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On Site Review: Age of Empires: Mythologies

January 6th, 2009 by Troy Goodfellow · 2 Comments · Consoles, Ensemble, THQ

THQ’s adaptation of the classic Ensemble RTS Age of Mythology to the DS is a bit of a surprise for me. AoM is one of my favorite games for a number of reasons, mostly related to the silly spectacle of the thing. It also manages a number of interesting choices in faction design without getting too burdened by numbers or micromanagement.

Age of Empires: Mythologies
is turn/tile based and it simplifies the game greatly. You still have the double rock/paper/scissors thing going on, but there are many fewer units to build. The differences in races are subtler – the Norse, for example, have much cheaper units but you can just park an ox cart on a resource square. No messy building mines or farms. Many of the god powers have been changed to be basic group damage spells – Zeus’s bolt hits adjacent units, Hera’s storm hits all units – and most of the myth units have no special powers at all (the Valkyrie can heal units, but I think that’s it).

The three campaigns aren’t as good as the original game’s single wide ranging campaign, and the skirmish AI is very weak. It can’t play the Norse at all, for example; it will spam cheap Ulfsarks and Raiders and shift its ox carts from tile to tile instead of making more of them.

But I still like this game a lot. The scenarios are very well crafted, with a variety of challenges. Some maps have you holding off waves of enemies, others have you storming a citadel. Many of the maps forbid building of any kind or only give you heroes to fight with. Once you figure out a scenario or map there is little reason to go back, but you can unlock dozens of maps for scenario and skirmish play.

If you’ve been reading this place for a while, you know how much I hate puzzle mechanics in a strategy game. There should be multiple options and not a single best approach to a map or battle. This is historically a problem with RTS campaigns and other try-and-fail systems in strategy games. For some reason, I am much more forgiving of this with strategy games on the DS, probably because what puzzles there are can be solved with real strategic thinking. In AoEM, units can hide in forests, so you can use that to plan ambushes with archers. Egypt can build obelisks almost anywhere on the map, which makes them great roadblocks on bridges.

I suspect some level of cheating on normal difficulty. The AI probably starts with a larger hoard of resources, or gets cheaper units. You can track your enemies’ incomes, so you know how much they are making. Town centers give a small amount of every resource, but once you’ve pillaged every farm and mine, it should be much harder for the Greeks to keep building catapults or villagers. Since the new units do start weak, it’s more a nuisance than anything, but it does drag out the end game since you need to eliminate the newly built unit before you can target the structure that built it. This doesn’t bother me too much since cheating is to be expected. But when the game is over except the razing, it can be annoying to not know the capacity of the force fighting you, to not know how much longer you have to put up with this. Ranged siege weapons move very slowly from your production center to your enemy capital, after all.

“Achievements” seem to be the way the industry is going, but something still strikes me as unseemly about the whole thing. Do I need an achievement for telling me that I won all three campaigns? I won a game while holding Pandora’s Box, but that achievement didn’t seem to fire. I’m pretty I’ve built every Greek myth unit, too, but that hasn’t been acknowledged. Still, since my DS is a travel/commute device more than anything else, the achievements give me little things to shoot for while I work my way around unlocking every map, every relic, every god and every hero.

Once again, the DS proves to be a good platform for turn/tile based strategy. The isometric display can make it hard to select specific units, and it would be nice to lock the map in place on the upper screen instead of having to click through the battle animation. But Mythologies is a comfort to me on those long train/plane trips. It has excellent art design, an intuitive interface and is faithful enough to the RTS to capture the essence of what that great game was about.


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