Age of Mythology: The Titans Review

The Titans is recommendable to any fan of Age of Mythology, particularly those who liked the idea of the game but maybe had trouble getting over the learning curve.

The expansion pack to last year's outstanding real-time strategy game Age of Mythology includes some big, new additions. Literally. Appropriately titled "The Titans," this add-on lets you summon enormous monstrosities to support your armies in the latter stages of a battle. These creatures are so powerful that only a large, concentrated force, or another titan, can defeat them. Furthermore, The Titans lets you play as an entirely new civilization, Atlantis, in addition to the Greek, Egyptian, and Norse civilizations included in the first game. Atlantis figures prominently in the expansion pack's single-player campaign, and the addition of the completely new civilization fleshes out this complex real-time strategy game in skirmishes both against the computer and against other players.

Atlantis brings its enormous titan to bear against an unfortunately unprepared foe.

Rather than add a smattering of new units and technologies to the existing civilizations, The Titans emphasizes the new fourth civilization and makes few changes to the original civs from Age of Mythology. As with the other factions, you don't just play as "Atlantis" but instead can choose from its three major gods--Kronos (Zeus' father), Oranos (Kronos' father), and Gaia (Oranos' wife). Nine minor gods, including Helios, Atlas, and Prometheus, support the major gods, and you choose from pairs of them as you climb the technology tree during a match. So, just like in Age of Mythology, your choice of major god influences certain key abilities you have while commanding the Atlantean forces, while your choice of minor gods during the course of a match grants you access to various myth units, gives you access to particular god powers, and allows you to research unique technologies exclusive to those gods.

The Atlantean civilization is powerful and fits in quite well with the other three. Its architecture most resembles that of the Greeks, and its myth units look good and are effective. The satyr, for example, hurls armfuls of spears at the enemy ranks and can damage large groups of infantry. The behemoth resembles a dinosaur and can knock buildings down with just a few powerful head-butts. Automatons are animated suits of armor, resistant to damage and capable of repairing each other. Prometheans are living lumps of clay, which, when killed, split into two smaller prometheans that continue the fight. These and the other myth units are among the most colorful of the Atlantean forces (as well as the strongest), but of course, Atlantis has a standard arsenal of swordsmen, archers, cavalry, siege weapons, and ships--much like the other civs. These have names like "katapeltes" and "murmillo," but they're immediately recognizable for what they are--especially since Age of Mythology provides such thorough information about each unit in the context of the game.

Ironically, it's easier to play as the Atlanteans than as any of the other Age of Mythology civilizations. Rather than try to appeal to experienced Age of Mythology players looking for an even greater challenge, Ensemble apparently took a step back and made Atlantis a bit more accessible than some of the other civs, particularly the Egyptians and the Norse. When playing as the Atlanteans, you have less resource management to worry about than you do as the other civs--a distinction that purists may not necessarily appreciate, but one that seems consistent with how real-time strategy games are evolving. At any rate, rather than have to mass worker units on food, wood, and gold like the other civilizations invariably need to, and rather than build special structures (or in the Norse's case, ox carts) as drop-off points for those resources, the Atlanteans have self-reliant, highly efficient villagers at their command. These villagers gather food, wood, and gold faster than any of the other civs, and they don't need to drop it off anywhere, either. To offset this tremendous advantage, Atlantean villagers are significantly more costly than those of the other civs, and obviously, they make very tempting targets throughout a match.

This new civilization has a few other distinct advantages. Atlantis is the only civilization that can build expansion bases without having to advance in age first, an ability that's encouraged, since the Atlanteans gain favor from the gods (the resource used for summoning myth units) at a rate that increases as they build more town centers. Atlantis can also reuse some of its god powers multiple times in a match, though stronger powers can be used fewer times and less often. Also, the Atlanteans have the option of converting any of their human units into hero units at a moment's notice, but at a fairly significant cost in resources. Fighting units that are heroes are stronger than normal but are especially good for countering enemy myth units; yet even villagers can be heroes, making them even more efficient than they already are. Since Atlanteans can bring hero units to bear at any time, as long as they have spare resources and an army of human units available, they're very effective against opponents who rely too heavily on myth units.

Atlantis has the easiest time of gathering resources, and is very effective against enemy myth units.

Like other aspects of the civilization, Atlantis' structures are quite streamlined. Rather than have their fighting forces split between a barracks, an archery range, a stable, and a siege workshop, the primary Atlantean human units all come from the barracks, while the counter-units are trained from the appropriately named counter barracks. Likewise, all the armor and weapons upgrades come from the armory structure, while the trade guild is used for all resource and economic upgrades--easy enough. Atlantis' other buildings, such as the temple, the shipyard, and the guard tower, are analogous to those of the other civilizations.

At its core, Atlantis really isn't as unusual or distinctive as the other civs in Age of Mythology, particularly the Norse or the Egyptians. One of the new features in this expansion (available to all the civs) is the ability to set a limitless queue. Once you've got your heroic villagers cranking away and the resources are piling on, you can set your barracks and your temples to start churning out units like nobody's business, and then throw all these units at your enemy and see who wins. Of course, there's a lot more to Age of Mythology than that, but the Atlanteans certainly are conducive to a simplistic playing style.

The major Atlantean gods' unique powers do help make this civilization more interesting than it would have been otherwise. Kronos, god of time, can time-shift (that is, teleport) his buildings across the map, to any point in his units' line of sight. This process costs a small amount of resources and, presumably for balance reasons, doesn't happen instantaneously. But still, rather than risk one of those supervillagers, Kronos can just send his barracks, temple, and guard towers right to the outskirts of the enemy base (but only one at a time). Kronos also has the power to deconstruct an enemy building--this power looks great in action, as all the materials that composed the structure detach and fly off into the sky. Oranos has a similarly devious ability. His forces may construct sky passages, which you can use to instantly ferry your armies across the map, since units entering a sky passage can exit out of any other that you've built. Also, Oranos' shockwave power can be used to disperse and stun a sizable group of enemy units. Finally, Gaia, also known as Mother Earth, is so attuned with nature that lush flora springs up all around her structures. Enemy forces cannot build in these densely vegetated areas, which heal Gaia's own structures. Gaia may also summon forth magical forests that can be harvested for large quantities of wood quickly.

The new single-player campaign lets you learn to appreciate some of the Atlantean gods' special powers.

It bears mentioning that none of these powers are especially original. If you've been playing other real-time strategy games lately, you'll find that most of the new Atlantean abilities in Age of Mythology: The Titans can be traced to other games in this genre, such as Warcraft III or Command & Conquer: Generals. Granted, it's an accepted convention for real-time strategy games to liberally borrow concepts from each other, but given how creatively Ensemble designed the Egyptian and Norse factions of Age of Mythology, and given that the fictional culture of Atlantis allows for plenty of creative license, the new civilization in The Titans isn't quite as memorable as it probably could have been.

The other major addition to the game is in the form of the titans themselves. These creatures become available in the late game, basically around the same point at which you could try to build a wonder. Actually, building a titan gate is kind of like building an antiwonder; rather than achieve a defensive victory, you can throw all your villagers at building a titan gate, which, when completed, will automatically summon forth for you a gigantic creature exclusive to your civilization. The titans are essentially identical for each side, appearances notwithstanding. Slow, lumbering, and very tough, these guys cause huge damage to buildings and to any adjacent units. They look appropriately menacing, and they're certainly strong--but while they're the Age of Mythology equivalent of weapons of mass destruction, designed to finish off a match that's dragged on a bit too long, they don't always work that way. They can be killed (especially by other titans), and the opponent is informed as soon as you've started building a titan gate, so it's by all means possible to counter a player attempting to bring one of these heavy hitters to bear. Nevertheless, it's fun to see these huge units in action, especially when two of them are duking it out. Clashing, one might say.

Age of Mythology: The Titans features a pretty good single-player campaign that continues the storyline of the original and lets you play as and against all of the different civs over the course of a dozen different scenarios. During this campaign, you'll learn to play as the Atlanteans and get to use some of their special abilities in practical situations. The skirmish mode and the fully featured online multiplayer mode add plenty of replay value, especially with the wide choice of maps available. The ESO player-matching service, which allows Age of Mythology players to quickly get into a match online, has been further enhanced with this release and now supports friends lists, an improved chat interface, faster player matching, and more setup options for quick matches. The map editor packaged with The Titans has also been enhanced since Age of Mythology, in case you want to make your own scenarios.

Titans can shrug off small armies, though they're not immortal.

The Titans looks as good as Age of Mythology before it, which looked superb for its time. The game still looks great overall, though not quite as impressive as it used to, now that it's been a year since the game's original release. The new titans are fun to watch, but you'll probably notice that the differences between the titans for the various civs are only skin deep, and the animations for all the titans are identical. Some of the new god powers, such as implode and Tartarian gate, look terrific, and the new myth units generally look quite good. Human units look rather weak, though, and it can still be difficult to quickly pick out hero units from an army--but you can always group these separately, and Age of Mythology's interface still works very well overall. The Titans doesn't offer much in the way of new sound. Atlantean units have their own speech samples, but rather than sound completely unique, Atlantean myth units just say the same lines in a different pitch or with some other weird audio filter applied. There's little in the way of new music (fortunately, the original Age of Mythology music is great), though a special theme kicks in when titans are stomping about.

If you look at Age of Mythology: The Titans by the numbers, you'll notice that it offers about a third of the original game's content (one civilization, whereas Age of Mythology has three) for a majority of the original game's price. Granted, it's not like the new content in The Titans exists in a vacuum. There's plenty more depth to be found here since having a brand-new civilization with three new primary gods creates many more potential matchups, which in turn sets up distinct, new strategies. On the other hand, it would have been nice to see the original civilizations get fleshed out some more in this expansion pack, not because there were any noticeable holes in their design, but just because experienced Age of Mythology players will want more than just one big reason to keep playing as their favorite factions. Nevertheless, The Titans is still a great game at its core, and it's recommendable to any fan of Age of Mythology, particularly those who liked the idea of the game but maybe had trouble getting over the learning curve.

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    Featuring lots of interesting, inventive design decisions, plenty of fun-to-use units, and tons of variety, Age of Mythology is the last real-time strategy game you'll need for a long time.
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