I guess I must have been about 14 years old when I first fell in love with settlement sims. A friend of mine had just gotten a copy of Anno 1602 and invited me over to play it. I got my own copy a few weeks later and I can’t even begin to describe the excitement I felt with every new ship that joined my fleet, every new house I built for my settlement and every battle I won. Countless were the hours I spent in front of my computer, perfecting strategies, organizing the town and waging wars.
A few years later I played a game that was excellent, despite being released to coincide with a movie release. Pirates of the Caribbean introduced me to sea battles that were so entertaining that I still get warm feelings of nostalgia when I think about them today.
When I first learned about Commander: Conquest of the Americas’ gameplay features, I allowed myself to imagine that it would be a mix of my favourite aspects of both these games. Despite being an entertaining game and a brain teaser to challenge even the best of micro managers, this game leaves much to be desired. Especially when it comes to accessibility.
Colonizing the New World
Once the campaign mode has been started, a single fleet will be available to you and a short dialogue box appears stating that you have to find a suitable spot on land on which to start a colony. Colony spots are indicated by a logo consisting of a shovel and a pick axe. Those are the only spots players can start colonies on and the more colonies you run, the more power you have in the area. But be careful, because building too fast will cause you to go bankrupt.
The colony spots have a multitude of different resources ranging from coco to coffee, cotton to tobacco and iron to gold. The more diverse your export, the more money you will be getting from your hometown. The game is mostly based around finding the most profitable trade routes and exploiting them. Your enemies are not all that friendly for too long and if your profits start to make them look bad, then you had better have a few warships handy to repel whatever force they send to slow you down. The sea battles are quite entertaining and the game lets you choose how realistic you want the experience to be. The modes range from fast-paced to simulation and act as a setting for how accurate you want the experience to be. Strategy is of the essence here and “Strength in Numbers” does not apply. Albeit an entertaining game, it lacks a few finishing polishes when it comes to the graphics.
Stunning Ocean View
In the map overview, the ocean looks stunning. Sadly, that amount of detail does not make the transition on to land. The land mass looks smeared on due to bad texturing and it’s a very painful break in style to see such a stunning ocean meet that bland landmass. The oceanic battles are another matter completely. When the battles start, the view is quite close to the lead ship.
That view is quite adequate when it comes to enjoying the scenery. Once the battle starts, however, most players will zoom out as much as they can in order to get the best overview of the battlefield. It is then that the player will notice that the adequate looking ocean he saw before is nothing but a repeating texture. Once you have zoomed out enough to get a decent view of all your ships, the texture is obvious enough to annoy you. Once the ships start firing at each other, particle glitches appear. It is almost as if the smoke from the cannons goes faster then the cannonballs and flickers all over the place.
You’re on your own
But my biggest gripe of all is not with the gameplay or the graphics, but with the accessibility. I will admit that since my days playing Anno 1602, I haven’t played settlement sims as much as I would have liked to, maybe because most of them fall under the radar. Once I started playing this game I noticed that it lacked one very important feature; a tutorial. Even the manual doesn’t have one. Once you start playing the game, dialogue boxes pop up here and there giving you titbits of information but most of them come to you long after you have figured it out for yourself. I, for example, had to figure out for myself how to load people on to the boats and unload them in a different harbour. After doing that manually for about 15 minutes I discovered that I could make an automatic trade route on my ship and let it handle it for me. Those 15 minutes would have been spared with some form of tutorial teaching you how to utilize all the tools at your disposal. I have had the game for about a week now and I still haven’t figured out how the trading station and warehouse work, or how to see the amount of resources my colony is producing.
Commander: Conquest of the Americas is a very entertaining game and I have found myself playing it for hours on end, even though I have no idea what I’m doing. Learning to play takes a lot of trial and error, but in the end you will have a great time populating colonies, negotiating deals with neighbouring factions and natives and getting in sea battles to boot. The graphics may not be much and you will find no help whatsoever in figuring out the ins and outs of this game (except maybe the game’s forum) but becoming a Master and Commander of an entire colony doesn’t happen in a day.
Exciting and brain teasing ocean battles.
No tutorial or any form of instructions on how to play the game.