Strategy & War
Brew your own gamesIf all the pre-defined scenarios and options weren't enough, Age of Mythology offers various other features for extending the life of the game.
The most obvious and fundamental of these is the random map generator, just described, which essentially serves both the single-player and multiplayer experience (they just have different setup facilities) and offers 21 basic map types.
But secondly, there's a custom map editor. As you might expect, this allows you to paint terrain, set up whatever parameters you wish and generally produce a new map to your own specifications; it's very comprehensive.
Finally, for the truly dedicated, there's a whole script language to play with, and you can use this to do almost anything. It has to be said that the script language is not for the faint of heart: it's very complex, uses a C-like syntax, and really requires the user to have programming experience in order to take advantage of it. Nevertheless, it's there for you to use if you have the necessary experience and motivation.
Graphics and interfaceAs stated in part one of the preview, Age of Mythology's graphics engine is one of the stars of the show. Superficially it looks so similar to previous games that you assume initially that it's sprite-based with a fixed viewpoint, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Everything is modelled in 3D, and the flexibility of the engine is such that it can be used for all aspects of the game, not just the regular in-game graphics. As stated before, for cut-scenes the camera can swoop right into the map, so that the normally tiny units fill the screen and animate convincingly. Even the game's menu system overlays slightly translucent menu screens on animated backgrounds of the world, viewed from cloud level.
The animation and attention to detail is superb at all times, too, with waves breaking convincingly against shorelines, shoals of fish chasing each other beneath the surface of the water, realistic fire and smoke effects, and so on. And when it comes to invoking god powers, the effects are truly spectacular. The character models are also superbly animated and behave realistically, such as when a kraken uses a tentacle to grab an unfortunate infantryman off the shore and toss him away, whereupon he bounces several times on the ground; or when a cyclops picks up a military unit and hurls him into other units, knocking them down like pins at a bowling alley.
It should be stated that Age of Mythology's interface does benefit strongly from at least a two-button mouse. Right-clicking is fundamental to playing the game, and having to depress a key at the same time would become tedious very quickly. If your mouse has a scroll-wheel then spinning it will spin your view of the map, too, so you can watch the action from any angle. You can also zoom in and out by pressing keys on the keyboard, though only over a limited range.
The game supports multiple screen resolutions, including widescreen ones (though not to the highest resolutions supported by Apple's widescreen monitors). If you still don't feel you can see enough, though, you can hide the overlays that house the command buttons, leaving just the buttons themselves free-floating over the scene. This is quite useful, as it does expand the available screen area significantly.
The interface sports quite a lot of icons and modes, so a certain amount of learning is involved. But there's online help for everything, and getting used to the available options doesn't take long. Players of earlier Age of... games should find things totally familiar. There are also many handy shortcuts: the keyboard commands are all-encompassing, and can be redefined. If you take the trouble to master them, you can quickly group together and access sets of troops by banners, which is a real boon for tactical play.
ConclusionYou'll have to wait for Friday's full review to get the official IMG verdict on the game but, having spent some quality time with a very late beta of the Mac version, I have to say that I personally have been very impressed. Age of Mythology is a game of real quality and depth, and even when you've exhausted the unusually long and interesting single-player campaign, there's unlimited replay value, both online and alone, via the supplied maps, the random map generator, and scenarios that you or others create with the editor. It doesn't take long to learn to play Age of Mythology, but mastering it is a different story...