Booting up Commander: Conquest of the Americas was a lot like having a flashback; it was new, it was different, and yet I felt like I had done this before. This isn’t technically a bad thing, since I don’t play boring games and hence this one had to be emulating something good. In a way it reminded me of East India Trade Company; it took elements of the granddaddy of global strategy games, Empire Total War and created a unique experience with a focus on trade rather than world domination. In the case of Commander, it’s more a mixture of the elaborate trade mechanics of East India and the fleet combat of Total War.
So I guess I will start where all reviews must start- by talking about the old gal’s looks. I was actually rather impressed with what I saw, the overworld map where you move around your fleets and deal with trading, transporting populations and managing your empire is rather stunning. With trees and other foliage populate each landmass, while the water was top notch in both the overworld and naval combat.
In combat the game is stunning, the level of detail is absolutely breath taking and it’s very clear that a lot of love and care when into making sure that that each cannon hit and movement of the crew was realistic and detailed. You can get hypnotized just watching as your ships sway in the ocean, firing off shots at one another. Even the ships themselves have layers of detail; you’ll see elaborate statues on the fronts of ships different layers of wood and an extreme level of detail on all the crew.
The greatest strength of Commander: Conquest is its naval combat, I can say with confidence that the naval combat is easily the best I’ve ever played. It doesn’t deviate from the established controls but there are wide arrays of options for how exactly you’re going to deal with each and every situation.
The battle can also become downright huge with what seems like dozens of ships. One moment that stands out beyond all the rest was found in one titanic battle I had with an AI fleet it was the most nerve racking back and forth I had the entire game. To top it all off it lasted nearly a half an hour.
However this is a game published by Paradox, and with that comes the promise of a deep system of something. For Commander it’s the ability to engage in a vast network of trading. There are a lot of elements that you’ll get the hang of if you’ve played East India Trade Company, you’ll understand the need to create trade routes to not over saturate one place with too much of one good and to buy low and sell high.
However, this title also has a focus on the “newly discovered” Americas, meaning you and your European rivals will be trying to colonize and establish major trade routes in the new land, leading to much of the game’s conflicts. A lot of this works and is fun to play and you can drop a lot of time just playing merchant lord, but one element did annoy me to no end. Once you establish a colony they become rather static, they don’t grow naturally the way you think and the population never goes down regardless of what I did.
The only real option you have to see real growth in the colonies is to keep shipping over more and more people from your home country. At first I thought this was a clever way to represent the historical event that was the mass transportation of European settlers to the new lands, but after a while it just adds to an already full plate.
In a sense I feel like that is one of the major problems with Commander, as I said above the trading and management of your empire is fun and fleshed out, but it’s such an extreme change from the deep strategic gameplay that is the combat system that they never feel right. You are either someone who wants to play the more “trade sim” aspect of the game or you just want it to hurry up so you can get to your next engagement.
I would find myself having these massive gaps between fights because I had so much work that had to be done to keep my trading network going. When I did get to enjoy in some fun on the high seas it felt like a lifetime had passed. In the end Commander is a combination of good ideas that just don’t seem to click, it may be the result of an overly grand scope but the Commander is sadly not greater than the sum of its parts.
Review copy provided by publisher.