A classic real-time strategy (RTS) game filled with beasts and larger-than-life heroes, "Age of Mythology" broke new ground for the "Age of Empires" franchise when it launched in 2002 by focusing on fantastic characters rather than historical armies. Over the past 12 years, players have come back to the title again and again because of its gripping story and intense multiplayer action. Now, "Age of Mythology: Extended Edition" is available on Steam, delivering the same great experience with a handful of small improvements. Though these tweaks don’t add much to the experience, with a revitalized community for online play, "Age of Mythology" is like manna from Mount Olympus.
"Age of Mythology" is an asymmetrical RTS along the lines of "StarCraft." The game takes place in an unspecified period of antiquity, where gods, mortals and mythical beasts work in tandem to wage war and accomplish heroic feats. As such, the race you select and the gods you worship will determine your overall play style. The Extended Edition includes "Age of Mythology," "The Titans" expansion and "The Golden Gift" downloadable campaign.
The game offers four races: Greeks, Egyptians, Norse and Atlanteans. Not only does each race have completely different units and buildings, but a different overall strategy as well. While each race needs four resources — food, wood, gold and favor from the gods — to advance its technology and build a mighty army, each goes about gathering them in a different way.
The Greeks, for example, are a very traditional "Age of Empires" society: Villagers gather resources at specified drop sites, construct durable buildings and worship at temples to gain favor. The Norse, on the other hand, drop resources in mobile ox carts, use infantry as builders and fight to curry favor from their bellicose gods.
Egyptians can dominate a match's late stages with fast-training cavalry and mighty pharaohs, while the Atlanteans can strip a map of resources before an enemy has a chance to encroach.
"Age of Mythology" is such a delight because playing each race feels so different. It's hard to get bored when your strategy can change dramatically from mission to mission and from multiplayer match to multiplayer match.
No gods, no glory
Beyond race, players also select both major and minor gods to worship. Zeus, Ra, Odin and Oranos (the Atlantean variant of Uranus) are all present and accounted for, but mythology buffs will be pleased to find a good chunk of the Greco-Roman, Egyptian and Scandinavian pantheons represented. If you don't know who Artemis, Osiris, Bragi and Hyperion are, you will by the time you finish the game.
Each god confers different advantages. Thor supplies dwarves who excel in gold mining, while you can get cheaper technology upgrades from Isis. Players also receive potentially game-changing god powers: one-time use abilities that include devastating meteor strikes, rains that increase farms' food production or teleporting whole armies across the map. These powers can change a match's outcome in an instant, and force players to make interesting decisions about which god to worship and how to best use that god's awesome power.
Beyond that, "Age of Mythology" embraces the traditional "Age of Empires" rock-paper-scissors strategy: infantry beats cavalry, cavalry beats archers, archers beat infantry. This time, however, there's a new element: myth units and heroes.
By cashing in favor, players can call upon mythological beasts such as frost giants and sphinxes as well as demigods such as Heracles and pharaohs. Myth units excel against traditional soldiers, heroes can destroy myth units with ease and regular human soldiers can take down heroes.
The combination of these two game-balancing systems, plus variables such as siege weapons, counter-units and the inherent inequality of all four races, makes "Age of Mythology" anyone's game. No single strategy works against every opponent, but adaptable, open-minded players will find a use for every soldier at their disposal.
After spending years fighting pirates and bandits, Atlantean admiral Arkantos believes his best days are behind him. A message from Athena, goddess of wisdom, suggests otherwise. A Cyclops named Gargarensis is willing to move heaven and earth to become immortal, and to stop him, Arkantos and his ragtag band of heroes must fight in the Trojan War, revive a dead god in Egypt and match wits with Loki himself in the Norselands.
With likable characters, long story arcs and a variety of missions, "Age of Mythology" has an appealing story that reads like the ancient Greek version of crossover fan fiction. The general tone is both heartfelt and epic with a dash of silliness, reminiscent of movies like "Clash of the Titans." A Greek tragedy this is not, but most players will be invested enough in the story of Arkantos and Gargarensis to see it through to the end.
Art and graphics
The visuals in "Age of Mythology" have not aged as well as the rest of the game. Although the Extended Edition supports higher resolutions and features improved lighting, better particle effects and day/night cycles, this does little to address how blocky and indistinct the characters and buildings look up close. The game's overall art style is phenomenal, but the graphics barely did justice to it back in 2002 and fall far short by today's standards.
Music and sound
Excellent soundtracks have been a hallmark of the "Age of Empires" series, and "Age of Mythology" is no exception. With melodic strings, ambient flutes and pulsing drums, the music manages to feel simultaneously Greek, Egyptian and Norse. It's the kind of music that fades into the background as you play, but you may find yourself whistling it while walking down the street.
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The sound effects are imaginative, considering that the designers had no basis for what a real kraken or einherjar (resurrected Norse warrior) sounds like, and the voice acting is over-the-top, but fun. The dialogue is hardly award-winning, but each actor attacks his or her role with a nice mix of gravitas and humor.
If you've already played "Age of Mythology" to your heart's content, the Extended Edition does not provide too many reasons to come back. The graphics look a little better, especially when it comes to lightning. Some special effects, like the ray of light fired by the crocodilian petsuchos unit, have also been totally replaced, but they don't look substantially better or worse.
One exciting feature of the Extended Edition is integrated streaming to Twitch. Given how popular the online game-streaming platform has become, hardcore users should get a lot of enjoyment out of this feature, as well as the improved interface for the multiplayer's spectator mode.
Otherwise, the most compelling reason to pick up the Extended Edition is the promise of a Steam-based online community with new players, better matchmaking and the possibility of new maps and scenarios. Whether this will really happen is hard to say, though; the multiplayer servers were unpopulated during our review process.
In spite of very little new content, "Age of Mythology: Extended Edition" is still a hard title to pass up. Everything that made the game great more than a decade ago is still present and accounted for, and a few welcome tweaks here and there help streamline the game for modern computers. Whether you worship Poseidon, Freya, Set or Gaia, be sure to leave an appropriate offering for your deity; "Age of Mythology" is still a gift from the gods.
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: SkyBox Labs, Ensemble Studios
Genre: Real-time strategy
Release Date: May 8, 2014
OS: Windows Vista, 7, 8.1+
Processor: 1.6 Ghz
Memory: 1 GB RAM
Graphics: Direct X 10+ Capable GPU
DirectX: Version 10
Hard Drive: 3 GB available space
Sound Card: Direct X Compatible Sound Card