Age of Mythology Showcase: Set
We return to the sands of Egypt to profile the treacherous god of death, Set, and his dark followers.
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Our ongoing culture showcase for Ensemble Studios' Age of Mythology has reached the halfway point, and as the spotlight turns to the fifth faction, we veer back to the arid sands of Egypt to uncover the game's next god.
We've already covered the three umbrella cultures in the game: the Greeks, Egyptians, and Norse. They all have certain traits in common but are more different than similar, each having its own strengths, weaknesses, and even fundamental play styles. Within each culture are three factions, each distinct by virtue of the major god they worship. So while the three Egyptian factions might have great similarities, their choice of god further sets them apart--thus, there is a total of nine factions.
By now, you already know about the Egyptian culture and its unique brand of gameplay. It is the most defensive culture in Age of Mythology, and it pays homage to its gods not through direct prayer or valor in battle but by erecting massive monuments in tribute. As a culture that is more erudite than the others, its heroes are leaders at home, directing its industry and economy, yet its mythological units are still terrible enemies to behold. But even within the Egyptian culture, there are differences. And the contrast between the first Egyptian god showcased, Ra, and this month's deity, Set, is like night and day. Indeed, while Ra is a good power of light and leadership, the mighty Set is a god of evil, murder, and treachery. So diabolical was Set that he had no direct analog in even Greek mythology.
Here is what designer Greg Street has to say: "The Greeks didn't have a well-developed concept of evil. Hades ruled a pretty scary place, but he wasn't a villain, except in Disney movies. He certainly wasn't evil. Set was evil. Set is depicted as a man with the head of some strange animal resembling perhaps a jackal, but more like an aardvark. The dominant myth concerning Set (sometimes spelled Seth) concerns his tricking and killing of his brother, the god Osiris, and then dividing his body. Osiris' wife, Isis, managed to reassemble the body of Osiris, and then their son, Horus, came after Set for vengeance. Set is associated closely with animals such as the dog, crocodile, and scorpion. He is the god of chaos, the desert, and foreign lands. In the Book of the Dead, Set is called 'Lord of the Northern Sky' and is held responsible for storms and cloudy weather."
Now let's take a look at the actual benefits you get from worshipping Set. His most striking benefit is his dominion over the fauna, which other Age players sometimes take for granted. With his bonuses, Set can turn the land's animals into his eyes and ears--and fists. Moreover, his own god powers and mythological improvements only further his power over animals. Because of the increased number of creatures on Age of Mythology maps as opposed to that in previous Age games, this list includes gazelle, crocodiles, rhinos, elephants, lions, and giraffes--even walruses are Set's to command. Street explains, "In Age of Mythology, Set focuses on two areas: archers and animals. Set's priests can convert wild animals, which can then be used for food or to attack enemies. Set-controlled animals that die in combat don't provide food for enemy villagers. Because wild animals tend to get hunted to extinction on most AOM maps, Set's pharaohs can also summon animals out of thin air for a small favor cost, and these too can be used for food or combat or even scouting." But what about Set's other bonuses? Read on.
More of Set's Powers
Set has various strengths. In addition to his power over animals, he has an archer bonus. His slingers and chariot archers train faster than those of his Egyptian counterparts, which means that many Set armies will be composed of a higher number of ranged soldiers. When you add in Set's other bonus, cheaper Migdol strongholds, you realize that a Set player can get to the real Egyptian archer units faster and train them faster as well. That's because the chariot archer is built from the Migdol.
We mentioned that Set has a leg up on reconnaissance because his priests can convert wild animals to use as additional scouts. But Egyptians in general have other scouting capabilities as well, and naturally, that capability starts with the priest. Egyptian priests themselves are poor scouts and are of course wasted if spent on scouting rather than empowering your home-front villagers. Street explains, "The priest is slower and has a worse line of sight than the Greek Scout, and a terrible attack against anything other than myth units, but he has the ability to construct obelisks. Obelisks are Age of Mythology's outposts. They cost only a bit of gold and can be summoned by a priest very quickly. So, while an Egyptian may take a longer time to explore the same area as a Greek, the Egyptian will have constant line of sight until the outposts are destroyed."
So now that we understand Set's bonuses, we can cover the Egyptian units themselves to get a better understanding of a Set player's military strength. All Egyptian military units come from either one of two buildings. The basic, low-level Egyptian troops are the spearman, axeman, and slinger, and they are trained at the barracks. The units trained here are generally cheaper and weaker than their Greek or Norse counterparts. The high-level troops are built at the Egyptian fortress, which is the Migdol, and these units are the chariot archer, camelry, and war elephant.
Street gives us more on the basic units: "The spearman is a general infantry unit but a quick runner, who is fairly effective at countering both cavalry and archers. The axeman is a counterinfantry unit, and the slinger is a counterarcher. Because they are all relatively cheap, however, the Egyptians can use their slinger as a general archer until the third age, when their real archer comes on line. For example, an Egyptian fighting another Egyptian in the second age would use spearmen against slingers, slingers against axemen, and axemen against spearmen."
Migdol units, in contrast, are much more powerful. "So much so," says Street, "that many Egyptian players abandon their weaker barracks units once they reach age three. The chariot is an archer with a lot of hit points and decent speed. The camel is the Egyptians' only true cavalry unit (though in keeping with AOE tradition, it's also pretty good against other cavalry). The war elephant is a slow-moving, building-crushing engine of destruction, but it doesn't come cheap, and it [uses] as many pop slots as 2.5 spearmen."
If an Egyptian player wishes to upgrade all his troops, he or she must do so for each unit line rather than in general, as Greek and Norse players can. So whereas a Greek would need to research only medium, heavy, and champion infantry improvements, the Egyptian player would have to research medium, heavy, and champion spearmen and medium, heavy, and champion axemen to accomplish the equivalent. To offset the extra number of upgrades, each individual improvement is slightly cheaper. "To train units faster," says Street, "Egyptians research levy and conscript barracks units and levy and conscript Migdol units, which affect every unit in those buildings."
We've talked about the vaunted Egyptian defenses, and you've read about their penchant for building great individual cities as opposed to multiple, small sprawling towns. Street takes us on a tour of the process for erecting such Egyptian capitols: "Historically, Egyptians had mostly palm trees for lumber, which were not great for large-scale construction. Therefore, most of their buildings were made of an adobelike mud brick. In AOM terms, no Egyptian building costs wood, and many are simply free. More dangerous buildings, like towers and the Migdol, cost some gold. However, Egyptian buildings do take slightly longer to construct. Hence, Egyptians generally need more villagers or at least pay for their time not chopping wood with building buildings. (In essence, they are trading food for wood when building.) Of course, having the Pharaoh around to help empower construction helps a lot, and the fact that Egyptian cities then tend to be large and centralized around the Pharaoh feels very, well, Egyptian." The deemphasis on wood also means that Egyptian players often have more villagers on gold (unless you have need for lots of siege weapons and ships).
Because of the longer time it takes for an Egyptian to build a structure, if an enemy player can destroy enough of your buildings early on, you are effectively knocked out of the game. To help thwart this early possibility, Egyptian players have some interesting defenses. For one, they do not need to research watchtowers (the first tower with an attack), as they start with that upgrade. Like the Norse and Greeks, they can't build these towers until the second age, but unlike those two other cultures, they don't need to research them. With watchtowers easier to come by for them, you'll likely see more towers around Egyptian cities than other cultures' towns.
A more active Egyptian defense comes in the form of mercenaries. "Historically," says Street, "the Egyptians relied on foreign mercenaries (especially Nubians from the south) to complement their army and even used some of these warriors as a police force known as the Medjay." In Age, Egyptian players can recruit mercenaries at their town center, and they cost only gold and take but two seconds to build. However, unlike other units, they have a limited life span. Thus, they are used basically to fend off attacks when you don't have enough regular units around for defense. But because they disappear after a while, it is hard to use them on the offensive. You'll start out being able to buy simple mercenary infantry, and by the later two ages, you'll also be able to buy mercenary cavalry.
If you can get to the third age, you'll also build a Migdol stronghold, not only for the three troops located within but also for its defensive abilities. "The Egyptians were well known for the gigantic buildings they could erect," says Street, "and this applied to defensive structures as well, such as the miles-long citadel at Buhen (now deep beneath Lake Nasser)." In contrast with the Greek fortress, the Migdol has a weaker attack but more hit points. All fortresses are expensive and also cost a little favor to ensure that they aren't used for offense.
With all these abilities, the Egyptian culture is proving very different from the other cultures--and even its previous incarnations in earlier Age games. It has more diversified resource needs than other cultures, because it needs to mine gold early to construct buildings. This also means that it needs more villagers. Its pharaohs and priests give them a huge leg up on resource gathering and building (which, when coupled with their larger villager pop, really bolsters the Egyptian economy). Egyptians can eventually get more favor than other cultures and can be guaranteed of a never-fluctuating supply of it, but they need to invest in it early by building monuments early on. They also have much more extensive tech trees than the other cultures. In short, their secular abilities are extensive and quite different from those of their counterparts. But their mythological abilities are also another indicator of their unique strengths. Now we'll take a look at the god powers and mythological units at Set's disposal.
Set's Pantheon of Gods
Set, like all the other gods in Age of Mythology, has unique supernatural abilities in the form of his god power and mythological improvements. Street says, "Set's age-one god power is vision, which unveils a large area of the map from the fog of war. While this can be useful for early scouting, Set can also scout fairly well by converting a few gazelle or monkeys, so vision can also be useful in the later game to see what an enemy is up to or even to target another god power. Set's mythological improvement is called feral, and it improves the combat effectiveness of his animals. This improvement is particularly useful on maps like Watering Hole, which feature a lot of powerful wild animals."
Set, of course, does not work alone, and he can bring other gods under his sway as the Egyptian player chooses minor gods at each age advancement. Upon reaching the classical age, the Set player can choose either Anubis or Ptah as his minor god. Says Street, "Anubis is the jackal-headed judge of the dead and is one of the oldest gods to be revered in Egyptian history. Anubis' myth unit is the aptly named Anubite, which we more or less made up, but it has been legitimized by appearing in The Mummy Returns movie. The Anubite is a fast-moving replica of Anubis armed with twin khopeshes (the Egyptian sickle sword). The Anubite special attack is a leap into combat, which causes extra damage and can bypass obstructions like walls and cliffs. The Anubite jumps only when attacking, however. Because Anubites are relatively inexpensive, they are quite useful even in the late game." Anubis' god power is plague of serpents, which creates a patch of hostile cobras on the ground. You can't control the snakes, but they attack any enemies in the area, leaving your troops alone. It's a great defensive spell to force your opponent to move his units, but it can't really be used to chase down enemy troops. His myth technologies are feet of the jackal, which improves the Anubites' leap attack and makes them cheaper; Necropolis, which boosts the favor production of all monuments; and serpent spear, which improves your spearmen.
At the heroic age, Set can choose between Nephthys or Sekhmet. Sekhmet was a crocodile-headed god who was one of Set's few allies in the pantheon, and he has some good archer bonuses to complement Set, but Nephthys was once Set's wife (and Isis' sister), who left him after he showed his true colors when murdering Osiris. Perhaps in Age's mythology, she decided to stay. She is a god of priests, funerary rituals, and the dead. Nephthys offers two myth units, a ground and naval unit. The land unit is the scorpion man, a melee fighter who attacks his foes with claws and tail (not with a bow, as depicted in very early screenshots). Units hit by the tail are poisoned and suffer damage for several seconds after being struck. Nephthys' god power is ancestors, which summons skeletons from the sand to fight for you. These skeletons can be commanded like normal units but, like mercenaries, disappear after a short time. All of Nephthys' three myth technologies make the priest and pharaoh better units, which is key if you are fighting a player who tends to use lots of myth units. Street explains her myth improvements: "City of the dead makes pharaohs stronger and makes them return from the dead more quickly. Funeral rites improves the damage that priests and pharaohs do towards myth units. Spirit of Ma'at improves the heal rate of the priests and pharaohs and makes priests cheaper."
And what about Set's "final age" gods? The answer will surprise you.
The Final Age
When Set players reach the mythic (fourth) age, they can choose between Horus or Thoth for their minor gods. The choice of Horus might seem strange at first, especially since Horus was Set's mortal enemy after the latter killed his father, but Ensemble has an interesting take on the situation. Street says, "While it might seem strange for Set to choose Horus, we thought it even stranger for Set to choose Osiris (the final fourth-age Egyptian minor god). 'Horus' is a catchall name for an amalgam of Egyptian deities, so just assume that in your game, Set managed to get Horus on his side."
Set's other choice is Thoth, the god of wisdom. Like the other Egyptian gods, he sports the head of an animal, which in his case is an ibis, a long-billed marsh bird. Street gives us some background: "'Thoth' was actually a Greek word for the god whom the Egyptians called 'Djeheuty.' The myths disagree about whether Thoth was the son of Ra or Set. In the myths concerning Set, Thoth springs fully grown from Set's head, which is interesting in that it is reminiscent of Athena's birth, and both Thoth and Athena are gods of wisdom. Thoth provides the mighty Phoenix myth unit. The Phoenix is powerful largely because it is an aerial unit that can attack and be attacked only by ranged units. In keeping with tradition, a Phoenix that is killed becomes a flaming egg, and if the egg is not killed, it returns as a wholly formed Phoenix. In order to reduce the micromanagement of sparring over the egg object, you have to pay for another Phoenix to hatch the egg, but proximity to the battle often makes this effort worthwhile."
Thoth's god power is meteor, which has been shown in numerous screenshots. It is a visually stunning and devastating power that can lay waste to entire armies. Unlike many other offensive god powers, which are good against either units or buildings but not both, meteor is equally effective against flesh and buildings. And unlike other powers, a meteor will hurt any of your units in its massive radius as well (Street says it just looked bizarre for the giant flaming rock to strike your units and do no harm). However, the damage is trivial compared with what the enemy suffers. Meteor is so powerful that Street estimates it packs the punch of 30 fully upgraded fourth-age units in one blow!
As befits the god of knowledge, Thoth offers several mythological improvements. His three techs are Apedemak's tusks, which increases the war elephant's attack and hit points; book of Thoth, which boosts the town center's attack and makes it cheaper to build; and valley of the kings, which vastly enhances the Migdol units by letting them train at the mercenary's phenomenally fast rate. Only training speed increases, though, so you don't have to worry about your Migdol units disappearing over time. And their costs remain the same.
We have now detailed two gods apiece for the Greek and Egyptian pantheons. Set and Poseidon have proven to be very different from their earlier showcased compatriots, Ra and Zeus, and the next Norse god should be just as distinguished from the first Norse showcase. Next month, we turn to Thor's father and the king of gods, Odin. The all-seeing Odin has the spies to ferret you out and the truly powerful units for taking you down.
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