previews\ Sep 25, 2002 at 8:00 pm

Age of Mythology - PC - Preview 2

In the wake of the real time strategy game boom, there were three games that stood out above the rest: Warcraft, Command and Conquer, and Age of Empires. Now that the previous two have come out, or major information has been revealed about the game mechanics, people were beginning to wonder when Ensemble Studios would come out of its shell of secrecy and unveil the latest incarnation of their popular series, Age of Empires.

What is one of the most important things to people in the world today? If you ask anyone on the street they will say these: family, friends, and religion. Religion has a deep meaning to many different people and they each view it in a unique perspective. Many people have a great fascination with the religious views of the Greeks, Egyptians, and the Norse civilizations. These three believed that they had gods for every little event that happens: War, Fertility, Death, and myriads of other things. The question remains: how do these three civilizations and religious views fit into the Age of Empires universe?

In the original Age Of Empires people guided a specific civilization from the Stone Age to the Iron Age. The sequel started people off in the dreary Dark Age and rose up to the majestic Imperial Age. For the next version, legions of fans were pondering playing in an industrial type age, but what players get proves to be a lot better.

Age of Mythologies puts players in the role of one of three very distinct and different civilizations: Greece, Egypt, and Norse. Next choice players will have to make is what primary god they will want to serve, and they will have three choices. The Greeks main gods are the three brothers who threw lots to decide who would be the ruler the gods: Zeus (ruler of the heavens and of all gods), Poseidon (ruler of the sea), and Hades (ruler of the underworld), the three most powerful gods of the world. The Egyptian Gods are: Ra (sun god), Set (the god of evil), and Isis (the goddess of queens and magic). Finally the Norse Gods are Odin (the ruler of the gods), Thor (the god of thunder), and Loki (the trickster god). Each time player's advance to a new age, they will be provided the opportunity to choose between two minor gods to worship. From this it proves that it will be a rare occurrence that two people will have the exact same gods in any given game.

The incentives for choosing one god over another are the mythological units that will be produced and the special god powers bestowed upon the players. The myth units are created in temples and monuments, they are stronger than mortal units, but weaker than heroes. They each have a special attack, but they will use them whenever they see fit. The hero units are the best units to use against myth units. Players will quickly recognize which units are the heroes because of the glowing aura. The Greek has four different units, but only one can exist at a time. Pharaohs and Priests are their Egyptian heroes. Gamers will only be allowed to have one Pharaoh at a time, but they can have many priests. Norse only has one hero, the Hersir, and they can have as many as they want at one time, because they do not require favor. Each age gives the players one god power, but they can only use it once. So it is in the best interests of the players, if they don't use it recklessly.

The game is played like any other RTS game. Players will need resources such as food, wood, and gold to accomplish anything. This time around Ensemble threw in a new resource: favor, which is an indication of how much the god approves of your action. The more favor that players have the better mythological advancements will be available at a quicker rate. Each race gains favor different. The Greeks gain favor by praying at the temple, Egyptians gain it by building monuments, and the Norse gain their favor by fighting.

Another thing that is different is the way the population limits are handled. Instead of being able to build myriad of houses, players will only be allotted a certain amount before the settlement (town center) cannot support anymore. To further increase your population players will have to seek out specific settlements and build town centers there. These are the only places that town centers can be built. One more major change is the way the food supplies are now handled. Herds will provide more food the longer that they stay in town, and will be gathered at a faster rate. This time farms are most expensive but they will never be depilated, but the gathering rate is now significantly slower. Fishing spots now have infinitive food as well.

The graphics are nothing short of awe-inspiring and just plain gorgeous!  There are many little effects such as the tides coming in over the land, fish moving, and all the quirky character animations. All of the characters are correctly modeled to what one might expect certain mythological creatures might look like. One new feature is that players can opt to have full control over the camera to rotate it a full 360 degrees over the entire map. The sounds used in the game really set the tone for the entire game. They are tranquil and something that people might have heard during these ancient times.

As always Ensemble has a breath taking opening CGI movie, showing the battle between the gods. The single player missions will show players how to play each civilization, and get progressively harder, while introducing new units. The final game will include multiplayer matches, but this beta does not include it. What really puts things in prospective is that this was just a beta of the final game. Once the final game does arrive, and it retains the fun level that this beta has, it will be one of the best RTS games of 2002!

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