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Age of Mythology: Retold’s developers are going ‘way beyond’ the definitive editions for Age of Empires: ‘We want to build the game in your head’

The upcoming Age of Mythology: Retold has been shown off in-depth for the first time today during Microsoft’s New Year, New Age livestream, marking the first showing of the definitive edition of everyone’s favorite Age spinoff since its announcement in late 2022.

The new video segment showed off some of the game’s signature mythological monsters in detail, including the terrible medusas, the flying pegasus scout, and the titan Cerberus using an augmented reality platform. The monsters are pretty dang good looking, part of the overall effort to make Age of Mythology: Retold a real upgrade from the game we played in 2002, including changes to the models as you upgrade through the ages—though they definitely come complete with a stack of classic sounds and twists on the old animations. The Medusa death sound, in particular, is just as I remember it.

That’s just what Age of Mythology: Retold producer Earnest Yuen had to say when I spoke with him about the upcoming remake, which will release this year on both PC and Xbox. Yuen has worked at Microsoft for nearly a quarter-century, starting as QA on the first Age of Empires—it’s clear that his love for the series runs deep.

The studio’s plans to remake the first fully 3D Age of Empires required a different kind of work, and inspired the team to go to new lengths in their upgrades to the game.

“Age of Mythology: Retold is way beyond what we normally do for definitive editions,” said Yuen. He and the team want to make the game as epic, engaging, and pretty as players remember it, rather than simply updating what was there. “We want to build the game in your head,” he said.

That means using changes to the graphics and game engine that were made for the Age of Empires 3 Definitive Edition, then going beyond that. The start is “adding ray tracing, upping the population limit, [and] adding an engine to handle special effects,” said Yuen. Population limit in particular will be a big change for Age of Mythology not just in how visually impressive it is, but in the fundamentals of how it plays. Strategies in AoM were often boxed in by the strict limits on units set by the limitations of the day’s graphical tech—even if it was widely praised at the time.

Another big gameplay tweak comes in how much control you have over your myth units. Back in 2002 they just used their powers whenever they were off cooldown—but no more. “In Retold what we are doing is we actually make that user-controllable, you can actually micro and use that when you want to,” said Yuen.

The other huge change is in your god powers: Rather than one-and-done bolts of lightning that will never reappear in a match, those powers are now on cooldowns. It’s a fundamental and huge change to how Age of Mythology plays, but has been well-received by the cadre of high-level, competitive AoM players recruited by Yuen and the studio to participate in playtesting.

For Yuen and the team those tweaks are all about making the game more fun, and most importantly, more competitive 22 years later. Their hope is that this updated version will help boost the still-extant competitive community and tournament scene around Age of Mythology the same way that the Definitive Edition caused Age of Empires 2’s player count to skyrocket to the extent that it’s now included on esports sites like Liquipedia.

“The god power change is both great for esports and for watching the game,” said Yuen, because you know that—like a key cooldown in a MOBA match—that lightning bolt or meteor is coming back around soon. “That anticipation makes it much more fun to watch,” he said.

The hope there is that by making the game a bit more accessible, and helping it conform a bit better to modern expectations of what an RTS is, they can encourage some of the fun stories they’ve heard from players of the past Definitive Editions, whether that’s participating in a revitalized competitive play scene, watching tournaments organized by the community, discovering a classic, or enjoying a game they loved as a kid with their own kids.

The entirely updated interface is a given for a remaster like this, of course, but game balance changes and exploit fixes are vital as well.

“Those things need to be updated, if we don’t patch those and fix those exploits the game will not be viable as an esports game, it’s important we need to fix those things so our community can run the tournaments they love,” said Yuen.

In the end, though, the Microsoft team still wants it to be a remake that emphasizes how great the original was, not discard what made it great in the first place.

“All the changes we’ve made, we will not break that promise,” said Yuen.

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