Learning about ancient myths and religions was one of our favorite times in high school and college. It was like being taught history, except it’s full of minotaurs, fertility gods, and people with cat heads. When the more sterile, history-based series Age of Empires sired a spin-off titled Mythologies, we were all aboard. Now the portable, turn-based strategy version of the series has its own Mythologies, which we accepted with open arms.
The title eases you in to its play style slowly, with the first few missions being more or less training exercises. You must set up towns, mine gold, create farms, and build up your defenses to defeat your opponent on the other side of the map. You need to raise an army quickly but at the same time start building for the future. The strategy elements of the game are deep, though once one learns a proper build order, there aren't enough reasons to deviate from it.
To help you out, you have both gods and demigods on your side. Though the previous game on DS also had hero units with their own special abilities, you can now activate god powers, such as locusts that plague your crops or lightning that crashes down from the heavens themselves. These powers add more depth to the strategy of battle, but some feel stupidly overpowered and cheap. Thankfully, they're limited to one use per battle.
When it comes to the story, it's fine enough, though we’d suggest the developers made a mistake by just making it up on their own. While the previous title took some very interesting chapters from history and added a little drama to them, this time they avoid the actual myths and instead take famous mythological figures and make them the stars of a new story, one for each of the three cultures. The plot’s pretty bland with the normal "battle underlings until you reach the shadowy head boss" narrative.
Graphically it's a bit of a mixed bag. The characters and battle animations that take place on the top screen look great, but after watching the same animations a few times, you'll start pressing the button to skip all that and get the results. Meanwhile, the isometric view of the battlefield isn't as confusing as it could be, but some units are big enough to obscure others, plus you may end up attacking the wrong unit.
Ultimately we were pretty pleased with the AoE: Mythologies, but it let us down in too many ways. The gameplay gets a little too frustrating, the graphics too soulless, and the story too weak to keep us going in for too long. It has all the qualities myths are made of, but we’ll need a little more grandeur before we can declare it a true legend.
Dec 30, 2008