From Nitro games and Paradox Interactive comes East India Company, a real-time strategy game based upon the large trading companies of the 17th and 18th century. In East India Company, you are tasked with building your trade routes and fleet and keeping enemies at bay through battle in the high seas. Each port provides different materials to trade and the player is able to slowly build their fleet for both trade and protection (or dominance!). The game opens with a montage of when the game is set and what this whole trading business is all about. And that there will be cannons. Lots of cannons.
The preview build given to us provides the tactical tutorial and three battle scenarios, which means I won't be talking about any port or town building. This was actually quite frustrating as I would prefer to write about the entirety of the game instead of just one part, but in any case …
There are three "realism" modes to the game; simulation, normal and arcade. I couldn't find much of a difference between any of them. Simulation was the most painful as it takes an awfully long time to turn so I decided to stick with "normal" as it is the middle setting. The tactical tutorial explains to the user how to maneuver their ship and also how to engage in combat. The tutorial begins with two of your ships facing two enemy ships across the sea. Text boxes that are somwhat difficult to read appear in the top lefthand corner of your screen and point out important things you need to know. However, you need to be a fast reader as you can be sunk before you even learn how to attack.
There are two ways of battling; either in RTS or Direct Command (DC) mode. RTS mode allows you to plan your attacks as you would in other RTS games; point and click movement waypoints and which targets to attack. By pressing ctrl, you can set up a series of waypoints for a ship, or multiple ships, to follow. You can also select what sort of cannonball you would like each ship to be using or you can leave it up to the Commander (NPC) to decide for you. The standard cannonballs are great at causing damage to the hull, chain shot is against sails and grape shot destroys crews. The three different types of cannonballs accompany three different health levels of each ship; Hull, Sails and Crew. If you damage the Hull enough, the ship will sink; the sails and it will be dead in the water and … same if you kill all the Crew. Switching into DC mode allows you to select a Flagship which garners new attacks based on the Commander's skill and "talents". Some are passive such as decreasing morale of enemy crew due to fear and other are active such as increasing damage for a short period of time and each active skill does have a cooldown.
DC mode also allows you the control of a single ship. You will steer it and also determine when to fire your cannons and at what. Get your ship close enough to the damaged one and you can select to board. However, the turnout of this event is not up to you, so its best to make sure most of the crew is dead before doing so. I, however, had a very hard time navigating my ships close enough to board and often was sunk before I could do any real damage in any of the demo battles. The biggest problem with the tutorial is that it lacks to inform the player that wind plays an important part in ship navigation. Now, you are probably saying, "Well.. obviously!" But, it is incredibly frustrating to see your ship sit idly in the water after giving it a waypoint to reach and then finally realizing that you are trying to fight against the wind and have no way of doing so.
As battles rage on, it becomes apparent that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to make East India Company an enjoyable experience for most players. The camera refuses to pan far enough to allow any sort of tactical management to occur and selecting ships is also dicey at best, often requiring numerous clicks before you get the ship to do what you want.
Visually the game is average. When zoomed in on a ship you can see your crew scampering about to follow orders (or not …) and the water and weather effects are very well done. However, telling ships apart is next to impossible, especially if they are all the same size and it's at night. At the end of the day, I found I was staring at (usually decrepit) ships on a massive ocean with no land in sight. I was not meant for the high seas.
Overall, I found the battles very difficult to gain control of and felt helpless most of the time. I can't really critique a preview build, especially one this early on in development. East India Company is a game with some promise, and plenty of development time to work out the gameplay issues.