s the release date for a game I’ve been following and anticipating for a long time draws ever closer, I tend to find myself getting nervous. Will it play as well as it did in the beta version? Is it going to be buggy? Have I been drawn in by hype, only to be left cold and alone with a vacuous piece of garbage that rots my PC’s innards? These are important questions, people. I’ve been burned before, but not this time. Age of Mythology drives the gameplay stake through the heart of this genre, and keeps on stabbing with sure-to-be award-winning graphical acuity, sound design, and production value.
It certainly cannot be denied that Age of Mythology is a visual thoroughbred. Everything from the largest structures to the smallest icon has been engineered to please the eye and mesh with the title’s design concepts. Even your menu displays will feel unique when you switch between different civilizations, but none of their effectiveness or ergonomic feel is sacrificed in the least. Additionally, each cutscene is manufactured from the in-game engine – bringing the player near the action, and allowing an up-close look at the fantastic character design. I wish there were an easy way to zoom in on your units during missions, but seeing them from the traditional middle distance provided enough enjoyment that I wasn’t left feeling cheated out of a more intimate viewpoint.
In terms of how well the game actually plays, rather than how it looks, I couldn’t be more pleased. It seems to me that the Ensemble team took to heart all of the suggestions and concerns garnered from fans of the Age of Empires series, and implemented them with precision and tact. I never felt that I was playing catch-up with my scenario; that is, I always had the sense that I was in control of my surroundings, instead of the other way around. In many civilization-building titles, it seems that players are often set upon a predetermined path, and if we don’t follow criteria X, Y, and Z, we can forget about graduating to the next level or plot point. This title fosters a do-it-your-own-way attitude – I may concoct a completely different solution to get to the end of a level than you will, but the game allows both of us to explore these venues without penalizing us for coming up with something the designers didn’t foresee or intend.
On the other hand, I am disappointed with how the single-player scenario panned out. Yes, the story is excellent, and I loved the characters and setting; but I don’t like the fact that you’re forced to play one civilization until the writers come up with a way to incorporate the second and the third. I wish there had been three separate campaigns for the Norse, Egyptians, and Atlantians. I mean, I’ve already bought the game; of course I’m going to play through all of the different cultures. StarCraft was (and still is) a great example of how a partitioned campaign structure can work, and work well. If you’re like me, however, you’ll be able to absorb this, and enjoy the game for hours upon hours anyway. Criminy, the multiplayer section alone is worth a purchase. Don’t miss out on this title – it’s one of the best empire-builder/RTS hybrids that has ever been released.