Age of Mythology: Extended Edition and Tale of the Dragon Thoughts

Age of Mythology was a very important game in my youth. It took everything I loved about the excellent Age of Empires series and spiced things up with the addition of spectacularly powerful god powers and myth units. It spurred an interest in ancient mythologies (especially Norse mythology) that continues to this day.

The meteor god power in the Age of Mythology Extended EditionIt deserved to go on to become one of the great franchises of the real time strategy genre, but for whatever reason, it didn’t. It had one expansion, The Titans, and then vanished into obscurity, its vast potential largely wasted.

So I was happy to see Age of Mythology given a second lease on life when it rereleased on Steam as the “Extended Edition,” with updated graphics and full Steam support.

Admittedly, the new graphics don’t make a huge difference. The lighting is a bit more realistic, the water’s a little prettier, and I think the textures are a bit more detailed, but it’s not a major overhaul. The good news is AoM was a very good-looking game in its day, so it hasn’t aged as badly as it might have.

The Extended Edition also includes an extra mini-campaign called The Golden Gift. Apparently this was something Microsoft put out back in the day but which I somehow never knew about. An extra four Norse missions is certainly nice to have, though if I’m being honest it’s not an especially remarkable campaign.

Where things really got exciting was when it was announced there would be an all-new expansion to the Extended Edition: The Tale of the Dragon, featuring the Chinese as a new playable civilization.

A Chinese army in Age of Mythology: Tale of the DragonI bought Tale of the Dragon immediately upon release, though it took me a couple weeks to actually get around to playing it, having been distracted by other things.

The mysteries of the East:

Tale of the Dragon turned out to be a bit of a mixed bag, but on the whole, I’m happy with it.

First, the bad news.

The new campaign is, well, not that good. Age of Mythology was never a game with especially memorable storylines, but they were at least basically competent. The characters were memorable, if not deep, and the plots were coherent and engaging, if not particularly complex or thrilling.

Tale of the Dragon’s story, though, is clearly the work of amateurs. There are significant parts of it that just flat-out don’t make sense, and otherwise it’s just shallow and uninteresting in the extreme.

It also has issues with polish. There are some significant bugs, and the difficulty tuning is very inconsistent, effortlessly easy one moment and brutally punishing the next.

A Chinese town in Age of Mythology: Tale of the DragonThat said, the mission design is pretty strong, with a good amount of variety. Even with the story issues, it could have been a good campaign with better quality control.

The good news, however, is that the new Chinese civilization is excellent. It carries the otherwise meh campaign and is great fun in skirmishes (and presumably multiplayer, though I haven’t had the courage to attempt that).

The Chinese aren’t wildly different from previous civilizations, but they have enough new ideas and interesting quirks to feel fresh. A lot of their units break the game’s usual rock/paper/scissors rules. For example, their main cavalry unit, the cataphract, counters infantry. Usually, infantry are the counter to cavalry in AoM.

Their myth units and god powers are also for the most part very fun and interesting. I think it’s a good sign that I’ve spent a tremendous amount of time agonizing over what gods to worship because they’re all so appealing.

Also, the Chinese can unleash giant magical monkeys on their enemies.

Giant magic monkeys.

Monkeys!It’s a small thing, but something else I really like about the Chinese is how pretty their towns are. The new developers managed to get some pretty good results out of the game’s creaky old graphics engine. The Chinese buildings are very detailed and just nice to look at.

I generally hold up Blizzard games as the apex of real time strategy, but one thing StarCraft and Warcarft have never captured is the simple pleasure of building and maintaining your own little city. The Age of _____ games have always done a very good job of that, and it’s more true than ever with how aesthetically pleasing the Chinese villages are.

So even with its hiccups, I would definitely recommend Tale of the Dragon to any Age of Mythology fans.

And if you’re not already a fan, pick up the Extended Edition and remedy that situation immediately.

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