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Age of Mythology: The Titans Review
developer: Ensemble studios
PII 450, 128MB RAM, 16MB video card, 450MB HDD
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Sep 30, 03
|» All About Age of Mythology: The Titans on ActionTrip|
There are times in my life where I look around at my situation, and I say to myself "Hey, I got a pretty goddamn good job." Being a game reviewer means you get a chance to enjoy the latest titles even before they ship to stores - kind of like opening a Christmas present on Christmas Eve - you get to be the first kid on your block to play with your new toys. Thanks to the folks at Microsoft, I've had more than enough time to test the latest expansion pack to their critically acclaimed RTS, Age of Mythology - The Titans. We did take a look at a beta build earlier on, so I'll let you get the back-story from our preview. For this review, I'm going to skimp over the fundamentals so that I can concentrate on the juicier stuff.
In Titans, players lead the Atlanteans in their struggle to earn their rightful spot amongst the many civilizations of the ancient world. The Atlantians feel that the Greek gods have betrayed them, so they seek their faith elsewhere, and in their quest they have releases the mighty creatures called the Titans. The sheer size and strength of these Titans dwarfs everything around them, and thanks to the Atlanteans, they are unleashed upon the world with one thought on their minds - to annihilate all who believe in their former captors - the ancient gods of the Greeks, Vikings and Egyptians. The Titans represent the main motif of the expansion pack. The game features just one single-player campaign, consisting of twelve missions, in which players get to lead the Atlantians as well as all the other civilizations that were featured in the original. Of course, the expansion brings a host of new units, buildings and God powers, which is why they call it that in the first place.
The most important question regarding the expansion is whether or not these twelve new single-player missions; along with more multiplayer action; provide enough content to satisfy the thirst of the fans of the franchise. In answer to that I should start with saying that some of these new missions are taking place on fairly large maps that are divided into several mini-missions, so there will be plenty to do on each map. The accent in AoM: The Titans is not on the sheer quantity of the new content, however, but on intelligent and thoughtful game design. The missions are varied and some of them are very well conceived. Generally speaking, the single-player campaign is divided into two distinct parts - before and after the first Titan appears. The pacing of the gameplay and the build-up before the appearance of the Titans are very well done, which should further help the players immerse themselves in the game. Also, the concept of the gameplay seamlessly adjusts to the appearance of the mythical giants. Consequently, it never loses its pacing and it provides some variety to boot.
Besides featuring good mission design, the single game introduces improved AI code, better path finding and a much better difficulty balancing than in the original. Titans will be fairly easy to finish on "Moderate," but once you switch to the "Hard" level of difficulty you'll immediately notice a welcome increase in the AI's aggressiveness - it has the ability to build-up and even rush quite effectively at times. This was a feature that was sorely lacking in the original, as I was able to beat the game on "Hard" without too much difficulty (and no, I'm not that good of a RTS player). As a slightly above-average RTS gamer I have found the "Hard" difficulty setting to be spot-on for all my strategy gaming needs. Of course there is always the option of switching to "Titan" if you're up for some extra challenge.
So, in answer to the most critical question about the add-on, the twelve new missions that are offered are certainly worth the attention of AoM fans. The single-player mode may not take too long to finish, but I believe it provides a sufficient amount of playtime that; combined with good pacing; represent an excellent addition to the franchise. In part, we have to credit this to the improved difficulty balancing and AI code, but the majority has to do with the addition of the Titans. They bring something of a novelty to the series and add a nice twist to the basic gameplay offered in Age of Mythology.
Not all things are perfect in the expansion however. One major objection I have to the game concerns the unit balancing. The Titans expansion introduces a new feature that allows you to promote any of your human units into heroes. Now if you build a palace and research hero regeneration, there'll be virtually no reason for you to ever build anything but human units that are upgradeable to heroes (if such an option is available to you in the mission). This makes unit production highly unbalanced and one-sided, as these hero units will be quite effective against both human and mythical opponents. On the other hand, in missions where the hero upgrade isn't available, unit balancing will shift to the opposite side, as the once mighty myth units will once again become the bread and butter of the gameplay. I have found that the combination of agile myth units and ranged units; like Egyptian priests, for example; works perfectly and there's hardly any reason to rethink your unit strategy in that sense. Priests are excellent against myth units and if you keep them out of range of human melee troops, they'll prove to be quite useful against them as well. Not to mention that they can heal other units and themselves if need be. On the upside, at least the type of units that are available to you in the single-player campaign keeps changing from mission five, so you don't run the risk of falling into a routine. That is probably the reason why the rather poor unit balancing didn't ruin my overall impression of the game, or kill the fun factor in the long run.
As far as the game's audio and visual experiences are concerned I haven't noticed any major improvements over the original. Voice acting and sound effects are still top-notch and the visuals are appealing and undemanding on your hardware enough to provide a highly enjoyable in-game ambience. The sounds of the powerful Titans stomping the countryside into a pulp are powerful and effective, and provide a nice contrast to the shrill cries of some of the tinier units on the map.
In closing, I recommend this expansion to anyone who has enjoyed the original game. The Titans is not a stand-alone expansion pack, which means you'll have to own a copy of the original, and it retails for roughly thirty bucks. The nice thing about it is that the expansion provides enough variety to warrant a purchase even if that means you'll have to buy the original to play it. My congrats to the team at Ensemble Studios for a job well done on polishing up some of the deficiencies of the original and enriching the game world with more creatures and deeds of heroism from the ancient times. Sure, not everything is perfect, and I refer here mainly to the questionable unit balancing, but I'm sure Ensemble can straighten this out with an adequate patch. What's important is that, overall, The Titans definitely takes the franchise in the right direction, which is exactly what fans, and we game reviewers, are looking for.
8.4 Very Good
Great mission design, Titans add nice flair, good difficulty balancing, story, polished AI;
Poor unit balancing, short single-player campaign.
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