by Marcus Mulkins
reviewed on PC
How Can Something So Good Be So Bad?
In October of 2002, 4HEAD Studios, through publisher JoWood Productions, released in the US a fairly innovative game entitled Europa 1400: The Guild. Despite many problems that caused the game to crash to desktop, the game attracted a hefty crowd of fans. It was that innovative. As indicated by the title, the game was started in 1400 A.D. The setting was one of five major cities in Europe at that time. The manner in which the game progressed was actually fairly straightforward: Start as a young peasant with just enough of a stake to open a basic business. Take raw resources, combine them into a final product, and then sell the final product at market. Take the profit and invest in improving the business. Along the way, develop the character by studying up and improving his skills and talents. At the same time, work your way up in society and politics, as well as within the guild of your trade. Get married; raise a family; establish a dynasty.
Europa 1400: The Guild proved so popular that in late 2003, early 2004, 4HEAD/JoWood released Europa 1400 Gold. Pretty much the same game, but the game was a bit more stable with fewer CTD's. Then in 2006 we were treated to The Guild 2. The graphics were downright gorgeous. Unfortunately, the CTD's were back in full force. And there was something else that I couldn't quite put my finger on it. It manifested itself in the fact that even on the Easy difficulty setting, I just couldn't seem to accomplish anything. Production at the business seemed slower; profitability substantially less. Getting elected to office (bribing your way in, actually) took longer and was more expensive. Rivals ran through the gamut of Non-aggression Pact to Neutral to Feud a LOT faster. Bandits started to attack my carts sooner and more frequently. It seemed that the game had dramatically shifted from "Difficult" to "Impossible". I very quickly set the game aside as too frustrating to ever qualify as "fun".
Then from out of nowhere, Guild 2, Pirates of the High Seas appeared. Guild 2 really needed an expansion to fix all the CTD’s, and if JoWood did that, then Guild 2, Pirates of the High Seas could be the thoroughly entertaining game that Europa Gold had been. Right?
Wrong. The CTD’s have become manageable, but that something amiss feeling remained. So, I dug my heels in and went looking for it. Surprisingly, the search was so engrossing, I actually found myself doing a couple of all-nighters over the weekend. But now, about 15 frustrating hours later, I think I found what was bugging me. I also found quite a few other flaws as well.
Beauty And The Beast
Guild 2, Pirates of the High Seas is every bit as graphically pleasing as Guild 2. The buildings – inside and out – and the characters are exquisitely rendered with very rich detail. Zooming in to ground level to follow characters is like diving into an eye candy dish. There are about a few dozen building types, but other than distinct buildings like the Council Meeting Hall (which goes by different names depending on geographical location and community size), similar buildings are clones of one model of type/level. A House is a House is a House. A Fisher Shack is a Fisher Shack is a Fisher Shack. The characters have a substantial range of appearance, allowing for differences in facial features and clothing. However, when you’re zoomed in while your character is interacting with a peasant woman, it’s disconcerting to see a clone of that woman walk by. That’s probably a function of the fact that JoWood has hundreds of non-player characters walking around a community at any given time, but it still remains disconcerting.
In addition to the excellent graphics, the game offers one of the best Tutorials I’ve encountered in the industry. It does NOT cover every situation or review in fine detail how all of your action decisions mesh together. (Not by a loooonnng shot.) However, it does give you a firm grasp of the “flow” of the game and how the interface works, which helps to sharpen your intuition about where to find certain buttons and perform action choices.
It must be remembered that this is a RTS game. In the early stages of the game, it’s just one player-controlled character, operating one first-level business, living in a first-level home (Hut). All of these need to be developed in order to advance in the game. Whenever the character accomplishes something – acquiring a title or office, getting married, successfully doing a task/action such as Bribing Someone, etc. – he gains experience points. Enough EP and the character advances a level. EP can also be applied to skills, talents, and attributes to improve those, with higher levels of those costing more than the previous level. Basically, you get double utility by doing things correctly.
No Pros and Cons at this time