Release date: Originally 2002 (base) / 2003 (Titans), 2014 (Extended Edition)
Version played: PC via Steam in 2016
A spin-off of the popular Age of Empires series, Age of Mythology was another real-time strategy game from Ensemble Studios first released on PC in 2002. It allowed players to worship nine “major” gods from the Ancient Greek, Egyptian and Norse pantheons, as well as a fully fleshed out campaign following an aging war Admiral from Atlantis. The following year, a full expansion was released adding the new fourth culture of the Atlanteans, as well as another campaign and new units for the previous civilisations. The Extended Edition (which this review is for) was released in late 2014, after Skybox Labs acquired the rights to the game and made it available on Steam. The Extended Edition boasts (minor) improved graphics and a handful of new units and upgrades, along with general performance improvements.
Much like my recent Shadow of Mordor review, this is equal parts a review of the game itself, and the ‘upgraded’ version. I first played the game upon it’s release roughly a dozen years ago, so this replay was as much a nostalgia trip as it was a new game.
+ the game plays much as it always has, with various units performing various roles in the economy or combat. The game’s combat system works on a rock-paper-scissors dynamic where, for example, cavalry > archers > infantry > cavalry etc. Most of the game’s units fit into their own category, which encourages the use of various unit types
+ the choice of Gods (both Major as a starting “faction”, and then upon advancing to a later age in-game) offer various benefits, and it is these combinations which allows for many different styles of play. The ‘powers’ offered by each God could often change the course of battle, or strengthen an economy (or sometimes both) depending on how you wish to play
+ some of the campaign missions are still surprisingly innovative, especially considering this game was made before the likes of Warcraft III, Age of Empires III or Warhammer: Dawn of War. The missions which take a more ‘RPG’ approach (that is, minor base building and using only a set amount of units) require careful planning, which is challenging but rewarding
+ graphically, the game has not aged horribly, though the game models absolutely do not hold up to current standards, but I personally found these sometimes off-kilter models only added to the charm
– playing through the campaign, there were many instances where cutscenes did not work as expected (in part due to the change to widescreen viewing), along with far too many typos. To me, these are the exact sorts of things which should have been resolved via play-testing, surely
– similarly to the above, whatever changes to the AI were made has (in some cases quite severely) effected the campaign missions; enemy armies often seem to be running to a direct point behind your base, then attacking, rather than ‘working their way through’ your defenses
– some of the new “balances” (and I use that term both loosely and far too strictly) by takeover developer Skybox labs have removed some of the charm of the various races; Egyptians, for example, were not good in the early game and have been given units to compensate, but I personally felt that overcoming these early-game issues was part of the challenge. I am reminded of the line from The Incredibles: “When everyone’s Super, no-one will be” – what is the point of making all of these factions play the same?
Should you play this game: I purchased this game on Steam (and lo and behold it went on sale the next day), and as far as nostalgia goes it has been fun. If you’ve never played it before, I can recommend it for ~$10, but any more and you might be better getting some either more current, or even Age of Empires II HD instead.