Preview build hands-on
About a month ago, we wrote a hands-on piece concerning the previous preview build of the East India Company. Whereas that build concentrated on showing off the sea battles of the upcoming game, the latest preview build finally shows us the game as a whole. If you are interested in the sea battles I suggest you read the previous preview, since this one will concentrate more on the trade empire side of the game.
For those new to this game, it should probably be said that the East India Company, developed by Nitro Games, is a game where you will be able to take control of one of the most powerful companies in the history of the western world. The East India Companies funded and organized many of the wars that were waged in India between the colonial powers, hiring armies that fought alongside the British or French troops. In effect, they had the power of small nations and used it in order to become even more powerful. In the game, you can choose to run one of eight possible East India companies: United Kingdom, Holland, France, Denmark, Portugal, Sweden, Spain or the Holy Roman Empire.
The preview build lets us play through a couple of tutorials and engage into a cut-down campaign, showing the first ten years of the actual gameplay. The tutorials provide a comprehensive, yet somewhat daunting, explanation of the various screens and actions that you can perform in the game in the ports and in the world map (in addition to tactical sea battles that we covered last time). Together, these three areas comprise the bulk of what East India Company is about and, although the tutorials make the amount of information seem daunting, they are relatively quick to learn in actual gameplay.
Managing your ports
You have to take care of all the ports that are under the influence of your nation, upgrading the buildings to improve their services and defenses against the opposing East India companies. As well as the natives, who seem to want to take back the control of their own port towns from you and the other East India companies – as if you weren’t better at taking care of them than they are! Each port allows you to view the fleets that happen to be in the harbor, the local shipyard, docks, your warehouse, the trading post as well as the town hall.
The Fleet window allows you to customize your fleet compositions, exchanging and hiring new captains or crew complements and viewing the condition and cargo of your ships. The fleets can only have a maximum of 5 ships, so you will either have to specialize your fleets as conquest and trade fleets or be prepared to change their composition on the fly when the situation demands it. The captains retire at age 50, but the older captains will also have special skills and abilities that can be useful in tight spots, so you will pay attention here as well, choosing the best captains for each purpose.
The shipyard can be ordered to build new ships for your fleets, ranging from small Sloops, Schooners and Cutters to bigger vessels, such as Galleons, East Indiamen and Frigates. Naturally, the ultimate weapons of the high seas – Ships of the Line – are also on the list, but the preview build had them locked and thus we didn’t get to see the damage that they can cause to an enemy convoy. Each ship type can carry a certain number of cannons and crew and a certain amount of cargo. They also have different top speeds and hull ratings and some of them can carry military troops, while others cannot.
The Docks view is simply a complement to the Shipyard, showing a list of ships that are in the build queue as well as any non-commissioned ships that have already been built and need to be added to suitable fleets.
The Warehouse view lets you view what is stored in the local warehouse. You can purchase goods that will be placed here until they can be loaded onto ships, and goods will be unloaded here from the ships before they are sold on the local market. Similarly, the Warehouse will contain any extra special cargo or documents that you may be required to transport to some other cities once in a while.
The Trading post will show the local prices and quantities of particular goods. Each city produces certain main products, but they also offer other products that you can purchase through this screen. If you automate your trade fleet, they will always purchase only the main product from a particular city, so if the quantities are low, your ships may sometimes travel at less than optimal loads – thus it is good to keep your eye on this screen to see if there is something else that you could add to the cargo holds before the fleet leaves the port. Of course, when you have 20 fleets sailing on the world map, this may become a bit of a hassle.
The Town hall allows you to manage all the other services in the port, such as upgrading or building services that are not yet available. Here, you can upgrade your warehouses for larger storage space, the shipyards to build bigger ships and the trading posts to contain larger quantities of trade goods for purchase at more affordable prices. Naturally, level 1 buildings cost less to maintain than level 4 buildings do, so you have to be careful to choose the right services to upgrade at the right time.