by Ewan Wilson
previewed on PC
Large and ambitious – those are the kind of games I like. Grand Ages: Medieval is a clear attempt to achieve these things. You can zoom out from a close up of your medieval settlement’s stone shacks and smoking chimneys to view the entirety of Europe, with its great forests and snow-capped mountain ranges. You can pan across from the fringes of Western Europe all the way to the Caucasus and the Middle East. All thirty million square kilometres of the game world is seamlessly viewable, and what a great view it looks to be. Last week I was one of the lucky few to be shown an early build of Grand Ages, and get to talk through the game with a developer. Whilst many of the things I saw weren’t finalised, I came away with a good impression of where the grand strategy game was head.
Wealth and trade
In the midst of the Dark Ages are pockets of growth and development, as well as an opportunity for you to control a small settlement and grow it into a civilization of great wealth and technological expertise. Grand Ages is being developed by Kalypso’s Gaming Minds studio, creators of titles like Patrician IV and Rise of Venice. The studio is known for its economic and trade simulations, and Grand Ages seems to stay close to this tradition. For each settlement you control there are goods produced and consumed. Resources are important, and the exchange of goods is vital. Trade seems to plays the key role in Grand Ages. You can carve out roads for your caravans, and use military forces to protect your routes from roaming barbarians and even dangerous wildlife.
Whilst there will be different military units: knights, archers and cavalry, and you can zoom in close enough for the fine details to make you think you’re playing a Total War game, combat and military conquest aren’t the absolute focus. Whilst I was told that terrain would play some part in affecting the result of battles – defending a river-crossing from atop a hill for example will net you an advantage – war looked to be waged through a relatively simple system somewhat similar to rock, paper, scissors. On top of this, there are cities with harbours. It seems as though Grand Ages is in the main, a land-based strategy game, but it will be possible to transport troops over water and even trade between your ports.
In the game I saw, amongst the settled lands lay other factions; independent, AI-driven settlements whom you can deal with, and hopefully politically manoeuvre. There were trade agreements, but also quests that you could carry out in order to boost your faction standing. Whilst I didn’t get to see how the independent states and factions relate to you as you become a larger and more powerful empire and civilization, there were also other grand empires seeking to grow in wealth and population, so there won’t be a lack of conflict. Grand Ages will feature a multiplayer mode, where up to eight players can battle it out over the massive map. There’s also “hot swapping”, where an AI will take over a player’s civilization in case they leave, meaning you’ll be able to keep that epic game, spanning 8-12 hours, going.
Beyond the ebb and flow of trade and commerce, lies the more interesting, if destructive, concept of Mother Nature. There are some fantastic looking weather effects in the game, but more impactful are the natural disasters. I was briefly shown an exploding volcano – which would presumably wreck havoc on nearby settlements – but the developer also mentioned earthquakes and even a virtually simulated bubonic plague. It sounded as though Gaming Minds are contemplating simulating the Black Death in the same way you might simulate trade – something I thought fascinating. Not only would this make you consider quarantining infected areas and settlements, but a medieval variant of biological warfare would suddenly become possible.
My hope is that Grand Ages will end up as much of a creatively-destructive toy to chart the fall and disintegration of feudal society, as an economic simulator that follows the to and fro of the age’s merchants and traders. From what I saw, it certainly looks grand. The scale of the project is enough to peak my interest, I just hope Gaming Minds also has the courage to see through some of its wilder and more experimental ideas.