A lot of people have an RTS which defines their youth. For some it’s Starcraft, others Warcraft III, others yet maybe played Age of Empires II or Command and Conquer. For me, though, one game in the genre ruled my childhood, and that game was Ensemble Studios’s spin-off of the Age of Empires series, a fantastical, mythological romp called Age of Mythology.
I’m not really one for super-tactical RTS play. I’ve played all of the above games, but I never really considered them my favorites. The tactics and planning involved in them are very long-term and forward-thinking, meaning the atomic elements of your victory or defeat ultimately lie in very minor decisions early into the game, like how you manage your worker units, what units you build in what order, and where you build your structures. Extremely deep and tactical, yes, but hardly an explosive or exciting turn of events. I found that, often times in RTSs, I had moments where either an enemy just snowballed so far past me due to superior decision making in these microdecisions, or I suffered death by a thousand cuts and went “Oh, I guess I lose now”.
Age of Mythology certainly still has these elements, and I’m sure if I played it anything resembling competitively, I’d still have to worry about those microdecisions, but Age of Mythology offers something to the casual player that has that kind of explosive game-altering effect that normal RTS play kind of doesn’t: god powers.
You see, when playing a game of Age of Mythology, you select one of 5 ancient civilizations to play, and each has a pantheon of gods to worship. Worshipping those gods requires spending resources and building structures to enter different Ages, these Ages constituting the main source of progression through a game. When you successfully worship a god, they usually grant you a new kind of unit you can build, as well as a god power: a single use ability that can be triggered at any time.
While the effects of any given atomic gameplay decision in an RTS tends to have relatively minor changes to the game space (think building or killing a single unit, pursuing a single upgrade, or assigning a worker to a single task), god powers are usually big, bombastic, and seemingly tide-turning. Some, like Lightning Storm and Earthquake, can wipe out meticulously constructed armies and bases with ease. Others, like Lure or Forest Fire, can create massive imbalances in the game’s economy. Others yet can instantly boost armies with powerful units, like Nidhogg and Ragnarok, providing a trump card that can turn a losing battle into a winning one, and some like Underworld Passage can grant players increased mobility with their armies, allowing for some underhanded positioning.
God powers provide flashy, game-changing moments in a genre not typically known for them, and they’re provided at a constant drip throughout the game, rather than just saving them at the end (like Starcraft‘s Nukes). They also, of course, add tactical depth to the game for more seasoned players. The game announces whenever you’ve successfully worshipped a god, so veteran players will know what god powers everyone has. Furthermore, you can pick between two gods, and thus two god powers, every time you advance an Age, giving you tactical choices in how you decide to progress.
God powers serve a valuable purpose for new or casual players. Getting god powers requires you to successfully advance your Age, which in turn requires you to perform certain steps, be it building structures, accruing Favor (an in-game resource), or assigning workers to certain roles. By putting requirements on god powers like this, it forces new players to think strategically in order to get the requirements for their Age. In another layer of genius, every civilization accrues Favor differently, in a manner fitting of their strengths, meaning that for a new player to get the Favor needed to get a god power, they have to play to their civ’s strengths, incentivizing them to play in a more strategic manner. God powers are a reward for playing smart.
For experienced players, god powers are equally valuable. Since god powers ultimately are obtained by doing the things that mark normal good RTS play (tactical base construction, good build queue management, etc), god powers serve as a reward and a reinforcement for the play you’re already used to doing. The selection of god powers, and playing around your opponent’s god powers, grants greater strategic depth. The game-breaking effects of god powers also let you perform extremely silly and off-the-wall strategies that wouldn’t work without them, like leading your enemy into seemingly unfair battle, only to summon Nidhogg and lay waste to the previously superior army.
God powers are ideal for a mix-up to the RTS formula because they provide something for both casual and experienced players. For casual players, they provide, big, flashy, cool effects that can change the shape of the game, and they help rebuke strategies that might end up steamrolling them early on (a big enemy army can be destroyed by Lighting Storm, and suboptimal resource gathering can be bolstered by Lure). For experienced players, god powers add an extra layer of strategic depth to the game, further raising the skill ceiling. By giving something to both casual and experienced players, god powers in Age of Mythology are a Good Idea.