The re-release of a beloved classic real-time strategy title, unfortunately marred by newfound technical issues and an entirely disappointing new expansion.
Age of Mythology is the game that brought the esteemed Ensemble Studios real-time strategy franchise to the Twenty-First Century and three-dimensions - and, in doing so, brought more to the genre than just polygonal models and a dynamic camera, but re-vitalised the format and paved the way for a new generation of RTS gaming. Twelve years after the original PC release, Age of Mythology and its sequel-expansion The Titans have returned to a mainstream point of sale with complete with remastered textures and lighting effects, in a move that - theoretically - should have been another glorious triumph for fans of the series old and new (especially given the success of AoM’s sister re-release, Age of Empires II HD), but has unfortunately fallen flat in so many areas that the game itself can be recommended heartily, but not without a number of massive disclaimers.
Gameplay is more-or-less exactly as you would expect from the archetypical RTS franchise: players create controllable units, construct buildings, manage resources, and advance through four ‘Ages’ in the goal of expanding their civilisation (one of three highly distinct playable factions) while defeating enemy forces or meeting campaign and scenario objectives.
Included in the base game is the surprisingly well-written original campaign of more than thirty distinct levels that sees our protagonist criss-cross Bronze Age Greece, Egypt, and Scandinavia while encountering heroes, monsters, and deities of classical legend; compiled alongside the two somewhat shorter campaigns that originally released as part of an expansion and DLC back in the day. Fantastically, all the tools with which these campaigns were produced come nativity alongside the game and continue the “Age of-” franchise’s track record of excellent engine editors, and all the necessary materials are on-hand to create new, custom material and scenarios in what might be, to this day, one of gaming’s best editor tools ever.
Alongside the masses of premade content returns Age of Empire 1 and 2’s classic ‘Random Map’ feature, wherein map-type, gameplay rules, match conditions, and every other minute detail of a quick game can be customised for near-endless play in both single- and multiplayer modes.
Gushing praise for the original game aside, however, Extended Edition is prone to a number of flaws, which, while not necessarily dealbreaking, certainly bear mentioning. An attempt has been made to re-vamp the decade-old art assets and environmental textures, a new dynamic lighting system has been completely worked into the engine, and water, smoke and fire particle effects have been noticeably re-touched. In theory, it is nice to seem Age of Mythology get the re-release makeover its siblings have received, however, in no uncertain terms, Extended Edition is the epitome of bad optimisation and performs horribly.
This title, which is practically ancient in gaming terms, - and was never among the most resource-intensive games even at the time - now suffers from bouts of severe latency and abyssal framerate drops even on modern moderate- to high-end machines as a result of such poor optimisation. The game begins to chug during many scripted campaign sequences, during battles with more than a handful of units onscreen at a time, and even because of the ambient weather effects inherent to some maps - and that’s before one even attempts to play a full-length game in the multiplayer, which sees a smaller and smaller returning playerbase weekly, presumably a self-fueling consequence of the increasingly-long wait times and spikes of shockingly bad lag.
In spite of all this, Age of Mythology Extended Edition has received some post-release support - an amount of effort has been made to remove a few of the most egregious and gamebreaking bugs within, and, the full Steam Trading Card, Badge, Emoticon, etc. system has been added fairly smoothly, and the full roster of Achievements, complete with a nice selection of full-colour icons for the discerning trophy connoisseur is most welcome.
Where the post-release support team dropped the ball however was in the 2015 attempt to create another official expansion pack to this game, as one might expect, developers evidently unable to remaster a title screen without losing forty frames-per-second were not up to the task of designing and implementing whole new civilisation and campaign. Enter the ‘Tale of the Dragon’ DLC, making an unbalanced mess out of the immense potential of traditional Chinese folk-legends and churning out a broken garbage fire of a campaign - the only time worth mentioning it is when you warn prospective buyers to stay away.
Age of Mythology is - or, was - at it’s core, an excellent game. Hence the overall Recommendation, but when it comes to poor rehashes of beloved franchises such as this, vote with your wallet and either take your business elsewhere, or try to find a copy of the original boxed disc release if you can.