Make sacrifice payable to Zeus, please.
I've read The Odyssey and The Iliad. I can tell you the story of Orpheus and Eurydice or Jason and the Argonauts. Since I was a kid, I've loved the stories and the heroes of Greek mythology. It all began with the movie Clash of the Titans, which is a little embarrassing now, but at the time, it was my favorite movie.
So it was with great pleasure that I installed Microsoft's latest strategy game, Age of Mythology. Created by Bruce Shelley and Ensemble Studios, the same team behind the Age of Empires games, AoM moves real time strategy into the realm of Greek, Egyptian, and Norse mythology. Everything you would expect is here: heroes, gods, monsters, mummies, Thracian dogs, Viking hordes, and even the occasional sacrifice.
Like Clash of the Titans, the story is a mishmash of mythological tales all thrown together. You follow the story of Arkantos, military commander and hero of Atlantis. Ordered to assist in the Trojan War (complete with wooden horse... so update your virus software), Arkantos uncovers a more fiendish plot to release the Titans imprisoned in Tartarus, the lowest level of Hades. This would result in the widescale sort of destruction the Vikings would probably call Ragnarok.
Saving the world takes Arkantos and other heroes through Greece, Egypt and Scandinavia where they will make use of the local people and buildings, not to mention the local gods.
Fortunately, everyone the world round looks just great. Like Warcraft III, AoM has gone completely 3D with a whole new graphics engine. The units are detailed, animations are smooth, and in the larger battles, you can get an impressive number of combatants slugging it out without any slowdown. The new 3D landscape looks good too, with nice water effects and some minor terrain morphing as you flatten land to build on it or just smash it with meteors.
The sound really showcases Ensemble's continued attention to detail. Units all speak in their respective languages, but don't worry - you don't have to learn any Greek or Egyptian. Turns out that soldiers in strategy games never have anything useful to say, anyway. They're like Tattoo from Fantasy Island - everything they say is some variation of "Yes, boss?" followed by "OK, boss." And when the game switches to its plentiful cinematic sequences, the characters lapse into English readily enough.
The music is pretty mellow for a war game. Calming and acoustic, it lends AoM more of a city-building feel. Perfect, since you'll probably do more building than fighting, at least until you get your army large and well equipped.
And you have quite a lot of options as to how to build that army, because AoM is a recruitment officer's dream. Aside from a good selection of infantry, archers and cavalry with individual strengths and weaknesses, you can help them past larger obstacles with siege weapons and rolling assault towers. But my favorite are the mythological units.
Depending which gods you choose to worship at your temples, you get a selection of fantasy creatures like minotaurs, pegasi, sphinxes, giant scarabs and cyclops. Summoning any of these creatures will require some divine favor, which the Greeks get from worship, the Egyptians get by building monuments, and the Norse get from hitting their enemies with anything sharp or heavy.
Your chosen gods will also grant you a few miracles from their arsenal, which play out as one-shot divine interventions ranging from magical healing fountains to falling meteors. They are immensely powerful and can turn the tide of a battle, so you have to make sure to use them wisely.
One strange omission is the fact that your heroes don't really increase in stats. They simply function like special units and will either appear in missions or not. Some can even be built like normal units, so that you can keep building new Hercules' when your original Hercules dies...just like the movies! It removes any potential RPG flavor.
The single player campaign is quite long, but it's only the tip of the age of icebergs. Even if you don't like playing against human opponents online, the game comes with a very, very impressive campaign editor. You can design the terrain, buildings, objects, and starting conditions. You can script events tied to certain times or actions. You could literally rebuild the entire campaign using the tools provided, right down to the in-game cinematics. Or, more effectively, you could create your own new campaign, as I'm sure many people will do.
However, aside from some mythological flavor and some new graphics, AoM is a game you've played before, provided you've played any of the older Age games or really any sort of real-time strategy game. It does everything it's supposed to do and raises the bar yet again for graphics. It's got tons of different little guys and plenty of ways to upgrade them. It has good, solid multiplayer for when you're done with the 36 mission campaign.
But it still left me hungry for something a little newer, something with a little innovation. It seems overly comfortable in its well-worn shoes and just doesn't take any significant risks or steps forward to advance the genre like its predecessors did.
Don't get me wrong - I really enjoy Age of Mythology and so will you. It's clearly a good game and deserves a spot in any RTS fan's collection, easy. So if you've already harvested all the Spice, mined all the gold, chopped all the trees, and collected all the Tiberium you can find, AoM should definitely be the next game on your list. Just don't expect anything new. Like the myths themselves, AoM's gameplay has been passed down from generation to generation for many, many years.