Strategy & War
Welcome to part two of our Age of Mythology preview. Be sure to look back at part one if you need to know about the background details of the game. Here I'll be talking about what to expect in terms of the playing experience.
Single player campaignAge of Mythology's single-player campaign is based, appropriately enough for the subject matter, around a hero from the fabled island of Atlantis. The hero in question, Arkantos, progresses through a long series of maps in a wide variety of settings and teams up with a number of allies.
The nice things about the single-player campaign are that it's lengthy, has a coherent story, plenty of variety in terms of terrain and objectives, and it introduces you in turn to all the cultures in the game. If you play right the way through the single-player game, you'll find yourself in an excellent position to progress to other maps and to multiplayer games in general. There is in fact a very short tutorial campaign to play through before you do anything else in Age of Mythology, and it teaches the absolute basics of the game in a superficial way and then leads into the proper campaign. But playing through that main campaign provides excellent training for playing more freeform games in future.
Clearly the single-player campaign is much more than a training mission, though. It's a very comprehensive story, encompassing a grand total of 32 missions (not counting the three introductory ones). The story follows Arkantos as he travels to Troy and journeys all over the world; and, indeed, under it! The campaign includes all of the available cultures in its component maps and the objectives range from the usual 'defeat enemies' missions to excursions that involve collecting relics. There are four difficulty levels, and the heroes in the game can't be killed as such; but if they go down in battle, you'll need to clear the area before they can revive.
There are ample cut-scenes to move the story along; often there are both prologues and epilogues for a single map. It's particularly impressive that the game engine is flexible enough to perform these cut-scenes itself: nothing is pre-rendered.
By the time you've worked through the campaign you'll be a seasoned player, and then it's time to use the random map generator, which provides an unlimited number of different games. There are 21 basic map types on which the random terrain can be based, and you can also create as many AI opponents as you wish in each game, up to a maximum of 12 players in total. You can also assign team numbers to players in order to create allies, and each AI player can have its own playing style and starting god. Other parameters to edit include skill level, game type and map size (normal or large).
Multiplayer and AI optionsOnce you decide to start playing against others, Age of Mythology has plenty to offer. The Mac version of the game can be played online via GameRanger, or across a LAN (or direct IP address). Actually, you don't even have to play the multiplayer game against other people: there can be up to twelve participants in a multiplayer game, but any or all of the opponents can be the computer AI. Without other human players, though, you're essentially just using the single-player random map facility; the available options and terrain types are basically the same (with just a couple of added extras, such as the ability to assign yourself a handicap).
Multiplayer mode also offers the same range of game styles as single-player random mode. Lightning is a quick-play mode with accelerated game-speed. Deathmatch allows you to start off at a later age and with ample resources, thus avoiding the build-up stages and letting you get straight into the heat of battle. Conquest mode is all about eliminating your opponents' units, and Supremacy mode allows you to attain victory by achieving one of a number of goals, such as obtaining all available settlements or building a Wonder of the World and maintaining it for a while. (Both single-player and multiplayer games also allow you to load extra scenarios from disk.)
These may all sound like standard-enough multiplayer facilities, and indeed they are, but the number of options and the richness of the available scenarios (not to mention the fact that more can be added) means that the variety and replay value is enormous, whether you're playing against others or just the computer AI.
Overall, it seems likely that GameRanger is destined to be populated by Age of Mythology players for some time to come.