Nothing beats a good RTS game, and unless your religion forbids it, on occasions every gamer will give the RTS genre a good whirl. No matter what type of gamer you are in the field of RTS execution - strategic, action, diplomatic etc, The Age of Empires series had always delivered to the upmost impressive level. However, beyond the few addon packs here and there, Age of Empires was running short and in need of desperate updating. Its gameplay was still solid, and still is, however it wasn't quite the impresser it once was.
Enter Age of Mythology, and as it quotes, the ability to "transport gamers into the realm of the gods". Continuing on from the 'Age of' series, Mythology looks to take gamers back into the heart of the best selling gameplay found in Age of Empires, and dish out some extra's on the way.
To begin with right off the bat, Age of Mythology (which will from now on be referred to as AOM) is based fully off a 3D accelerated engine (no prizes for guessing which API) as opposed to the previous versions in the series. Not only does this naturally add to the graphics and overall look, it gives the game a much smoother and fluent aspect which seem to be popular in RTS titles lately. Catching on to the 3D craze, which is only relatively new for RTS games, was a good move by Insemble Studios.
AOM, although being based off the AOE series, is essentially a much broader and indepth game. The player is given the option of choosing a god for which his/her people will abide by. These include lords from the Egyptian, Greek and Norse civilisations. Each god after this is then unique in many aspects in the game, ranging from who constructs the building to what sort of warriors are at hand. Not only this, but each god is given a different 'spell' or 'special' for every age they surpass, which can become quite an asset during the heat of a battle.
Each civilisation has many unique military variations, which basically come down to having a hero unit or two, myth units (which include serpents, giants, trolls etc), siege units and the basic range of infantry including archers, swordsmen and many more. In the heat of a battle, there are clear advantages some civilisations have over others, especially when combined with some special god powers, which makes for a much greater strategic experience when compared to AOE 2's rather undifferentiated skill distribution among civilisations. There are some really massive and extravagant beasts ready for battle in this game, which are beautifully rendered by the engine in a new level of detail for any RTS game.
Featured fully with the game is a completely customisable map editor, with the ability to change landscape, add any object as well as trigger events and cinematic's for the more advanced users. It is really good to see such a indepth and powerful editor come with the game and be as accessible as this one is, not only does it add some much needed customisation to the game it is also just a load of fun making your own map.
The in-game gameplay is, without a doubt, identical if not better than the gameplay found in the AOE series. Some features have been simplified, however the sheer amount of extra's and new features easily override them. One new general feature is the fact not every civilisation has a linear style of execution, and although this was somewhat present in AOE 2, it has much greater depth in AOM. The Norse people actually use their infantry to build and commoners for gathering, while the Egyptians use the commoners for building and gathering. Minor details like these give a unique feel for each civilisation during realtime gameplay, not to mention the fact they open up for different strategies concerning gameplay.
At a technical standpoint, nothing about this pre-release version had any instabilities nor did we find any significant bugs which lead me to believe we won't be seeing any types of delay in release, well atleast nothing concerning gameplay. On a system consisting of a Pentum4 2Ghz, 512MB DDR SDRAM and a Geforce4 Ti4400, gameplay was obviously very speedy and fluent at high detail, although this area will probably see extra optimisation before launch.
Come November when Age of Mythology is launched here in Australia, there won't be a shortage of good titles out there in time for the Christmas rush. However, without a doubt in my mind, Age of Mythology will lead the pack, especially for the RTS genre. If you liked the old style gameplay of Age of Empires then you will love AOM, and even if you didn't, it is never to late to start playing the worlds best RTS series.