Jason's journey for the Golden Fleece yielded new life for the exiled king, at least until he lied to his wife, eloped with another broad, and everyone died. Beowulf became king after killing Grendel and Grendel's mother, only to be chewed up by a dragon, while naughty little Set fancied his sister so dismembered her husband, his brother. Things didn't end well for that family either.
Yes, when it comes to myths, there are highs and lows. And without stretching the metaphor to breaking point, we've seen similar when it comes to DS strategy games too. Think of The Settlers as being boiled in oil while Ages of Empires is sharing a bath of milk with Cleopatra.
Thankfully Age of Empires: Mythologies - another ported PC classic - faithfully continues the lineage.
The background material mixes together Egyptian, Greek, and Norse mythology through the course of three single player campaigns. The game starts you off in Egypt. Completing that campaign's eight missions takes you to Greece. Another set of eight done brings you to the final missions following the machinations of the evil Norse deities.
It's a mythological reunion for the class of 1500 CE and everyone's invited - the heavy-hitters of each civilisation's fables and legends make cameos as playable units, not to mention a slew of inspired creatures and historically accurate battle units.
Mythologies places these units within the turn-based battles controlled either with the face buttons or touchscreen. While the stylus controls work fine, using the buttons is best. The preference comes as a result of the buttons being faster for directing units on the battlefield grid - it's just easier to flip through menus and commands as such.
Not that there's a ton of menus to sift through. Mythologies keeps things simple without stripping out appeal and tactical depth. Units are drafted from buildings constructed around your town centre. There's only a handful of buildings available, so keeping tabs on construction is easy enough. You only need to bother with collecting resources to fuel your empire - gold and food - which also helps to minimise the fuss. Favour plays a role too, although you only need to accumulate divine favour to build myth units.
Improving your units and structures, as well as unlocking special units and powers, is done through research and ageing up. Gold and food can be spent on technologies that boost unit power, heighten resource collection, or improve building strength. Gaining new units, particularly new myth units, can only be done by ageing up. Advancing to the next age bestows a range of benefits including stronger buildings, new units, access to new research, and god powers.
Resource management and base building play an enormous part in laying out successful strategy, whereas unit tactics fill in the rest. Variation among units ensures a range of tactical possibilities, which is encouraged through the course of the campaign. While you're welcome to throw units around the battlefield, the game rewards tactical exploitation of enemy weaknesses. Pairing a hoplite against enemy cavalry is far smarter than bum rushing that unit with swordsmen.
And considering how lengthy most of the missions are, it's best to limit the amount of time spent on fruitless tactics. If you're able to eliminate enemies in one turn versus three, you can save yourself a lot of time. Mythologies does a rather poor job of tailoring its mission length to the handheld. Even with a mid-mission save feature, these battles are way too big, far too long.
The problem stems from objectives that require you to clear enemies completely from the map. Even when it's apparent that you've decimated your foe, the game forces you to kill every last creature and wreck each standing structure. After the town centre falls, the mission should end; even better, up the power of the enemy hero unit and if he's defeated the mission is complete. As it stands, you waste several turns just cleaning up defenceless farms and villagers to finish the job.
Scorched earth-style victories are thankfully not necessary in multiplayer. Making head-to-head matches available locally and via Nintendo WiFi Connection earns Mythologies extra points. Stripping the absurd obliteration objectives of the campaign and focusing on competitive tactics makes multiplayer the preferred option here. But if you'd rather stick to single player skirmishes, those are available too.
In the end, then, it's the vibrant strategic options available to you that mark out Age of Empires: Mythologies' success. Just like Jason's use of the Golden Fleece, this is one refreshed classic, although some old trappings remain. So while the game adds new tricks, thanks to its online multiplayer and a wealth of features, it still holds onto a few outdated conventions in terms of its design. Then again, mythology always invokes a bit of ancient history, doesn't it?