Age of Empires: Mythologies, DS - Review

Age of Empires: Mythologies, DS - £23.73 delivered

Review by The Rev Owen

Some games are the worst kind of supermodel, beautiful but empty. Some are aging drunken actors, full of charisma, but stumbling and incoherent. Some are great scientists, brilliant, peerless but impossible to understand. Some are snake-oil salesmen, promising the world but delivering nothing.

Age of Empires: Mythologies for the Nintendo DS is your friend James. He works in IT, is in a long-term relationship with a plain, unremarkable girl and is pleasant company down the pub. He's just not going to stumble in with a bottle of red wine in one hand, a pair of handcuffs in another and regale you with tales of amazing adventure in Eastern Europe.

This is because James, despite being a nice enough chap, is fundamentally quite dull. He does what he does well - he works hard, always buys his round and treats his girlfriend well - but he's not very exciting.

Crucially, however, this isn't actually a bad thing. If all your friends were half-crazed thrill-seekers then you'd never get any sleep, would catch some horrible disease and then you'd die in the passenger seat of an Italian sports car after failing to make an awesome jump over the Danube.

No, you need James. You need someone calm, orderly and trustworthy. And in amongst your quick arcade racing thrills, epic RPGs and super-detailed kill-o-thons you need something like Age of Empires: Mythologies.

I say "something like" Age of Empires: Mythologies, because it fits neatly next to Advance Wars on the shelf, but isn't quite as good. Which, in itself, is high praise indeed. Being nearly as good as Advance Wars is like being nearly as cute as a box of kittens, or nearly as big as the universe. It's an impressive achievement, but the fact remains - Advance Wars is better. Advance Wars is also less complicated, so Age of Empires isn't even a good introduction to the turn-based strategy genre. (Age of Empires has a very interesting double-layer to its traditional rock-paper-scissors mechanics, which soon becomes second nature, but always keeps things interesting.) Its target market is people who have finished Advance Wars and want more, or people who aren't interested in modern warfare and want a game based on old mythologies. Or, indeed, people who think Advance Wars is too cute-looking and want something that looks more like an old PC game.

Which is where Age of Empires first problem lies. The graphics do an excellent job of evoking the feeling of old PC strategy games, back in the days when graphics were 2D and you could play them without investing in a platinum-plated, champagne-cooled graphics card. It's a nice look, designed to be familiar to players of the real-time PC games on which this turn-based spinoff is based. Unfortunately, the graphics aren't quite clear enough. They're fine alone, but get a few units bunched up together and it can be hard to see what's going on. It's not a major problem, as you can get all the information you need simply by moving the cursor around and glancing up at the wonderfully-informative top screen, but it does make it difficult to tell what's going on at a glance.

Age of Empires has another annoying problem, too. The AI isn't great, making strange moves and having to cheat to put up a fight. That's pretty standard for this type of game, though, and not a major failing in my eyes. The really annoying thing is that the AI doesn't concede. In some of the longer campaign missions, you can spend over half an hour slogging through the enemy's base to kill everything. It's clear you've won the mission, that you're too strong to be stopped and the enemy is too weak to fight back, but it'll keep trying to fight you, anyway. When you finally beat one of those missions, you slump your shoulders, wait for the auto save message and then turn off the DS in relief.

Then, five minutes later, you turn the DS back on. Fundamentally, you see, Age of Empires is a very good game. Sure, it's not glamorous, sure it's a bit dull at times, but it's a fundamentally good game - and there's an awful lot of it. Multiple civilizations with multiple gods to choose from (all of which effect your strategy and play style more than you'd think), a long series of campaigns, extra missions in the Scenario mode, a Skirmish mode, lots of extra maps, gods and trinkets to unlock by gaining special "achievements" while playing and, of course multiplayer, which can be played with one DS, two DSs with one cart, two DSs with multiple carts and online. Phew. (Though, it should be noted, I didn't actually find anyone online when I tried to play.) It's a packed little cart, that's for sure.

This isn't a game that will change your life. It's not a game that you'll evangelize about to friends and strangers. It's probably not even a game you'll remember in ten years time when you're getting all nostalgic for the days of the DS.

It's a good, solid, interesting game, great value for money and recommended to anyone interested in a turn-based strategy game for their DS - if they've already tried Advance Wars.

Age of Empires: Mythologies, DS - £23.73 delivered