by Marko Susimetsä
previewed on PC
Managing your trade networks
The main map view allows you to view all the cities and fleets in action. The cities are marked with the national flags of the countries that hold them, or a pirate flag if the city is under pirate influence. As your ships have a certain maximum range, it is good to make sure that there are friendly ports on the African coast to refit your ships on their way to India and back. Naturally you can also use the ports of your allies, so political friendships and hostilities are important to manage well as well. If it turns out that you are missing friendly ports to refit your ships in, your ships will travel slower and thus cut your profits quite drastically in the long term.
At least in the preview build, it seemed that the cities in India are randomly assigned to the different nations and thus the main trade goods that are most easily available to you at the beginning of the campaign vary accordingly. This ensures that you cannot expect to use the exact same strategy from one game into another.
As you give orders to your fleet – to patrol, auto trade or attack – you can also give them orders on how to behave when encountering enemy fleets. You can either order them to attack all enemies in sight (good if you have a strong fleet to do this) or try to flee at any sight of an enemy (good for badly protected or weakened trade fleets). When the fleets eventually do bump into enemies and a battle ensues, you can either choose to auto-resolve the battle and skip directly to the outcome, or take a hands-on approach and fight the battle yourself. If you auto-resolve, you can never loot or capture your enemies, so the pressure is definitely on taking the hands-on approach.
The patrol order simply orders your fleet to patrol a certain route in order to keep it safe for your other fleets. The automatic trade order allows you to set a fleet on an automatic trade route, transporting the main goods between two ports. The attack order makes your fleet attack another port and tries to take it under the control of your crown. Naturally, you can order the fleets around manually between ports as well if you prefer complete control over your company and trading.
The main view also allows you to quickly access any of your fleets by clicking on the head of any of your captains. This makes the control of your fleets very easy, but also a bit unrealistic, as in real life, you could never provide fresh orders to a fleet that is en route and messages often took several months to reach the captains when they were refitting at port towns. On the right side of the screen, you will get notifications of any events, such as any of the shipyards having finished the construction of a ship for you, or diplomatic notes of your relationship with the other East India companies etc. In my first games, I realized how easy to miss this little box is, as your eyes are focused on the events taking place on the world map. I ended up finding a pile of annual financial reports waiting for my attention only after several years in gameplay.
Bring it on!
The preview build seems to show well what the final game will be like and, as far as I’m concerned, this may well be one of the best games of this year. The developers have paid close attention to every detail and area of the gameplay and the result is that all areas seem to be well polished even at this stage of development. I was particularly surprised how meticulously the coastlines of some regions – especially the Nordic countries that usually get the least attention in games – on the map are drawn (until I noticed that Nitro Games are from Finland). Whereas I personally get the most enjoyment from the sea battles, the trade and diplomacy and port management areas of the game are promising to be top notch and leave a little to be desired.
I only found some areas in which the game could still be improved for the final release. One of the main areas is the difficulty level. Beginning players would definitely appreciate an easier tutorial level, where they could learn the ropes without being beaten in the game immediately. This especially concerns the sea battles, which are pretty difficult even at the “arcade” difficulty at the moment, but it also affects the game in general since the amount of information that has to be kept an eye on will easily daunt a beginning strategy gamer.
Overall, I think that the East India Company might well be a game to rival Civilization IV in the genre of strategy games. Even though the games are vastly different, the East India Company reminds me very much of the ease of playing and attention to detail that the Civilization series has and neither of the games goes too deep into the muddy waters of strategy games to forget all about the fun that the gamers should be provided.
This is definitely a game that we will return to when it is released to the eager masses!