Impressions – Age Of Mythology: Extended Edition

By Alec Meer on May 13th, 2014 at 5:00 pm.

RTS/citybuilderish Age of Mythology: Extended Edition is a tweaked, slightly modernised re-release of the dearly-departed Ensemble’s myths & legends spin-off from Age of Empires.

A mild graphical overhaul, Steam-powered multiplayer & mod support and Twitch integration headline the changes, but really it’s about reintroducing something that has withstood at least some of time’s many tests into a market that might just be crying out for it. So, how does it hold up?

I’ll never slag off the plot in a Blizzard RTS again. I suspect I simply took Age of Mythology’s white noise hum of a tale for granted upon its initial release – expectations were low, and cuboid in-engine men wobbling slightly while someone charged a day rate to drone out their first and only reading of a script about nothing came with the territory.

A more generous soul might deem it “Alan Bennet does Atlantis”, but I’m going to go with “M. Night Shyamalan does The Archers.” I think I’d do well to bear in mind just how far we’ve come the next time I’m having a grumble about the narrative shortfalls of more contemporary games.

That aside (well, and some outdated UI concepts), I’d say Age of Empires’ fantasy offshot holds up rather well. Visually it’s, y’know, fine, having successfully shaved perhaps four or five years off its apparent age, but the it’s the game itself which stands tallest.

It’s a happy mix of good, old-fashioned, getting-on-with-it building and surprisingly large-scale battles with varied armies. It’s oddly, lackadaisically-paced compared to today’s gogogo real-time strategy, though you can very much see the seeds of the intensive multi-tasking that has increasingly come to the fore.

There’s a tranquillity here between battles though – the measured chopping of tall trees from lush forests, the unhurried herding of found animals back to base for the sort of bloodless, painless death our parents promised our ailing, ancient dogs and cats received at the vets. Towns have a life and personality to them too – they’re not just a random bundle of utility buildings. There’s a touch of the citybuilder here, hidden slightly behind brutish cyclopes, Harryhausian Collossi and noisy lions.

When fights do kick off they’re big and fast and eye-catching thanks to the dramatic size difference between humans and their mythological allies, but there’s a ton going on underneath the surface carnage, as humans vs myths and associated vulnerabilities adds an extra layer of rock, paper, scissors.

There’s good reason this RTS has been given a coat of spit and polish for the modern age, and that’s because there’s good multiplayer barney still to be had from it. The tinkering in this do-over is focused just as much on getting online up to speed and adding Twitch support as it is on better resolution support and whatnot, which is telling.

That side of RTS isn’t really my world admittedly, but I’ve been enjoying slowly learning how the jigsaw fits together in singleplayer, and on its own merits rather than mere nostalgia. This really wasn’t a game I played too much of on first release (the Age series is a bit of a blind spot for me, in all honesty), so I’m confident I’m enjoying what’s actually there rather than what’s in my memory.

Stuff like branching tech trees – depending on which gods you choose to worship – and decisions over whether to invest early-to-mid-game resources in offensive, defensive or economic upgrades comes across as fairly progressive if perhaps not rule-rewriting.

This is a bittersweet reminder of where build’n'bash was heading in its last heyday, and I’m left wondering what might have been if the great RTS highway hadn’t effectively closed into just three lanes – StarCraft, MOBAs and Total War. What might have been? Well, it could just as easily have been bloat and over-complexity as it could have been another golden age – perhaps, too, that’s why RTS as we knew it ended up in this extended fallow patch.

As it is, this veteran game oddly ends up filling a gap in the modern market, which is no doubt why I’ve taken to it despite its woeful cutscenes and visual outdatedness. I really miss casual RTS, those familiar toyboxes for one, though at the time I’m quite sure I was bemoaning the excess of similar games. The great wheel forever turns.

Age of Mythology: Extended Edition is out now.

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39 Comments »

  1. Eightball says:

    If you’re looking for an RTS that strays outside of “StarCraft, MOBAs and Total War” look up the Hegemony series. Hegemony: Phillip of Macedon / Gold is superb, and Rome is in early access (so I haven’t tried it yet).

    • phanatic62 says:

      Maybe I need to give Hegemony another try. I only tried it once and wasn’t really feeling it. Although I do remember that at the time I was really into Rome Total War and I was quite put off by the real time nature of Hegemony. Maybe with several years and a different viewpoint I can give this game a proper chance!

  2. Ultra Superior says:

    You are so right Alec.

    • zero says:

      ALEC MEER (or someone else)-

      This review really failed to cover the topics myself and many others are interested in hearing about. In short, all the AOE/AOM fans want to know is how good/bad is this re-release. Aoe 2 hd was a fucking shameful, broken, bug ridden cash grab on release, disgracing the name of such a classic. A year later, it is still not where it shouldve been on the god damn release day. Fucking microsoft.

      So the question is: is AOM the same, worse, or [hopefully] better? I would happily pay $100 for AoM just with support for modern OS/hardware and multiplayer. But if they butchered another one of my all time favorite games just to rip off fans again, well, i think i would have to commit suicide :( Im still sad when I see aoe 2 hd in my steam library.

      • SuicideKing says:

        Yeah, I was looking for similar details. Never played AoM, but loved AoE.

        And yeah, after they did what they did to AoE II:HD, i just stuck to AoFE and will now use GameRanger…

        While I wouldn’t pay $40 for AoM (let alone $100), $15 would have been good for a well-done, stable and working makeover. It is, after all, over 11 years old.

      • ShadowTiger says:

        According to dozens of steam reviews in the last few days, the game has some issues for some people. I think multiplayer is worse off than single player. I would wait until those reviews stoped coming in negative.

  3. Conehead The Barbarian says:

    I would have liked to have played more Age of Empires games, but then they released Age of Empires 3. Perhaps one of my most hated games ever, it may have been fun but got rid of lots of things I liked from the previous titles.

    Also I’d love for them to remake AOE1 in the AOE2:HD engine, that would be very nice

  4. Berzee says:

    Ahh, of all the games featuring a cyclops who quotes G.K. Chesterton poems, this is my favorite.

  5. Berzee says:

    I agree about missing this sort of RTS; I don’t want All The Games to be like this, but some of the games would be alright. =) (If they made a resurgence, the sincerity of this comment would be tested though and we would find out of it was just near-past nostalgia talking =P).

    (Incidental aside — thinking about that reminded me randomly of http://littlewargame.com/, a pretty nice HTML5 traditional RTS game. It feels more like Warcraft 2 than an Age game, but does what it does pretty well. It’s been updated quite a bit since I last looked at it in November.)

  6. Shadow says:

    Company of Heroes and Supreme Commander (the first one, at least) are their own kinds of RTS as well. Not everything is StarCraft or Total War. Those are the series with most recent incarnations, sure, but there’s more alternatives than traditional Age of Empires style.

    And MOBA, RTS? Really? The only passing hints of RTS MOBAs have is the camera perspective and the interface, maybe. The subsubgenre may have sprouted from a proper strategy game (WarCraft 3), but you can’t put them in the same category when the extent of a player’s control is limited to a single unit. They’re RPG brawlers with less RTS elements than Icewind Dale, Neverwinter Nights and Dungeon Siege.

    • glocks4interns says:

      Along with the Dawn of Wars and the Wargames and tower defense games.

      Saying that RTS games ended up spawning SC, MOBAs and the TW series seems quite unfair.

      • nearly says:

        I don’t think it’s unfair, those are just the games that people are more or less (still) playing these days, whether because they have recent iterations or the last held up fairly well. I’d also say MOBAs fit in because they emphasize strategy, even if you’re not in control of all units, and have a fair bit more in common with RTSs than isometric RPGs. the reason they’re a separate category is that they don’t fit in neatly with either other

    • Fenix says:

      SupCom, Yessss! It was such a magnificent game, sadly the series had a premature death following the depressingly worse Supreme Commander II.

      Also of note for good RTS’s is Empire Earth, it was an AoE like that actually went from stone age to space age, it wasn’t as polished but tons of fun. Too bad the sequel was probably the most badly optimized game ever (which stopped me from being able to play it) and the third one was a massive pile of steaming horse shit.

      There seems to be a trend here…

  7. Scroll says:

    Its definitely an interesting re-release as discussion of re-balancing factions and units are encouraged by the developers which could lead to the extended edition becoming an actual definitive version of the game outside of the spit and polish that has been applied.

    I also hope that this and AoE2HD are testing the waters for a new non free to play RTS. At the very least I’d like to see Rise of Nations/Legends see a similar re-release in the near future.

    • RedViv says:

      Rise of Legends is still very playable. Hardly surprising, considering it’s the
      greatest
      RTS
      in the world
      ever.

      • GaiusJulius394 says:

        That is one of the oddest opinions I have ever encountered. I doff my cap to you.

      • deadfolk says:

        Coincidentally, I rediscovered my old RoL DVD (along with some other treasures such as X-Wing, Tie Fighter and Blade Runner) last weekend.

        Fully patched up, it doesn’t even require the disc in the drive to play (even with just the official patches). I’m going to have a proper crack at this some point soon. For some reason, I never even played it back in the day.

      • zero says:

        I love rise of legends. Sadly the idiot publishers/devs never released the patches for direct download. The in game update function was buggy and was eventually taken offline completely. This killed the multiplayer because it was terribly difficult to find someone with the same version/update your game at all. So i never got to play multiplayer really :(

        • Scroll says:

          Moddb have hosted the latest patch I believe. I was giving the game a go last night after this post and I wouldn’t if someone fixed up the unit animations, they’re not particularly smooth.

      • SuicideKing says:

        There is still hope: http://steamdb.info/app/13900/

  8. Jimbo says:

    I loved the AoM & expansion campaigns back in the day and would happily play them again all jazzed up, but their pricing for this seems way off. At £10 I’d have bought it (again); at £23 I’ll just forget about it and maybe pick it up when they’re giving it away at Christmas.

  9. LegendaryTeeth says:

    $30? Are you kidding? For that much I can buy a NEW game. At $15 though I would definitely have grabbed a copy for myself and my wife. She still plays the original all the time, but, well.. she still plays the original. Her DVD drive is basically just for AoM. It’s certainly not worth $30 for what is essentially some (very small) convenience and (marginal) eye candy.

  10. cpt_freakout says:

    The only game of this kind I wish I could play again is Rise of Nations. And I’m saying this as a guy who used to obsess over everything AoE-related and -craft related, once upon a time.

    • HKEY_LOVECRAFT says:

      I’ll see your Rise of Nations and raise you a Kohan: Ahriman’s Gift. I’ll even go all-in and add Seven Kingdoms I & II.

      I don’t know how to play poker.

    • DarkLiberator says:

      There’s actually a Rise of Nations in the steam registry at the moment. Maybe they’re re-releasing it.

  11. Chuckleluck says:

    I wish you’d have reviewed the multiplayer, even a teensy bit. Has anyone played it? Age of Empires II HD’s multiplayer was dreadful (lots of out-of-sync errors), and I certainly don’t want to buy another “HD” Age game for the same experience.

  12. malkav11 says:

    If you’re into RTS games for the singleplayer (as I am), steer well clear of the first couple of Age games and quite possibly of Age of Empires III as well. They’re regarded as classics, for sure, but as far as I can tell that’s exclusively for the multiplayer and there’s just not a lot there for someone who’s not into that.

    • Eightball says:

      Blasphemer! The AoE2 campaigns were amazing (even if I was too young & bad to get through any of them without cheating).

    • ElDopa says:

      I loved the campaigns in AoE I & II, and I learned quite a lot about history while playing them.

    • WhatAShamefulDisplay says:

      I would have said the exact opposite: AoE2 in particular was not especially well balanced in multiplayer, but an absolute delight in singleplayer to slowly expand your creeping tendrils outward.

    • SuicideKing says:

      NOOOOOO. AoE II was/is brilliant. AoE I was slow but still nice. AoE III…it was okay, but didn’t really like it.

    • malkav11 says:

      Okay, I guess I don’t understand why people like these games, then. Because as far as I could tell they have some of the worst singleplayer in the genre.

      • fish99 says:

        Nah, you’re just wrong that’s all :p

        Aoe2 campaign was really fun, you probably never played much of it. The main fun though was playing skirmishes vs the AI. I’d say to this day it’s still the best skirmish (random map) RTS ever made, right up there with Forged Alliance (supcom exp).

  13. fish99 says:

    AoM was fun and pretty underrated back in the day, and TBH it was actually better than AoE3. The series never quite hit the heights of AoE2 again thanks mainly to the map (and to a lesser extent army) sizes being smaller once they went full 3D, and the mechanics never quite translated.

    I’m sure I’ll pick this up once it’s a reasonable price. £23 is an awful lot for an old game I’ve already played, with a lick of paint. The AoE2 HD version was more realistically priced, and a better game.

  14. Nixitur says:

    Y’know, I think I’ll just see if I can grab the original somewhere. I’m pretty sure the remake doesn’t allow me to send exploding chickens at my enemies because cheats have completely stopped existing!
    Also, 23€? A bit of a steep asking price.

    Oh, also, does it have the encyclopedia?
    Please tell me it has the encyclopedia!

  15. vv221 says:

    « _Look at me, shiny water! dynamic shadows! and achievments!!
    _Oh, so sorry, I thought you meant Age Of Mythology EXTENDED Edition, not reskinned… Well, I’m gonna play my good ol’ regular AoM, it won’t cost me any more bucks for the exact same gameplay experience. »

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