Like father, like son.
First a lesson in mythology. Get out your pens and paper.
Ten years ago, Arkantos left Atlantis and led his armies across the known world on a mission of utmost importance: to keep the gates of Tartarus closed and prevent the escape of the Titans. His reward earned, Arkantos ascended to the heavens to join the gods and left the mortal world behind. Thousands died to keep the Titans imprisoned, but was it a worthy cause? Who exactly are the Titans?
Well, in the beginning there was only the heavens, Ouranos (aka Uranus), and the earth, Gaia. When they mated, they produced some fearful offspring: the horrid Cyclopes, the three monstrous Hecatonchires, and the twelve Titans. Ouranos hated his ugly children and hid them deep in the underworld Tartarus. This pained Gaia, so she plotted with her youngest son, the Titan Kronos, and gave him a very sharp sickle. That night when Ouranos came to lay with Gaia, Kronos leapt out and cut off his father's genitals. Ouch.
Unmanned and powerless, Ouranos tells Kronos that just as he has deposed his own father, so too will one of Kronos' children depose him. Kronos takes his father's… ahem…severed member and throws it in the ocean, and the goddess Aphrodite is born from the sea "foam." I am not making this up.
Kronos is now the king of the gods, but he remembers his father's final words. When he marries his sister, the Titan Rhea, he is frightened of what their children might do. So he eats them as soon as they are born.
Rhea would really rather her children were not eaten, so when her sixth child is born, she fools Kronos by substituting a large stone which Kronos quickly swallows. The real child, Zeus, is raised in secret on the island of Crete by the magic goat Amaltheia. I am really not making this up.
When Zeus grows up, he hides out in his father's favorite hunting ground. Kronos arrives to hunt and Zeus ambushes him, leaping out and kicking his dad so hard in the stomach, he barfs up Zeus' five older brothers and sisters: Demeter, Hades, Hestia, Hera and Poseidon. They are, for some reason, just fine.
And so it was that Zeus married his sister became king of the gods and confined all the Titans back under the earth in Tartarus.
Now, considering all the violent baby eating and castration and whatnot that the Titans were so fond of, it's no wonder Arkantos wanted to keep them away from the mortal world. However, in a supreme act of teenage rebellion, Kastor, the son of Arkantos, decides to flush all his father's hard work down the Atlantean toilet and make a deal with the Titans to free them from their prison. Hey, at least he didn't cut off his dad's johnson.
Well, that was a longer lesson in Greek Mythology than I intended (did you take good notes? There will be a short quiz after the review.) but it's a perfect introduction to Age of Mythology: The Titans, the first expansion to Microsoft's excellent Age of Mythology.
The Titans is exactly what you would expect from a well-made expansion. It includes a new playable side: the Atlanteans, a new single player campaign in the adventures of the ungrateful son Kastor, and some new really, really big units: the Titans. Add in a few well thought out game tweaks and you have a title that AoM fans should definitely pick up.
The Atlanteans are a surprising new side in that they are actually the simplest to play. Perhaps in response to the arcane methods of resource gathering and building of the Vikings and the Egyptians, the Atlanteans are straightforward. Their resource-gatherers are faster and more powerful than any other race, and they don't even need to drop their resources off. Individual units tend to be more powerful than those of the other races, structures are more basic and upgrades are more centralized.
The price for all this simplicity and power is, well, price. Everything in Atlantis is more expensive, from the lowly peon to the mightiest warrior; it's just like living in Manhattan. One of the biggest dangers of playing as the profligate Atlanteans is simply running out of resources.
Of course, you don't just choose a side in AoM, and there is a new selection of gods to worship as well. Progenitors like Ouranos and Gaia are ready to serve with their godly powers, as well as Titans like Kronos and Oceanus. Prometheus, one of my favorites, is actually the son of a Titan. Atlanteans can use their gods' powers a bit more lavishly, because unlike the other races, they often get more than one shot.
The army of Atlantis boasts all the regular grunts, swordsmen and archers and the like, as well as some fanciful new mythological units. Satyrs can throw handfuls of spears at a time, Prometheans split into more Prometheans when they're killed, and Automatons are clockwork suits of armor that can repair each other.
But the big new units are the Titans and every side gets one. These massive brutes are game-enders, sort of the violent version of building a Wonder, because it takes a huge opposing force (or another Titan) to stop one, so when a player starts constructing the "gate" necessary to summon a Titan, all other players are alerted.
While each side gets a different Titan like the huge Viking troll or the Egyptian incarnation of Horus, they're all identical under the skin: devastating, nearly unstoppable behemoths.
Kastor's Ungrateful Adventure is well done, but a bit short. The missions often have multiple ingenious solutions, not just "destroy the enemy base," which is great. The in-game cut-scenes are equally good and flesh out the plot. But the 12 mission campaign probably won't take you more than about 12 hours, so get ready for some multiplayer skirmishes.
Everything else about The Titans - graphics, sound, interface, etc. - is exactly the same as the original, which is how expansions usually work. There are a few useful gameplay tweaks, however. Some AI's have been improved (and some still feel too stupid), you can set your buildings to auto-produce units infinitely, leaving you free to do other things, and the racial balance has been improved with a number of small changes in unit power.
While not innovative in any way, AOM: The Titans is everything you should expect from a quality expansion. Plenty of new stuff, but also gameplay refinements and the attention to detail that shows the developers cared about their product. Mythology fans planning to cripple their fathers should postpone and pick up The Titans instead. At least for a while…