by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
We’ve already written quite a bit about Grand Ages: Medieval. Both Matt and Ewan have had chances to see the game up close since it was first unveiled at last year’s Gamescom, but it had been a full year for me personally. Little more than a tech demo last year, it was great to see how much progress had been made, even if there weren’t that many surprises.
It is 1050 AD. You are the leader of a small European tribe destined for greatness, or so you believe. Well, Rome wasn’t built in a day your empire won't be either. You will need to grow learn and conquer to fulfill your dream of ruling all of Europe. Starting with a single town, you nurture your budding settlement into a thriving city with a booming economy. Before long, you send out settlers to settle new territory and conduct trade with neighbouring cities. Yet with success comes envy. Others eye your achievements with ever growing jealousy and war seems inevitable. Or maybe it’s the other way around? Of course you want a piece of their action. War - is - inevitable!
Trade sits at the heart of Grand Ages: Medieval. It drives growth, unlocks buildings and supports your military. Small towns usually produce enough basic goods to sustain a small population. To prosper, basic goods are not enough and connecting towns so that they can complement each other is a key gameplay mechanic. A farming community in the heart of what will become modern day Germany may well produce meat in abundance but if it cannot preserve the meat due to a lack of salt, they’ll always be struggling. Connecting it to a seaside town and setting up a trade route between them solves the problem of preservation and brings much needed variety to the diet of a population otherwise stuck eating only fish. Both towns flourish and soon you can start concentrating on luxuries and materials needed to build advanced military units.
Some goods are so rare that the distance between their source and destination makes it inefficient to maintain it by a standard trade route. In these cases, you can set up depot where goods can be brought in and distributed deeper into your empire. Alternatively, you can see if a nearby friendly town is willing to trade goods that your own towns cannot provide. Eventually, towns will need specialized buildings to continue to grow. Churches, for example, are vital to break through one of the growth caps. All towns and cities are limited to 5 production slots, so even a metropolis cannot stand on its own.
The growth of your towns and cities also means more income and quite possibly a surplus of food. These are needed to support any nearby military units. Armies are always supported from the nearest settlement. In war, large armies tend to gather at the borders between warring nations which increases the drain on nearby cities. Often, you have to choose to either support a small army for a longer period of time or a big one only briefly. If the drain becomes too much and supplies become scarce, attrition sets in for the army and the happiness of your citizens will take a plunge. Moving your army so that it can be supported by another city will solve the attrition issue nice and quick but happiness does not immediately bounce back up. The significance of happiness becomes clear when an enemy army lays siege on the city - unhappy citizens are much quicker to hand over the key to the city than happy ones.
Grand Ages: Medieval is very much a land grab game. Your final score is primarily based on how much land you control, but land is also used to unlock new technologies. This is true not only for the amount of land, but also its geographic location. Longbow men, for instance, are only available if you have conquered land in Britain and especially strong knights can be unlocked by occupying Poland. These special units are designed to add flavour to the troop roster and do have small bonuses over their standard counterpart but not to the point of being overwhelmingly strong.
Grand Ages: Medieval is not your average strategy title. Even a month away from its release, I am still not 100% sure if its focus lies on trade and expansion or on warfare, but I do know that it will offer an experience unlike any other strategy game. I fear I will have many a long night ahead of me once I get my hands on it.