Strategy & War
Cultural differencesAll too often, having multiple cultures, classes or factions available in a game like this is little more than a cosmetic exercise. The norm is for each different group to have exactly equivalent sets of forces which vary in little more than name and appearance.
Age of Mythology breaks this trend in interesting ways whilst still managing to remain balanced. Although all three cultures, Greek, Egyptian and Norse, have some basic building structures in common, each culture also has many unique ones. More importantly, the available troops vary widely, the way you use them is also quite different, and even the way you gather resources varies considerably between the three.
For instance, Greek villagers gather resources and raise buildings, leaving their military units just to fight. Norse villagers, though, only gather resources, leaving it to the military to build structures. The Norse also have mobile drop-off points for food and resources in the form of carts, rather than the static structures which the other cultures must build.
Wood is a primary building material for Greeks and Norse, but Egyptians don't use it for building at all. As for favour, the divine resource, it's acquired in totally different ways by all three cultures. The Greeks must have their villagers worship at temples; the more villagers there are praying, the faster favour increases. The Egyptian approach is to build monuments to the gods: there can be up to five, and each successive one is more expensive but generates more favour. As for the Norse, they don't build or pray to gain favour: they fight. Every Norse attack, whether it be against enemy soldiers, buildings or just food animals, will generate favour, and Norse heroes generate more favour than regular troops.
The heroes also vary widely between cultures. The Greeks can only have up to five named heroes in the game at once (four on land and one at sea); if a hero is killed, he can be created again. The Egyptians just have a single Pharaoh and unlimited priests, all of whom can empower buildings to improve their performance and heal nearby units. The Norse have only one type of hero, but can use unlimited numbers of them and they generate the most divine favour in combat.
All of this means that the game provides a great deal of variety and subtlety. The range of ways in which the many regular military troops can fight against each other would be enough for many games already, but adding myth units and heroes into the mix adds a whole new dimension to the game.
Playing as the three different cultures gives a very different experience in each case. Nevertheless, overall the three balance against each other, so that none has a clear advantage, but within the individual cultures there are substantially different approaches to doing things, and the choice of gods made at each stage of the game will alter things still further.
To be continued...So, that's what Age of Mythology is basically all about. In part 2 we'll take a more detailed look at the what the game has to offer the player in terms of the single-player campaign and as a multiplayer experience.