The Guild 2 is the successor to the 2002 release, Europa 1400 - The Guild. Set to ship this fall, The Guild 2 is an open-ended medieval lifestyle simulation putting you into a world where you control your destiny and build an empire through your actions. Published by Aspyr and developed by 4 Head Studios, we had an opportunity to take a detailed look into the sequel to The Guild at this year's E3.

The game will offer several modes of play, free mode, campaign, and multiplayer. The free mode is the same as the original, allowing you to build your dynasty from the ground up. The campaign mode is a new feature in The Guild 2, also serving as the games tutorial. This 10-12 hour campaign will take players through a story, and teach the basics of all of the different professions in the game. The game will also offer a multiplayer mode, but more on that later.

Getting started, you'll step into the character creation menu and create an avatar, customizable through a attributes such as gender and coat of arms. Lightweight physical customization is also available, allowing you to change the age, hair color, clothing, and hat. Now, it's time to choose a character class.

There are four different classes choose from, craftsman, priest, scholar, and chiseler (working name). The craftsman can hire apprentices, make and sell weapons and armor, or take a more peaceful approach and simply create and sell jewellery and other items. The patron makes money by building up the biggest church and the biggest following. Though, we don't have a lot of information on the scholar, the chiseler (working name) is the baron of the thieves, obtaining money through extortion and robbery.

After selecting your character class, you can select from a set of skills, the more RPG-oriented element of the Guild 2. It's important to make good decisions here, as these skills do not only affect your character, they also affect and influence the people around you, including the people you hire.

The Guild 2 has a variety of different elements that are essential to understanding how the game "works". The first is the social element, to build your dynasty you'll need to get married and eventually have children (heirs). You'll also likely get into scuffles with others; you can build relationships, friendships, or simply amass a large number of enemies. Another element is the political component; you can run for office against rival opponents, some who like you some who don't. Whether you choose to play it fair, or go out and sabotage their efforts, you live the life of your character. In fact, in one extreme example, I was told you could even go as far as killing your rival, take their political office, and then marry their wife. It is this level of flexibility that will make the Guild 2 different from most typical strategy games.

The Guild 2 offers a large number of ways to play, you can choose to be a peaceful craftsman selling items in the marketplace, take the political route and run for office, or even become a cutthroat robber baron and hire a band of thieves, the Tony Soprano of the medieval world. The entire list of professions includes farmer, baker, joiner, tailor, alchemist, thief, robber, landlord, and blacksmith.

The Guild 2 will offer a few major differences over the original. Wherein the original only had one village, the map in the sequel is 64 times larger with five distinct towns. This introduces a dynamic supply and demand element between cities, meaning if you're producing weapons, and your city has a large supply of weapons, it's best to sell them to a different city as to get a higher value for the product. As one city expands, people will move to it from other cities, which is seen as the other cities literally shrink on the map.

One of the most positive changes in The Guild 2 is an all new graphical engine and user-interface built from the ground up. It allows players to zoom in and out, with amazing detail even on the closest zoom level. Wind blows through the trees, and the vegetation looks absolutely spectacular, it is using the SpeedTree technology licensed to the developer. In the case of the user interface, one of the drawbacks of the original was the time required to complete actions, you'd have to go into each building one by one and perform actions from within. The Guild 2 introduces a highly streamlined context-sensitive user interface. For example, to hire employees in the original, you'd have to go inside your workshop, select the hire menu, and hire employees. The new UI allows you to simply select the workshop from the world screen, and a context-sensitive menu appears allowing you to do everything.

The redesigned user interface also makes social and political interaction very simple. As the world is now completely context-sensitive, you can select almost any character in the world and a list of actions appears, blackmail, bribe, break bones, well you get the idea. Likewise, dialog is done using a similar mechanism, you select what you want to say, and the world then indicates who you can say this to. This is typically used when trying to marry or court someone. On the political side of things, you can bring up a menu indicating how much you are liked, and who likes and doesn't like you. Should you choose to eliminate your opponents through "any means necessary," just don't get caught.

Finally, the Guild 2 will offer up multiplayer for up to eight players, with a variety of gameplay modes. The first is the deathmatch, where each player controls a different member from rival dynasties. To keep the games scalable in term of time (60-90 minutes per game), each player is given a different objective (get 50,000 gold, gain political office, etc), and once this goal is attained you are declared the victor, whether you choose to get their through honest play or by sabotaging the efforts of your competition. However, you aren't told what you're opponent's victory goals are, so a bit of strategy comes into play here. The other multiplayer modes are team-based deathmatch, and co-op play where you'll play on a team against AI controlled opponents.

The Guild 2 is shaping up very nicely, and was one of the real surprises at this year's E3. The build we had a chance to look at was about 70-75% complete, with the developers just finishing up the social interaction element of the game. The Guild 2 is a nice change of pace from the typical run-of-the-mill real-time strategy game, and is one game fans of the genre should keep in mind when it ships this fall.