East India Company
Trade is an element that is persistent throughout all aspects of human history. It's no surprise then that games focused on trade have become an active niche in the strategy genre.
- Excellent historical period to set a trading game, naval combat is delightful and has concrete economic concerns attached to it, trading mechanics are easy to figure out and get used to
- Interface has some significant flaws that make effective trading more tedious than needed, side missions lack variety, too many loading screens
In the end, East India Company is a game that manages to merge effectively its twin themes of trading and naval combat. Unfortunately its also a game that is plagued with several important interface issues that make the game more frustrating and tedious than it really should be.
Price$ 99.95 (AUD)
Trading games don't come along too often these days, and few games manage to look at such an interesting historical theme as "the Orient -- vast trading networks that developed between Europe. Finnish developers Nitro Games have set their sights on just such things with their new game, East India Company.
Spices and Silks Ahead!
Trade is an element that is persistent throughout all aspects of human history. It's no surprise then that games focused on trade have become an active niche in the strategy genre, spawning (among other things) the Patrician series. The most recent entry into this sub-genre is East India Company, which focuses on the first two centuries of oceanic trade between the great European nations and Africa, India, and Southeast Asia.
In East India Company every game begins along the model set forward by previous trading games - you've got one ship, a harbour and enough money to begin trading goods to India and back. Your initial steps are guided by company directors and over the course of the game they order you to complete objectives such as importing certain amounts of precious goods, take over Indian ports, or destroy rival companies merchants. Occasional side missions are also available, but on the whole these are largely unimportant and consist on the whole of fetch and carry quests. The majority of your time however, is spent hauling goods to make money. From the money you make off trade you reinvest in new ships, shipyards, and warehouses among other things while competing and eventually fending off the efforts of rival trading companies from other nations.
Barnacles on the Hull
The route from Europe across the ocean to India is not a calm voyage, though. East India Company has more than its share of foibles and faults. The largest of these is the games interface woes, key among them being the separation of cargo management and other important functions from the main strategic map. In essence, every time you need to buy goods, place them on your vessels, or even purchase new ships you'll need to go through a tedious loading screen. Outside of automating trading routes you'll be seeing those screens far too much. Another issue that frequently pops up is the inability to rapidly find out how much each trade good costs in each overseas port and where you'll make the most money selling your goods - while you can easily find out how much goods cost in each port, there is no easy way of correlating that info. Other smaller foibles are also littered throughout the game, such as the ability of late game warships being able to haul nearly as much cargo as dedicated merchant vessels, but these are minor annoyances at worst.
East India Company's problems are somewhat redeemed by the game's best feature - its naval combat system. This is a rather effective mix of the various naval combat systems we've seen in the past few years, and those that have played Empire: Total War should find themselves at home with the system. East India's naval combat is far more intriguing than that of Empire, mostly due to its emphasis on merchantmen and smaller combat vessels. Combat in East India is also more noticeably drawn out, taking into account the slow speed of merchant vessels with only one or two dozen cannons and a cargo hold full of silk or spices. This not only serves reason for combat to go on longe, but it also makes the proper usage of wind direction important, as well as integrating direct economic concerns to combat. For instance, you can jettison cargo to prevent ships from being captured, but will lose vast profits doing so. Privateering then also becomes a goal in the game, because victory in combat can also bring vast profits from captured vessels and cargo that can subsequently be sold in port.
In the end, East India Company is a game that manages to merge effectively its twin themes of trading and naval combat. Unfortunately its also a game that is plagued with several important interface issues that make the game more frustrating and tedious than it really should be. While the naval combat does much to alleviate the casual tediousness that accompanies some of the games interface woes, it's not enough to overcome some fundamental flaws that strike at the heart of this promising trading game.
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