by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
The roar of cannons
For many gamers, East India Company's appeal lies in its sea battles. The game offers richly detailed ships with sailors manning their guns and meticulously accurate ship behavior. The latter is so detailed that ships respond realistically to waves, wind and damage to their hull and sails. Those who have the patience to command a fleet of ships through realistic, yet lengthy combat sessions will thoroughly enjoy all this detail. As it turned out, I do not possess enough patience to do so. Especially when there is little wind, the action can be incredibly slow. It is not uncommon to sit and stare at the screen for several minutes until two ships finally engage in battle.
Sea combat is not only lengthy, but it is difficult too. After entering a battle you can switch freely between a Real-Time Strategy mode and a Direct Control mode. In Real-Time Strategy mode you can select the enemy to attack, as well as the type of ammo that your cannoneers should use on the enemy ships. Additionally, you can order your ships to flee or board an enemy ship or form a line with the rest of your fleet. In Direct Control mode you take the helm of a single ship which does little more than change your view. Despite having two modes to choose from, combat turned out to be a frustration for me. The few battles that I won left me with most of my fleet destroyed and after a dozen or so attempts I changed my strategy to ‘auto resolve’ the battles instead of commanding them myself.
Tools of the trade
Administering your empire is increasingly hard as it grows in size. Fortunately you have some great tools available to you to keep track of things. A detailed financial report is presented to you on a yearly basis and information about the number of ships, ports and the extent of your competitor's power can all be viewed on a real-time basis. So if you destroy someone's fleet, you will immediately see the effect it has. You can see the value of trade goods in your home port and get an indication of the prices of goods in other ports as well. This information is definitely helpful when you need to decide whether a ten month trip home is worth the trouble.
The game truly shines in its diplomacy options. Seldom have I see such a well balanced diplomatic system. Negotiating new treaties or bribing another player into attacking another player is great fun, even if they often will rob you blind for it. When you are more powerful than your diplomatic target, you can even tip the scales by threatening to declare war on them. Pacts seem to be broken rather easily, but the alliances that I have forged thus far have always lasted very long. Diplomacy isn't cheap, but is sure is rewarding.
Finding its footing
East India Company turned out to be very difficult to judge. I started looking at the game as a whole and couldn't quite figure out what the game was. Looking farther, I found that the reason for my puzzlement was that the game has some trouble deciding what it wants to be. Does it want to be a trading game? No, since even for a trading game the economic model is too simplistic. Yet the game isn't solely a sea combat simulation either.
I returned to the safety of judging the game by its fun factor, and in this area, East India Company did deliver. At some point I found myself playing at half past four in the morning and that just doesn't happen with a poor game. I am certain that anyone interested in trading –or- sea combat games will enjoy East India Company. I am also eager to see its future sequels as the promise of a great franchise is certainly there.
Competing for control over India with other European nations is a blast. Diplomatic system is well worth exploring.
Patience is a virtue in the game's lengthy sea battles.