A consistent favourite of public players, Age of Myths (vile1, 2005-2009) is a 6v6 AoS with a central focus on hero versus hero combat. It is notable for having heavily scripted custom heroes, along with some of the flashiest spell effects in the genre.
vile1 was a prolific author, and Age of Myths has been through many iterations. In its earliest days, the map was vertical with three lanes, but later settled into an open-plan four-lane layout; reminiscent of Tides of Blood. Indeed, Age of Myths owes a lot to its predecessor, as many of its features (like four-tower clusters) and aspects of the map’s early hero design and artwork borrowed from Tides of Blood.
There are three invulnerable Waygates (one-way teleporters) in each base, arranged to give heroes a quick access point to all of the lanes. The exit points are distant enough from the base or towers that they can be used to approach enemy players from unexpected angles, particularly while they’re pushing and can be threatened from two sides. Unusually for Waygates, they’re faction aligned and can’t be used by the enemy team, which means no free escapes for heroes that dive deep into the enemy base.
Like the rest of the map, the bases themselves are quite sparse. The four entry points are guarded by towers and a number of stationary archers, while just inside lies a pair of barracks, guarded by burly knights.
As with most Tides of Blood inspired maps, losing the buildings on a particular lane will permanently cease troop production. Since troops are relatively powerful, this puts pressure on heroes to defend their main base. If only a single lane has been lost, a fleet of workers can be assigned to repair the two powerful main-base towers, which can sustainably keep the enemy at bay at a modest gold cost, provided the workers don’t get hunted by an enemy hero. Of course, it’s preferred to not lose barracks in the first place, and workers play a substantial role in keeping buildings alive while under enemy pressure.
Age of Myths doesn’t award last hits, but instead gives gold and experience for witnessing enemy troops dying. To spice things up, there is also a substantial amount of gold awarded for damaging enemy troops; the more damage you deal, the more gold you get. For this reason, heroes are encouraged to use spells on troops as much as possible, particularly AoE spells which can rake in the gold. If it’s possible to hit an enemy hero as well, all the better! The same mechanic applies for buildings: gold is awarded for damaging them, so it’s still worthwhile to attack even if the enemy is constantly repairing.
Mercenaries and Flags:
For most of the map’s history, it was possible to hire player-controlled units from each team’s base, including soldiers, mules to ferry items, and workers for repairing towers. Later on, specialist units were added: sold from a shop on the top lane called the Mercenary Lord. Units were sold in “shipments” of several units, and arrive after several minutes delay. Purchased units are announced to both teams, and the following are available:
- Zeppelins: A flying transport which moves somewhat slowly, but is mechanical and ignores most spells. Heroes can be loaded inside to protect them from damage, or transport them past cliffs. Unlike Tides of Blood, they cannot teleport, nor can they load non-hero units.
- Saboteurs: They don’t attack, but they can blow themselves up! Powerful against buildings, if they’re allowed to get close. A saboteur can also be used to blow up one of the bridges on the map: a rare example of permanent terrain modification in an AoS. If a bridge is destroyed, friendly troops are forced to use Waygates to exit the base, while enemy troops will divert and attack via the adjacent middle lane entrance.
- Bandits: These spear-throwers have low damage, but a very long 1200 attack range which can be used to pressure enemy towers from a safe distance. They can also stand still to become invisible at night.
- Artillery Deliveries: A permanent team upgrade which adds siege units to each troop wave, if the faction has 5000 gold available. (Factions have their own gold pool, which is where all the gold that heroes miss on-lane goes.) Unless pushing early is part of the plan, it’s better to buy this later when the faction has lots of gold, and can afford to send consecutive waves of artillery.
Mercenaries are an interesting idea: by announcing which specialist units have been bought and delaying their arrival, the enemy team has some time to figure out a plan. Of course, units don’t have to be used right away.
The Mercenary Lord also has another function: Age of Myths used to have a capture-the-flag map objective, where each team had a flag stationed outside their base, and bringing the enemy flag to the Mercenary Lord was rewarded with reinforcements. Often capture-the-flag implementations impose restrictions on the flag-bearer, such as limiting the use of mobility spells, but this problem was avoided by only allowing the flag to be picked up by a certain unit that’s hired from each team’s base.
Over time, the game’s focus shifted away from secondary units. With increasingly complex and demanding heroes, spending time managing other units held less appeal. In the final version of the map, there are no flags, no Mercenary Lord, no hired soldiers: only workers and mules remain.
Age of Myths’ mission statement was to provide a map which had less lag and better performance than its peers, and the key ingredient was developing the game exclusively using the JASS scripting language instead of regular triggers which were more accessible, but riddled with inefficiencies. This later became standard practice, but at the time, a fully-JASS map was ground-breaking.
Not only did Age of Myths have optimised systems, it also leveraged JASS’s improved flexibility to create dynamic new hero abilities that were previously impossible. No expense was spared in showing off what Warcraft III was capable of, and Age of Myths still houses the many of the most visually impressive spells in the Warcraft’s history. I’ve included a few samples of typical hero abilities below:
While there are many individually amazing abilities, the overall emphasis on having the coolest abilities possible has had some consequences. The flashy visual effects look great on their own, but turn into an unreadable mess when there’s several on-screen, which happens often. Also, many abilities pick units up, whirl and toss them around, or knock them aside: which looks fantastic and makes combat feel very dynamic. However, units in motion are essentially stunned, and since visuals dictated the quantity and duration of these abilities, there are a lot more and lengthier stuns than many other AoS maps. The map is sometimes affectionately referred to as “Age of Disables” for this reason.
Heroes have six abilities each: an innate, three regular abilities, an ultimate, and a super-ultimate unlocked at the maximum level of 20. At level 1, heroes have only their innate, and must wait until level 2 before starting to unlock their regular abilities. I think withholding the skill point is odd for Age of Myths, since it’s a hero combat game, and why add more waiting before “getting to the good part”? A possible explanation is that level 1 gank squads needed to be less dangerous, and this mechanic solves that by forcing a bit of lane presence before heroes get dangerous.
A nice addition to the game was AI-controlled summons, which can automatically march towards the enemy base, or follow their owner around and attack intelligently. Many also cannot walk beyond a certain radius of their owner, and will be dragged along if their owner walks away from them. Restricting the ability of players to control their summons means that summons must be used as an extension of the hero, rather than a “free tool that comes with the hero” that can split-push or farm the other side of the map.
On death, a hero’s soul departs from their body and floats back to the Spirit Healer in their base to undergo a revival ritual. The ritual time increases with hero level, but the time taken for a soul to travel back to base is also substantial, and increases the further a hero dies from home. This is beneficial for heroes defending their base, and punishing for the attackers, which is not a balance that works out well in practice.
The item system Age of Myths is inspired by Land of Legends, and is very nicely tuned. Each hero has a class (Melee/Ranged/Caster) which restricts the items they can buy. Items sell for 95% of their cost, which makes switching item build or ‘upgrading’ items at any point in the game easy. The four main item groups are below:
- Misc: These items can be picked up by any hero class.
- Basic stat increases like agi/int/str, regeneration, movement speed, and counters to invisibility or summons are available here. These items are all fairly cheap, and some can be combined as part of simple, single-tier recipe items.
- All defensive and armour items are misc.
- Regeneration ‘potions’ are permanent items with cooldowns instead of limited-use consumables. They heal over time, and stop once the player takes damage.
- Melee: These items are largely based around a hero’s attack and on-attack effects, with very few active abilities.
- Ranged: Items tend to focus around attacks, on-attack debuffs, and some damaging actives.
- Caster: Items are mostly activated, and offer utility effects like healing, silence, auras, and summoning. There are also some offensive spells.
The three class-specific groups are each divided into two subgroups, with a roughly equal number of items in each:
- Multiplicative Bonus: These items grant a percentage increase to attack damage, such as “+30% attack damage”. If a hero has two such items, only the highest bonus is applied.
- Stat Bonus: These items improve either strength or agility, depending on the bearer’s primary stat (which improves the hero’s base damage). Stat bonuses of this type stack.
The result of this system is that certain effects like cleave are never offered to non-melee heroes, while other effects like teleporting to allied towers are never offered to non-caster heroes. This means that every hero has inherent strengths and weaknesses, and no one hero can set the pace of the game on their own.
To maximise attack damage, a hero will pick up one Multiplicative Bonus item, and upgrade it as the game progresses by selling their current one (losing only 5% of the cost) and buying another with a higher bonus. They can supplement this with several stat bonus items, whose contribution to damage via primary attribute also gets multiplied.
The primary changes from Land of Legends, namely adding the Stat Bonus items, removing overlap between the classes, and making all defensive items available to everyone, are strictly positive, and better represent the potential of the system.
The Spirit Healer also has a few misc items to sell. In older versions, these items could only be bought using Soul Glyphs, a resource obtained by killing enemy heroes. They were geared towards defence and support, and since Soul Glyphs had no other purpose, there was no reason not to buy them if inventory space was available. Later versions removed Soul Glyphs, and the Spirit Healer’s items were given gold costs.
It is interesting that for a JASS-heavy map, Age of Myths doesn’t have any items which increase the damage of a hero’s spells. One justification is that spells are already strong and necessary for success, so increasing their damage rewards players for something that they were supposed to do anyway. Instead, items with active spells demand player effort to be effective. Of course, the implications for balance might also have been a factor. Cooldown reduction is a stat that I think would have worked well in the map, though unfortunately Warcraft III isn’t built to support that.
Overall, AoM is a solid and time-proven success. While its earlier versions experimented with adding new strategic options, the game’s well-furnished heroes were clearly the stars of the show, and the game evolved into a fitting stage for them to shine. Its engaging PvP combat and boisterous graphics have kept players coming back to it for years, and the well-refined hero and item class system makes an excellent case study for how to thoughtfully implement an item system.