The Magic of Myth: Age of Mythology Offers a New Take on the Ancient World
shore attack
Beware the Krakken. Mythological beasts will also test
your defenses.
By Brad Cook
“When we finished Age of Empires II: Age of Kings,” explains Ian Fischer, lead game designer at developer Ensemble Studios, “one of the things we kept discussing was all the really cool ideas that just didn’t fit with a historical setting.

“It’s difficult, for example, to think of how you’d give a player the ability to freeze an enemy army historically. Similarly, there aren’t many flying units from the Stone Age. At the same time, we still liked the general setting and feel of our previous games. Thus, mythology came about.”

Which leads us to Ensemble’s next creation, Age of Mythology, published by MacSoft. This real-time strategy game allows you to take one of three ancient civilizations — Egyptians, Norse, or Greeks — and carry out the usual army building and resource gathering while taking advantage of the unique abilities granted by the gods you choose to follow. The more you direct your people to worship them, the more favor those deities will grant you.

My What a Big Club You Have. Summon mythological creatures to help you in battle.

Soon you’ll have your enemies quaking with fear as you call for meteor storms to decimate their armies and invoke pestilence to ruin their food sources. Your gods can also help you build your civilization by attracting more animals to kill for food and by fortifying your troops with magic armaments, among other things. And they will allow you to create special creatures, called myth units, that are drawn from mythological stories. It can’t hurt to have a minotaur or two on your side in battle.

Because the player selects a deity each time he advances to a new age, and because there are different ones to choose from, the player can also adjust his strategy based on the way the game is unfolding.

New Dimensions
“All the god-related additions add several new dimensions to the traditional gameplay,” says Fischer. “Being able to summon myth units means that there are new ways to think about setting up an army. Having to actually get favor to support the mythical elements means new strategies for resource gathering, especially considering that each culture gains favor in a different manner.

“Because the player selects a deity each time he advances to a new age, and because there are different ones to choose from, the player can also adjust his strategy based on the way the game is unfolding.”

massing soldiers
Tear Down the Walls. Assemble a mighty army and swarm your enemy’s defenses.

He adds that you only get to use your god powers four times per game, which was “designed to encourage players to find clever places to apply them.” So don’t drop the preternatural hammer on your opponent too early in the game or you may find yourself up the Nile without a paddle when his army overruns yours later.

Play Solo or Against Opponents
The single-player campaign in Age of Mythology centers around Arkantos, an Atlantean created by the Ensemble development team. You follow his story as he allies with the Greeks at the Battle of Troy (you use Greek units, buildings, and gods as you guide Arkantos), journeys through the underworld and tries to find certain relics. Along the way you’ll encounter the other two civilizations in the game.

(Visit the Age of Mythology page at if you need a walk-through or strategy guide to help you out.)

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All of this is good training for multi-player mode, in which you can take on human- or computer-controlled opponents on a variety of maps. As in the multi-player modes of many other RTS games, the goal here is to quickly gather resources, fortify your surroundings, and assemble a strong army. You can choose to win by conquering everyone else or by attaining a certain goal, such as building a Wonder of the World and keeping it standing for a preset amount of time.

Fischer notes that he prefers the Norse because they suit his favorite strategy for success. “I like to get walls up early and then race to attack my opponent,” he says. “If you start putting a dent in someone, the thing that usually halts your progress is an enemy force showing up in your town to disrupt the villagers working there.

The most important thing I think we’ve learned is honestly the ability to decide when to make a balance change based on feedback.

“Walls let me keep out the riff-raff so I can concentrate on raiding and, if a larger force shows up, they allows buy me some time to get troops to the trouble.”

Players who truly enjoy playing god will appreciate the inclusion of a world editor in Age of Mythology. Use it to create maps to share with friends or use as the settings for multi-player action. MacSoft notes that maps created in the PC version of the game are compatible with the Mac version, and vice-versa.

Eygptian soil
You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry. Summon a devastating meteor storm on your enemies.

Research and Development
The game’s look and feel came through the Ensemble team’s deep research into the three mythos. “Early on,” says Fischer, “we tend to read through some pretty heady stuff looking for high-level inspiration and framework while later in the project we’re generally looking for books with lots of pictures to use for art direction. It’s fun to see titles like Readings in the Theory of Myth sitting next to titles like The Big Book of Greek Gods.”

He adds that a lot of work went into balancing the gameplay, based on lessons learned during development of the team’s previous efforts.

“The most important thing I think we’ve learned is honestly the ability to decide when to make a balance change based on feedback,” he explains. “That is, are you hearing comments on something being too weak or too strong because it really is or for other reasons?

Norse snow
No Snowmen Here. The Norse are fierce warriors whose foot soldiers can erect buildings when they're not fighting.

“Gameplay testing frequently gets pretty heated and it can be difficult at times to know when someone screaming ‘The archers are a screw!’ means ‘The archers are not properly balanced’ and when it means ‘I’m upset because I’m losing to an army of archers.’”

If you liked this game, check out:
 Age of Empires II: Gold Edition
 Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds
 Warrior Kings

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