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Age of Empires: Mythologies

War: what’s it good for? In the realm of video games, well, war can make for hours upon endless hours of pure mindless fun. Some gamers, however, yearn for the chance to wield godly power, as they move mighty forces across the battlefields of destiny. Enter strategy gaming.

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Age of Empires (AoE) on PC has been one of the few real-time strategy series to successfully compete with Blizzard’s amazingly popular Warcraft saga (not to be confused with World of Warcraft). Considering the convenience of the DS’ interface, coming to the system seemed like a great idea for AoE. What we ended up with in its first DS outing was a more methodical, turn-based experience, and though it was still a solid strategy game, it was a bit dry for many tastes.

Now, AoE takes another stab at the series on DS. Same basic move system as before, but a better focus on mission structure and a presentation that offers some of the finest visuals on DS help liven up the affair. However, it’s the backdrop of mythology that really steals the show here, and commanding armies comprised of creatures and heroes from some of the most revered tales in human history is simply great fun.

Age of Empires: Mythologies is broken up into three different campaigns – Egyptian, Greek and Norse. Starting off with the Egyptian mythology, the game walks you through many of the basics. Rather than merely move an army from one end of a map to the other, colliding with enemy forces along the way, in Mythologies you’ll build structures that enable you to train architects, infantry, mythological creatures, heroes, etc. You’ll also be required to harness resources such as gold and grain, and though you move units in the same turn-based way as Advance Wars (DS), Mythologies is still much the same as its PC brethren in terms of its overall gameplay structure.

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When units do engage each other on the battlefield, more than just the power of the gods will be at play. You’ve got three main types of units: human, myth and hero. Using the “rock, paper, scissors” formula, human units are weak against myth units, myth are weak against hero, and hero are weak against human. Additionally, you’ll have to take into consideration the different types of units. For instance, light infantry are generally strong against cavalry, cavalry are strong against heavy infantry, and bowmen/axe throwers can, of course, damage melee units from afar, allowing them to attack from a safe vantage point.

The beauty is it all works and works well. At the start of almost every mission, the chips are inevitably stacked heavily against you, yet so long as you think each move through and spend your resources wisely, you can always carve out a victory. Mythologies offers a balance and drive that are addicting. Missions are varied nicely, and though the structure remains the same throughout, you’ll always feel like you’re on a new adventure with each leg of a campaign.

One of the few drawbacks, however, is navigation of the map. You can use the stylus for everything, but both sensitive screen recognition and text prompts that are a tad small make stylus-only gameplay a woeful proposition. What you’ll likely find yourself doing is using a combination of both the stylus and face buttons – stylus to move the map view and buttons for command selection and confirmation. It’s not a huge issue and it quickly becomes second nature, but it’s not necessarily ideal.

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On the presentation front, Mythologies is a true joy to experience. Let’s be honest – having mythological creatures and characters in this game would be meaningless if they didn’t look cool. People dig mythology because the stories are sordid, tragic and often shocking, but our imaginations have also been satiated with the great images of harpies, trolls and Anubites.

Developed by Griptonite Games, Mythologies uses the same 3D engine used to power the recent DS version of Spider-man: Web of Shadows. On-map unit models look and animate great, as do the battle sequences, but the models look even better up close when viewing unit stats on the top screen. Mission maps, too, are fully three dimensional, though structures use 2D sprites. From the menu screens, to the lovely in-game graphics, everything comes together to make an elegant visual package on DS.

Mythologies’ audio is no less enjoyable, as sound effects, voice mumbles, and themes do an excellent job of backing up the gameplay. Each campaign offers unique musical variety, and by the time you make your way to the Norse missions, you’ll be rockin’ out to triumphant cadences laced with actual heavy metal guitar work. The clashing of swords and spears, along with the cries of battle, all lend great color to the game’s overall presentation.

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Wrapping up the package is a very meaty multiplayer offering, including single-card play and online. As you complete objectives in the single-player game, you’ll gain funds that can be used to unlock maps, gods and other goodies for use in multiplayer. As fun and varied as the campaigns are, multiplayer should prove to be a long-lasting extension to Mythologies.

Strategy games are, surprisingly, still thriving, and in a virtual sea of blockbuster, action hits, it’s nice to know games like Age of Empire: Mythologies can still be great fun. Using classic tales and creatures is a wonderful way to capture the imagination of folks who might otherwise be put off by strategy games in general, and AoE’s pace and presentation hit many highs that should satisfy both new and old fans alike. Mythologies is also a very sizeable package, offering over 20 hours of play with just the single-player campaigns, and the multiplayer component is a well thought out addition players can break out whenever the mood strikes.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in August 2008.

Gentle persuasion

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