Gaming

Blog 865: The Titans

Okay, so I had a mixed time with Age of Mythology: it was beautiful and full of fun units, but didn’t quite recapture the highs of a good Age of Empires II match. But as is tradition, there was an expansion pack — The Titans. What secrets will leak out of Tartarus this time, and can they transform the game into something truly special?

The Titans

At the end of the main campaign, Atlantis sank beneath the waves. Abandoned — indeed, deliberately rejected — by its patron Poseidon, the Atlanteans are now refugees seeking a new home. Homeless and godless, they are ripe for the taking.

It is clearly established that the Titans are bad dudes; that’s why Zeus locked them away in the first place, and why we spent over 30 missions trying to keep them that way. And yet here we are, with our new fourth faction gleefully taking up the worship of these bad dudes. Needless to say, this sets off a major conflict as the Greeks, Norse and Egyptians all understandably go “what the fuck, mate?”

Don’t run, this army is composed entirely of Heroes! We can’t possibly be wrong!

The campaign is somehow much faster-moving than the base game’s epic tale. It’s not that there’s proportionately less content; you get to play as the new Atlantean civilisation over ten or so missions, just as you got to play with each other faction for ten or so missions last time. It is, however, only a single campaign for the new guys rather than a second go-round of everybody, barring a couple of missions played as the Norse and Egyptians.

However, all the missions feel much less sloggy, and have fewer long periods of not a lot going on. Indeed, in many missions I felt they had gone slightly too far the other way; there are several where it seems you’re expected to have a barracks, an army and six miles of wall constructed within the first thirty seconds of a match to fend off powerful early raids. Failure to have a thousand actions-per-minute isn’t necessarily fatal, but it puts you on the back foot and can make for something of a scramble. Just let me turtle for ten minutes before you start hitting me, okay!

A part of me is disappointed that they didn’t give the Atlantean civilisation a mad high-tech look, because I got into the ancient super-civilisation twists like in Tomb Raider before I twigged that Atlantis was just a Greek fable. On the other hand, they do get laser towers. So close!

There is one more basic improvement, though this seems to be limited to the Atlanteans and held back from the other civilisations: Atlantean God Powers come with multiple charges. This makes them much more of a consideration, rather than something to half-heartedly toss out and forget about like the original powers. A single Thunderbolt to destroy a single unit is nothing at all, but three charges of Shockwave, that throws half an army into the air and stuns them for a few seconds, is a regular tide-turner. The powers have cooldowns between charges, so you’re still not slinging them with wild abandon, but when you know you have a few shots left that cooldown now gives you something to look forward to.

Of course the real magic starts when the eponymous Titans turn up in actual gameplay. I previously made a comparison with Supreme Commander, in that AoM is mostly a rush to get the fun myth units just like SupCom is a rush to get the fun T4 experimentals. Well, actually, it turns out these Titans filled that beautifully kaiju-esque role before SupCom was a twinkle in its mother’s eye — huge super-units that can only practically be battled by other super-units or by first weakening them through alternative objectives. They’re not just normal units scaled up, they are truly huge and have big sweeping attacks and animations to match.

The campaign only lets you fight against Titans, but random skirmishes allow you to summon one as a far-flung game-ender… though rather than being plot-armoured, in skirmishes they can be defeated by common soldiery… if you have enough troops, that is. Please, tell me somebody has made a proper Godzilla mod in the last 20 years!

“Mind if I smoke?”

There is one negative thing I’d like to mention that I never spoke about in the previous article, but it is something that repeatedly took me out of the fantasy — it’s how on-the-nose the game is about… well, being a game.

When training soldiers, each unit type has a tooltip… Pretty standard, but there’s no flavour here: they’re all explicit descriptions of which paper each unit is the scissors to. “Infantry only good against cavalry,” “archers only good against other archers,” “good against myth units.” The Atlantean civilisation has a Barracks with normal soldiers and then a second building literally called the Counter-Barracks, which offers soldiers that are even more specifically designed to fight only one particular type of unit.

Look, I get it. I know Age of Empires II had the same underlying setup. Spears were good against cavalry, Huskarls had high pierce armour so they were good against archers, yes. But the game never made it so explicit, so you still felt like you could use the “wrong” units and still get away with it, like when everyone is down to Light Cavalry and Skirmishers when there’s no gold left on the map (or you have legions of your civilisation’s unique unit because they are the coolest). Meanwhile in Age of Mythology you’re sort of expected to have intimiate knowledge of your enemy’s force composition and make the perfect choices to oppose it, lest your army simply melt away.

I get it, everybody loves e-sports, but these optimisations for e-sports do their best to murder the game from a narrative and thematic perspective. Can’t I just be a mythical hero fighting monsters to save the world for a bit?

Mate, I’m playing on Moderate difficulty, it’s only a matter of time.

So yes, The Titans brings some glorious kaiju action to the RTS genre and I’d say it does it much better than Supreme Commander — because the titular Titans are large but there are still little people and siege engines milling around their feet to give them that sense of scale. The campaign is punchier and more satisfying than the base game, even if its first half leaves you feeling like a bit of a dick fighting all your old pals before you twig that something is amiss.

Either way, it is definitely going onto my roster of skirmish games for odd afternoons. Despite Age of Mythology‘s many foibles, those Egyptian laser crocodiles will never get old — especially with a hawk-headed kaiju now leading them.

YES… HA HA HA… YES!

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