Learning Curve: About 1 hour
Ensemble Studios has long since made a name for itself with its extremely popular Age of Empires series of real-time strategy games, so the company's latest game, Age of Mythology, seems risky. Not only is this the first Ensemble product to feature a fully 3D graphics engine, but it's also the first to stray from the purely historical context of Age of Empires and delve into fiction. In the game, you'll still find the sort of realistic armies of cavalry, spearmen, and archers you'd find in Age of Empires, but they'll be fighting alongside the likes of medusas, minotaurs, sphinxes, mummies, frost giants, trolls, and more. So don't expect Age of Mythology to help you ace any history tests. And yet, much like with the Age of Empires games, you still could easily end up learning a thing or two while playing Age of Mythology. While the game may not be a simulation of any battles that ever actually took place, it offers great insight into three core historical civilizations and their beliefs, which collectively helped shape much of the world as we know it. More importantly, Age of Mythology executes its concept extremely well, in a manner that should please fans of Ensemble's previous real-time strategy games as well as many of those who might have found the history-themed Age of Empires games a bit dry.
Age of Mythology doesn't make any huge departures from the conventions of real-time strategy gaming, but rather represents arguably the most refined example of the genre to date. If you've played any other real-time strategy game lately, especially Age of Empires II, then you'll feel very comfortable getting started with Age of Mythology, a highly complex game that will seem remarkably intuitive. If you've played a lot of Age of Empires II, then you'll get the impression from Age of Mythology that the designers spent their time further adjusting the gameplay conventions that they themselves have already helped pioneer and coming up with lots and lots of clever twists to give the game plenty of appeal, depth, and lasting value. You'll also note that Age of Mythology immediately comes across as a highly polished product--fully featured and carefully documented, Age of Mythology is also elegantly designed and surprisingly easy to explain despite its unusual concept.
Most real-time strategy games let you play as a certain number of different factions. In the case of games like this year's Warcraft III, the relatively small number of playable factions still makes for outstanding gameplay due to the very substantial differences from one faction to the next. Yet in the Age of Empires games, which featured numerous different playable civilizations, the differences between these were much less obvious--many of the factions shared units, strategies, and graphics. Age of Mythology essentially combines these two philosophies by offering you the chance to control one of three radically different civilizations--the Greeks, the Egyptians, and the Norse--as well as three different subsets of each one, based on these respective cultures' major deities. There's variation even within each subfaction--during the course of a match, you'll get to ally yourself with a number of different minor deities, each of which confers its own unique benefits on your civilization. And not only does allegiance with any of the game's deities give you special bonuses, but you also get a one-time-use miracle, a unique mythological unit of some sort, special technology, and more. The option to choose from three civilizations, nine major gods, and 27 minor gods adds up to a huge amount of variety.
Three distinctly different civilizations are vie for power in the game: the Greeks, the Egyptians, and the Norse.
At its core, Age of Mythology does play a lot like Age of Empires II, as well as other real-time strategy games. A typical match will still require you to spend considerable amounts of time and attention on gathering various resources and building up your civilization, then on producing vast armies, researching numerous technologies and upgrades, and commanding your forces in large battles. The game's resource model is very similar to that of Age of Empires II, with one exception. You once again need ample supplies of food to build new units and advance from one stage of civilization to the next, and food is once again obtained from hunting, gathering, farming, or fishing. You once again need gold to research new technologies and construct military units and structures, and gold is mined from clearly visible deposits you'll find scattered about each map. You'll also need to chop plenty of lumber. Stone, the fourth resource of the Age of Empires games, is not a factor in Age of Mythology, though there is a fourth resource: favor. Favor represents the powers of your civilizations' gods and is used for summoning your civilization's powerful mythological units, as well as gaining some divine technological bonuses.
One thing that each of the game's three civilizations have in common is that their temple is one of their most important buildings. It is there that mythological units are summoned and other divine enhancements are granted. However, civilizations each gain favor differently. Greek villagers can be ordered to pray at a temple, which gradually increases favor. Egyptian workers can construct monuments to their gods--four different, successively larger ones--that generate favor. And the Norse earn favor by waging war. Civilizations also each have different types of hero units available, which specialize in defeating mythological units. The Greeks have a handful of legendary heroes such as Odysseus, Jason, and Heracles. The Egyptians have priests and a pharaoh, a powerful leader that can be used to speed construction of buildings, increase production, or serve as guardian of his people. The Norse can produce innumerable helsirs, mighty warriors that are most favored by the gods.
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