Strategy games hold a special place in my heart.
No other type of game can so completely involve me in a universe or time period. Like everyone else I love exploring different regions of Tamriel, and I must have completed Ratchet & Clank at least ten times over during the PS2 era, but only a strategy game can draw me back over a decade after release, and one in particular has an extremely strong hold on me. Age of Mythology.
It’s the first game I can remember getting, and it opened the doors to my current love of gaming, especially in the strategy genre. Age of Mythology might not be the hardcore experience that some love, and many will argue that it lacks the scale of modern grand strategy games, but what it does do is fill the space between the two, and it is everything I believe a game should be.
It challenged me without ever feeling unfair; even after having been pounded into the ground dozens of times by the AI, I still felt like it was me that wasn’t good enough, not that the game was cheating me. Barely any games still feel beatable even when they might not be, and fewer still nowadays make the game harder by making the AI smarter, rather than just upping its damage or making it gather resources faster. Playing Age of Mythology on Titan difficulty, I felt like the AI was outsmarting me at every turn – but it never stopped me from playing.
The challenge that Age of Mythology delivers means that it is still fun to play today, and with timeless visuals it doesn’t at all feel like I am playing an old game. Age of Mythology didn’t go for realism, rather it went for a beautiful aesthetic that includes charm and seriousness depending on the current mood. It manages to avoid looking overly cartoon-y, and even though the graphics are a little dated by today’s standards, you would have to zoom all the way in to notice.
But let’s be honest with each other: perhaps the best and most ridiculous part of this game are the cheats. Cheats have vanished from modern gaming, and I want to know why – because the cheats in Age of Mythology are just hilarious. I challenge you to show me a game where you can spawn in a massive bear – with a Canadian flag for a cape – that attacks people by shooting laser beams out of its eyes and smacking people in the face with monkeys. If that doesn’t make you want to play it, then perhaps the flying hippos with purple top hats that leave a rainbow trail behind them in the sky and shoot love hearts at the units on the ground will.
Age of Mythology is like a normal Age of Empires game on acid. Story and gameplay make the serious aspects of this game better than nearly anything I have ever played, but what pushes this game over the top is the ridiculousness of the cheats that the developers actually put into the game. GTA V is one of the only modern games to have cheats within it, but nothing has ever been on the sheer level of ridiculousness exhibited in Age of Mythology, and I doubt anything ever will be again.
We often hear that cheats have turned into DLC, but even DLC doesn’t match what cheats used to do. Cheats in old games were there just to be hilarious and to let you mess around with everything, and I don’t understand why such a great game feature simply disappeared from the industry almost completely. Cheats elongate the playability of a game: hell, I’m still playing Age of Mythology 12 years after it first came out. It adds an element of randomness to every game you play. There was one cheat in particular that was amazing to use late-game, where it randomized the ownership of all units and buildings. Obviously this wasn’t fair at all, but that wasn’t the point; it was hilarious and provided a huge challenge depending on what units it gave you, testing your ability to adapt to a changing situation.
And if these cheats were fun during a random map game, then they were just the best thing ever when you used them during the campaign. For those of you who haven’t played the game (and if you haven’t then what are you still doing reading this when you could be buying Age of Mythology), the Age of Mythology campaign uses a lot of triggers, hidden areas and impregnable fortresses; so the potential for messing around is endless. Suddenly, screwing with the mission to the point where it is impossible to actually complete it – because you happen to be in control of the final boss that you need to kill – is just great.
The cheats in Age of Mythology are so unique and set apart from everything else, old or new, that you will carry the experience with you throughout the rest of your gaming life. For me, it’s the bar against which every other game is judged, the perfect 10 that has yet to be eclipsed in my life. The combination of story, gameplay, and absurd hilarity all fit together perfectly to make a game that nobody in their right mind should miss, and with a Steam release hinted for the near future, you will have no excuse.
Many other strategy games may have provided deeper mechanics and prettier graphics in the 12 years since Age of Mythology was first released; but none have managed to rival the insane hilarity of its cheat codes.