Oh the trees are changing color, that fall smell is in the air, and it looks like Empire Total War had a baby! Or at least that was the first thought that stuck in my mind as I booted up Nitro Game’s East India Trade Company. It feels very much like it’s from the same family as Empire Total War which is its greatest strength and greatest weakness. I want to also add that I’ve done this review in a different way, since this is much more of mechanic based game, I’ve focused on giving you guys the needed information about how all of the gameplay mechanics work together, because I know that when it comes to a trade simulator, that’s what’s important.
The meat of the game is played in The Grand Campaign, which tasks you with becoming the greatest East India Company in an allotted time. Along the way, the higher ups of the company will give you missions and goals. Some of them are assignments that you must complete, such as getting a certain quantity of one type of resource within 10 years, while some are just side missions that can be done to get you more gold. In addition to creating trade routes and sailing the high seas, you can take over ownership of different port cities, and upgrade them as you please. The downside of this is that there are really only 3 buildings you can upgrade so you never get a sense that you’re really developing and nurturing the city, as well for most of the time the city is going to be one giant money hole.
For those of you who have played the newest Total War title, you will see as soon as you jump in that you’re playing a game that looks and feels a lot like the over world that was used in Empire. The Map is divided into multiple regions, East Africa, West Africa, The Middle East, India and Europe. Each region has different port cities that can be travelled to by boat to gather rather resources for trade. The game is visually split into 3 main areas, the first is the over world, a very flat based map of the regions that allows you to set trade routes and move your fleets all over the high seas. As the game progresses you’ll see more and more ships zigzagging their way through the ocean as each of the East India Companies become larger and larger.
The second is the port menu; it’s pretty much a static bird’s eye view of the current port city, giving you the chance to inspect what is hopefully a thriving trade point. Or… it will be such a hovel of a place that you will feel an almost uncontrollable desire to spend every last dime you have to swank the place out. Either way a lot of the game is played in this area and you’ll be jumping through the games menus doing everything from building new ships, hiring captains, rearranging fleets, and of course trading and selling goods. However this trade simulator isn’t all brains; when she takes her glasses off you definitely get to see the super model underneath!
This of course is the battle sections of the game, these aquatic based battles take place on the waves of the sea and allow you to pit your wit as an admiral against dastardly pirates and competition. Visually these fights are the high point of the game, and frankly they had to be, a visually boring combat section would have turned this title into a completely docile experience. Thankfully that’s not the case, pieces of the ships fall off, ships sway and splash through waves, things are set on fire, you can even watch as holes in your hull take on water, and while we’re on the subject of the water, holy hell what is it with PC games and water? First AOE3, then Empire, and now this, all of them have pushed the envelope on the realism of water, which is a bit crazy, but all of these games seem to just take it up a notch.
There is a reason though that I spent three full paragraphs explaining the different stages of the game. One was to do my job to tell you what the sandbox you’ll be playing in is like; the other was to explain in simpler terms the different gameplay areas of this title, so when I go into more detail about them you’ll have a point of reference.
The game is played as I stated earlier in three different sections. The first being the over world, its here you’ll do all your movements from your main port in Europe, to the many that are scatter around the world. It is also here that you’ll find yourself setting up trade routes to lucrative locations with rare commodities, and lastly this is the place where you’ll move your military fleet into position to destroy pirate ships, decimate other companies’ trade vessels or if you’re feeling really lucky you’ll decide to try and take a port. There isn’t much to say about this aspect of the game except that you can watch your ships move, which brings up one of the issues with the game. See when you’re playing Empire Total war the time it takes for your ships to move from Point A to Point B isn’t a big deal because the entire time you’re off taking over other people, building cities, and doing other king-ish things. However In East India Company, you have no such distractions, it’s especially bad at the start of the game when you only have maybe 2 fleets and half the time is spent slamming the speed into 4x, and then pausing it when one fleet makes it to port so you don’t lose track of your other ship. I understand the reason for having travel time, but when a lot of the game is spent watching little ships sail across the map your frustration level goes up a notch.
Now once you dock in a port you move into the second phase of the game, this is where the game loads into the city, and you’ll have a choice of what you would like to do. It’s here that you’ll sell and buy goods, repair or build ships and hire any needed crew members. A lot of the game takes place in this menu so it’s a must to really figure out what everything does. Again though, while this section of the game is fun and works, there are little problems that will annoy you throughout. The biggest is the fact that every time a ship lands at a port the game has to load you into the port menu, you may only spend 15 seconds in there, dropping stuff off and buying new goods, but you’ll still have to wait for it to load you back into the over world. This becomes a real pain when you may have another ship docking in another port, which again means you need to load into another city.
On my computer this wasn’t an issue for the sake of the load time, 2 to 3 seconds at most, however I am worried about someone who doesn’t have a quad core and 8 gigs of ram. The other issue is figuring out the value of all the goods. When you’re buying something from your main port it may say it will make you a profit of 100 gold a ton, however it never tells you what port city will give you that much, so you’ll be jumping into another window full of graphs and charts that tell you what each export is worth and where. In the grand scheme of things, these are minor issues, really their just annoyances, but when your settling in for a long play session, spending every 30 seconds at a load screen really gets on your nerves, and since the value of goods changes almost every year that passes in the game, you are constantly forced to look at the new standing prices for your exports.
The final portion of the gameplay is the combat, which again is good and enjoyable, but has some just head banging irritations. Firstly, it’s natural in this type of game to auto resolve battles, especially when it’s either big numbers or you know you’re going to win. The issue with EIC is that it will not award you any loot or experience if you do auto resolve the battles, meaning it will punish you for not dealing with every conflict. The fights are however fun and deep once you learn them, so don’t be afraid to do the ship battle tutorial before starting the game, because the depth that is available will overwhelm some players rather quickly. Again though if you have played Empire Total War the game is going to feel familiar, the same girth of options are readily available to you, including how much of your mast is up, type of ammunition, and formation. This is great for everyone who loves grand navel battles and wants to control every last detail, but when you have overtly large ship battles it can mean that you’re going to be in there for a long time. I had one fight last nearly 20 minutes, and by the time it was over I had to pause the game, so I could figure out what my setup was like before I went into battle.
When all the dust is settled I find myself really torn. East India Company is a fun title, but it has so many little problems that it’s never able to elevate itself above being a good game. It isn’t all doom and gloom though, the game is still a blast to play, and if you told me it was related to Empire Total War I would never guess otherwise. Hopefully Nitro and Paradox will get a chance to make a number 2 and maybe be able to fix the problems with the game and expand the scale.