the green & pretty Greek scenes, to the deserts of Egypt, the ice lands of Norway & even the underworld, Hades. A nice touch is the way you are asked if you want to see a brief tutorial as the campaign changes civilizations, just so that you can acquaint yourself with the slightly different playing styles required. Help is only a click away, either by right clicking any icon in the build menu or by using the help icon in the top right of the screen to bring up a superbly detailed description as well as a small history lesson if applicable.
Workeers are the all-important base element for your empire.
Giants are one of the many fun characters you can take control of.
To grow, your peasants need to collect food, wood & gold (no rocks this time) in the time honored fashion, with gold outcrops liberally sprinkled around. Population production is limited by the amount of houses you can build, & to increase in size you need to capture other settlements, build more town centers which allows you to build more houses. Other settlements are spread fairly evenly over the playing map making it that much harder to totally dominate. Technology development is in the standard Ao fashion, as are the civilization advances, the difference this time being the ability to choose a lesser deity each time you advance. Different deities give different development bonuses, plus the all-important godly power that can only be used once per scenario, so careful choice & timing can be crucial. The additional ‘resource’ in AoM is favor, which is required to create any myth units or heroes. Dependant on which faction you are playing, (Greek, Egyptian or Norse), favor is gathered in different ways - Greek peasants pray at a temple, Egyptian laborers construct statues, while favor is granted to the Norse via battles. Markets are very beneficial, as they are the keys to the caravans that so help your gold production. Setting up trade routes between town centers will soon have you gold reserves showing a nice healthy figure.
The 3 different civilizations, whilst broadly playing the same, have their own national traits. The Egyptians don’t need wood for constructions, and also have the Pharaoh character, which can be used to empower buildings, allowing for faster creation of units etc. The other important Egyptian unit is the priest, which can heal any damaged units back to full strength (as can the Pharaoh). Norsemen don’t use their laborers to create buildings - their Ulfarsk military units do that, they also do not need to build granaries, logging or mining camps as they can construct mobile carts to store the resources gained by their gatherers and dwarves (for mining). The Greeks are more of the ‘standard’ civilization, with faster peasants to do your bidding and a stronger selection of heroes. Playing the campaign, you get the chance to try out all of the civilizations prior to selecting them in the skirmish/multiplayer section. Buildings take on a national flavor as well, although they do tend to look similar & it can be confusing at first just selecting the right one. In all civilizations, the 2 most important buildings are the Town Centre & the Temple, the TC to be able to create peasants & advance your ages, whilst the temple is crucial for creating the myth units that bolster your forces so well, and for receiving the relics that only your heroes can pick up. These in turn give various advantages/advances that can drastically change the outcome of a game. Do bear in mind that a temple can only receive 6 relics - any more & you will need additional temples.
Unit controls are simplicity itself, the handling of grouped & hotkeyed units via the dropdown banners (or conventional keypress) come as second nature, as does the glancing at the unit banners to see exactly what it is you are selecting via the icons shown there. Once selected, a right click on a destination and/or enemy & away goes your unit(s) to do your bidding. Battles are generally short, violent affairs and it can be a pain differentiating between your units with all the frenetic activity. Although your heroes have an aura, this is not often easy to see in the thick of battle, so the hotkey helps out here as well. All heroes do more damage to myth units than do the normal military, but they definitely need normal backup as other forces tend to target them more (no enemy heroes = virtually unstoppable myth units) so, selecting a group of military & assigning them to guard a hero is never a bad idea. A well balanced force of Myth, Siege, heroes & normal military units can be devastating, especially if you throw a couple of divine powers in for good measure (a lightning storm is frighteningly effective against human forces, whilst the awe inspiring meteor or tornado will tear apart any strongpoints with ease).
lSome envvironments are truly out of this world...
Several of the characters under your command have special abilities...
Playing Skirmish or multiplayer allows you to choose your own civilization from the start. The setup screen is, like the main options screen, nicely set out and easily navigated. The maps are all well balanced, and there is a good selection of them with the options of playing up to 11 opponents, which makes for a never ending variety of tactical developments required just to keep your head above water, let alone win. Although the campaign mode is, to all intents and purposes, ‘on rails’, the skirmish/multiplayer options will keep your interest piqued for months to come (if not longer). The AI, whilst not the best I have come across, still manages to come up with the odd surprise or two and is in no way too predictable, although as in most strategy skirmish mode games, the ‘rush’ rules - although the Myths can certainly take the edge of it (I find the best unit in the game is the Phoenix - it can only be destroyed by ranged units and, as it flies, doesn’t have to worry about terrain, whilst it also packs a punch) Age of Mythology sounds convincing as well, each civilization has its own musical score, whilst the units all speak the native language. Trumpets blare to alert you to unseen battles (highlighted on the minimap), and the sound of battle grows louder as you get nearer, although it is never too overpowering which would totally ruin the ambience.
Over & above everything else, it is the graphical touches that really lift this game above the norm. Watching a Hydra grow more heads as it gains in experience; following a Pegasus as it gallops through the sky, observing a Minotaur or Cyclops throwing their opponents about with abandon, and the subsequent bouncing of the human missile (although some seem to manage some acrobatics worthy of Olga Korbet to regain their feet). The total destruction caused by the aforementioned meteor storms & tornadoes, the Phoenix shimmering & fluorescing its way across the screen, & then raining fire on its designated targets. All of these, coupled with the sheer natural look of the landscapes, lend towards a superb gaming experience.
The game's visuals are spectuacular, and all the units are well animated.
A rainbow forming over your battle adds a poetic touch.
AGE OF MYTHOLOGY VERDICT
To sum up, this game is so playable, it nearly hurts. The graphics, music, controls and AI all complement each other perfectly, in fact, everything about it is just so slick & professional (as you would expect from anything carrying the Microsoft badge), that not to own a copy should be deemed a criminal offence. My one minor niggle, as expressed right at the start, a better manual please - when people are paying pushing £40 for games there ought to be better documentation available to match / enhance the build quality of the game itself.
TOP GAME MOMENT
: Unleashing a horde of mythical creatures upon somebody halfway across the world from you as they mount a clever defensive.