Review: Age of Empires: Mythologies
Posted 03 Mar 2009 at 17:36 by Aaron Clegg
|"The easiest comparison to draw is chess; it's the same system that appeals to masses of strategy nuts who regularly sink hours and hours into their Advance Wars and Fire Emblems."|
As many will no doubt know, Age of Empires: Mythologies is not the first game in the popular PC strategy series to hit Nintendo's handheld. Mythologies is the follow-up to the well-received 2006 game The Age of Kings. That title was given the tough task of somehow cramming the deep, involving PC game onto the tiny DS, and was lauded for its efforts. Does Mythologies pull its own unique tricks, or is it a case of 2000 year-old déjà vu?
For the uninitiated, the concept of Age of Empires is simple, but makes plenty of room for complex strategies. You assume the role of one army commander and engage in battles against a foe and their force. The main goal is obviously to eliminate their army and destroy their ability to survive your onslaught. It's typical strategy game fodder then, but the series is known for putting just as much focus on resource-building aside from combat. While the DS titles have both these elements, the main distinction from the PC iterations is that battles do not feature real-time combat, but rather use an isometric, turn-based system similar to most other DS strategy games. The easiest comparison to draw is chess; it's the same system that appeals to masses of strategy nuts who regularly sink hours and hours into their Advance Wars and Fire Emblems. But enough about other titles – it's time to see whether Mythologies stands firm on its own merits; both against rival franchises and its own DS predecessor.
There's something a bit shady about this fellow.
When first leaping into Mythologies, players have the option of taking a series of tutorials. This is recommended for most players considering there's a fair bit to take in if you want to become a successful warlord, and it takes about 30 minutes to finish the training missions. The mission structure utilises a familiar turn-based system on an isometric field. You can use the touch-screen or D-Pad to navigate your units across the map and generally scroll to scout the battlefield. Unfortunately, this is the point where we must pick the game up on its weaknesses – as this interface is far from perfect. Touch input can often be quite imprecise and dragging the map across the screen can take more than one attempt. This is not helped at all by the fact that you have to double click at certain points to confirm your move. The D-Pad fares little better as the isometric viewpoint makes it initially very awkward to use a traditional up, down, left, right button set-up. The inconvenience is by no means a game-breaker, but there are other titles on the system that have managed these simple things a lot better.
The units in Mythologies follow suit of any standard fantasy strategy game; you're going to be controlling light and heavy infantry, archers, cavalry and chariots, among more tactical units like healing priests and siege contraptions. Your most crucial unit, though, is going to be God which you start off with at the start of the battle. The Gods differ depending on which campaign you're fighting in, with the eras spanning Egyptian, Greek and Norse mythology. Your God commander can die at any point in the battle and you can still redeploy him, but the presence of one of these warriors can easily change the tide of battle. However, the game's sleeved trick is not the variety of units, but the grouping of units into one of three classes: human, hero and myth. These three classes are more effective in a triangular relation, whereby human units are strong against hero units, heroes can knock myth units down to size and myth units best humans. The trick to an efficient fighting force is to create a balanced army of units. Once you've wiped your opponent's units out, you win the mission.
Of course, the other side to a classic Age of Empires game is the resource hoarding base building. There are three resources to collect in this DS game: gold, food and favour – the latter being collected in differing ways depending on which campaign you're in. As well as these vital resources being used to train new units, they're also crucial to researching various buildings and unleashing special powers. Keep a well-stocked supply and you'll soon be building barracks, shrines, masonries and more. Favour in particular is integral to researching into new technology and improving your units' strength, defence and hitpoints, and also activating special 'God Powers' which can aid your cause or curse your opponent. It's this level of depth which highlights Mythologies' greatest strength. You'd be forgiven for setting aside more time in intense battles to tinker with your economy rather than engage in troublesome conflict.
It's those jackal-headed fiends from the Mummy Returns again! Where's Brendan Fraser when you need him?
Visually, the game holds up well against most other '2.5D' titles on DS. Developer Griptonite have made a wise decision in giving Mythologies its own colourful, clean style. The actual battle animations take on more of a fluid, pencil-drawn effect. It's nice at first to see your miniature soldiers going at it with their swords (in a rather violent way, it must be said), but it doesn't exactly feel punchy enough to stop you from skipping the scenes after a few views. The graphical style is married nicely to a fitting soundtrack that puts you in the mood of battle, and moments of voiceover provide an interesting, if not occasionally annoying edge to proceedings.
Obviously, even a great strategy game would be demoted to the realms of unsatisfying if it didn't have enough content to keep gamers engaged for long enough. Luckily, Mythologies does deliver for those who want to play beyond the main story mode. There are a decent range of on- and off-line features, including support for 4 players with just one DS. And for loners, there are several additional skirmishes and set-scenarios to play through after the main game.
All in all then, Age of Empires: Mythologies is a strong strategy title for genre lovers and further proof that large-scale PC games can work very well on Nintendo's handheld. It's a shame that the touch-based controls can take a little getting used to, because great turn based strategy titles flourish from fluidity. However, the game still does a lot of things right – such as the potential for long-lasting battles and the deep economy aspect – even if these strengths are no great leap from Age of Kings. There are certainly better turn based strategy games on DS, but if you're a genre fanatic feeling hungry for more, then you could certainly do a lot worse than picking up Mythologies.
N-Europe Final Verdict
A thoroughly decent strategy affair, and a fine diluting of a PC classic. If you're a series fan and missed out on Age of Kings, then Mythologies is a worthy addition to your collection.
Great variety of units and generally lots to do
Economy system works well
Mythological elements add a nice spin
Classic Age of Empires feel
Fiddly control interface
There are simply better strategy games on DS