East India Company Collection PC
Published by: Paradox Interactive
Developed by: Nitro Games
Last year we reviewed East India Company which is a game that has you sailing the high seas in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries trading goods between your home nation and India and the African continent. We found the game generally enjoyable, although some things could have been done better. Later in the year we looked at East India Company: Privateer, an expansion that helped to make the game generally more enjoyable with new campaigns and the removal of some tedious load times when entering ports. Here we have a review of the East India Company Collection which includes the original game (which includes the Director’s Cut update) and the Privateer expansion in addition to the Pirate Bay and Battle of Trafalgar expansions.
East India Company
The game is essentially a mix of trading goods with primarily Indian ports and your home port and naval combat. Those who have played games such as Patrician III or Port Royale will have a pretty good idea of what to expect here. The problem is that East India Company isn't anywhere near as engaging as those games and in some respects is much more limited.
The single-player content in the game includes a selection of campaigns and a couple of battle modes that throw you into some naval combat. There are four campaigns in total: Grand Campaign 1600-1750, Struggle for Domination 1700-1750, Battle for Resources 1650-1700 and a Free Campaign 1600-1750. Regardless of the campaign you choose your goal is to either complete all of the available missions, conquer all of the twelve Indian ports or force the other companies into resigning. Prior to starting a campaign you can select the difficulty for the campaign (Easy, Normal or Hard) and the battle realism (Arcade, Normal, and Simulation). The game allows you to play as one of eight nations: Britain, Holy Roman Empire, Netherlands, France, Denmark, Sweden, Spain and Portugal and there are some diplomatic options open to you allowing you to agree pacts and alliances with other nations.
In any given campaign you'll need to sail your fleets from your home port, making sure to take some of the goods your home port has produced, and head for such exotic locations as Madras, Goa and Calcutta. You can also trade with various African ports at locations such as Natal and Mozambique and it can be highly profitable to do so. Goods don't have to be traded right away and you can store goods in a warehouse until you feel the time is right to sell. Your company's directors will set orders for you to carry out and it's in your interest to do so. You'll have an assortment of primary and secondary objectives and you'll need to complete some of these before a specified date in order to progress. There are many African and Indian ports that can be conquered and you can even construct and upgrade various facilities such as docks, shipyards, forts and trading posts provided the required materials are available in the port.
The ships available to you range from the humble Sloop to the grand Ship-of-the-line 90-gun. Whilst you won't want to use the slower battle ships in the early phase of the game too much (as they are rather slow) you will need them eventually to fight your enemies and conquer Indian ports (to prevent your opponents from trading with them or to satisfy one of the victory conditions). Over each of your fleets you'll have a fleet commander and these will have their own special abilities. One of mine for instance had the ability to organise which allowed me to store an extra two units of cargo on the ship. Fleet commanders can also gain experience from battles.
Sooner or later you're going to be involved in naval conflict and it has to be said that the battles are visually impressive. You're given the option of being able to use RTS controls (the default option) or you can directly control your vessels. If you've played a game that involves naval combat before you'll be familiar with the tactics and shot types (solid ball, chain shot and grape shot) that are available to you. Battles can be drawn out affairs when using the smaller battle ships although it's difficult to be critical of this because it can be regarded as realistic. Should you want to opt out of taking part in the battle you can leave the AI to auto-resolve it. Unfortunately there definitely seems to be a bias towards the AI when you auto-resolve a battle and you won't gain any experience or booty from the battle. Essentially then, whilst it's tempting to use the auto-resolve option it's far from beneficial to do so.
With extended play you begin to realise the game's limitations. Whilst you can setup an automatic trade route, you can't setup one exactly how you want to which is frustrating especially when older games such as the aforementioned Patrician III and Port Royale allowed you to do so. Whilst you can visit various African and Indian ports to purchase and sell your goods, you may only dock at your home port. You don't have the freedom to trade with any European city you want to and this just seems to be a nonsensical restriction. There is no focus on events in the game world with the focus being on the ports only and this is to the game's detriment. I really liked the way you could setup industries and do things that would help develop the towns in Patrician III but sadly you can't do anything like that here. Whilst there are multiplayer options it's a shame that they only include the ability to battle. Having no online campaign mode definitely makes playing against human opponents a less than thrilling proposition.
East India Company: Privateer
East India Company: Privateer adds two twenty year campaigns (1630-1650 & 1700-1720) and a sandbox campaign that spans one hundred and twenty years (1630-1750). Whichever campaign you opt for, the basic idea is the same. Your goal is to amass as much wealth as you possibly can. Whilst you can choose to trade your way to riches, you can also earn plenty of money by completing Privateer and Merchant missions. You're not tied to a single nation in Privateer and you're free to win the favour and fall out of favour with any nation you choose in your pursuit of wealth.
At any time during the game you'll notice European nations offering Privateer and Merchant missions. Privateer missions involve locate and capture, locate and destroy, locate and kidnap and smuggle a spy into or out of a specific port missions. You'll also be asked to destroy ports from time to time. Merchant missions on the other hand require you to smuggle or transport goods. Missions have to be completed by a specific date but they do pay rather well and can earn you money at a quicker rate than simple trading. By completing missions for any given nation you'll earn their favour and in the process you'll lose favour with other nations who don't like you for working with their rivals. Winning favour is something you have to consider for several reasons. One of the main reasons is that you'll need to be on good terms with a nation to purchase new trade ships and on friendly terms for them to build warships for you.
When being a privateer, you're going to need to take risks. Whether you choose to smuggle goods out of an Indian port or a European nation is asking you to smuggle one of their spies into a port, there's always a risk that things can go wrong. If you're caught then your fleet will be sent to jail for up to twelve months. You can pay a hefty fine to avoid the prison sentence but still, it can be annoying when an attempt goes awry. Thankfully you will be told what your chances of success are before attempting to smuggle goods or spies. Bizarrely however, you're not told what the odds of your success will be for a smuggling mission before you accept it. It can be annoying to take on a mission and arrive in your destination port only to be told that your chances of success are minimal at best.
There are things you can do to enhance your chances of success when it comes to smuggling (and other tasks for that matter). Your fleet commanders initially have one skill slot available (as they level-up they will have up to ten skill slots) and you can allocate one of over thirty skills to these slots. One of these skills is called Smuggle and this skill gives your fleet commander a +33% chance of smuggling success. Fleet commanders can also recruit one of around a dozen specialists. The Infiltrator specialist increases your chance of sneaking into a port (that you're not allowed to enter) by +33%. Other specialists include Gunners, Carpenters, Cooks and Constables.
With Privateer you're getting a good alternate way of playing the game and it feels less restrictive than the original game because you have the ability to choose whom you trade with rather than being forced to return to a single home port all of the time. You could criticise the expansion for not providing a new campaign map (a smaller more focused map may have been interesting) or new ships and that would be a fair complaint but it does a good job of enhancing the original game.
East India Company: Pirate Bay
As the title suggests, this expansion gives you the chance to play as a pirate captain. The basic idea is to hoard as much money as you can within a 20 year timeframe (1650-1670). Here there’s little trading to be done as you’ll obtain your loot from raiding ships and ports. With just one fleet to maintain, you’ll have to be more cautious here than in a typical game of East India Company. The action is nowhere near as sedate as in the main game. With the focus on raiding ships and ports it should come as no surprise that you can’t offload ship battles to the AI. You can’t save your progress when you want to in Pirate Bay. You have a single save slot and the game autosaves after every battle or port raid. An autosave is also made on exiting the game. Should you be defeated and lose your fleet however it’s game over and managing to last the available 20 years is by no means a sure thing. In short the Pirate Bay is a more focused experience that offers a quicker tempo with a stronger focus on battles. The downside is that you’re missing out on most of the trading aspects of East India Company (you can trade your ill-gotten gains with friendly ports however) so whilst Pirate Bay offers a change of pace when you feel like it, you’re probably not going to play as a pirate captain as much as you’d want to. Certainly in comparison to games such as Sid Meier’s Pirates, the experience that Pirate Bay gives you as a pirate is rather limited.
East India Company: Battle of Trafalgar
In truth East India Company: Battle of Trafalgar is a mini expansion that isn’t going to appeal to every fan of East India Company. The focus here is purely on the Battle of Trafalgar itself so don’t expect any campaigns or features that help to improve the game as a whole. However, given the amount of content in the rest of this package it’s easy to forgive. You have a choice of taking control of either the French or the British fleets and take part in the battle itself. The problem here is that you’re given a single battle and nothing else. Yes you can replay the battle as many times as you want to but in all honesty you’re not going to want to play the battle more than a few times. The ship battles are fairly enjoyable within the context of the main East India Company experience but picking out a large battle and separating it from the main game seems pretty pointless. Still within the general context of the East India Collection it just offers another way to play without having a detrimental effect on the package as a whole. If you’re purchasing it separately however, it’s certainly not worth the asking price of nearly £8.
Graphically the East India Company Collection looks quite good. The highlight has to be the naval battles with great looking ships and decent representations of ship battles too. You can even see the ship's crew doing their various tasks which is certainly pleasing. Outside of naval combat things don't look quite so good. The campaign map isn't as detailed as it could have been and the ships that sail the oceans are much more basic than those in battle. The ports in the game look decent although you will have to endure a loading screen if you have the 3D port view enabled. Thankfully there is the option to disable the 3D port view and saves a lot of time over the course of a game.
All of the crucial information is shown in text and you'll be fully aware of what's going on between the other nations and which ports they have taken control of and pacts and alliances that have been made. When playing as a pirate captain you’re notified of ships that are sailing so you can plan your raid without having to constantly scan the map for ships. All of the game's tutorial information is shown in text so you'll have no problems in getting to grips with the game. All objectives are in text too and can be recalled at any time. There are some omissions however, such as the comments made by your fleet commanders when you issue orders to them, but none of the omissions are important.
The East India Company Collection certainly offers a lot for the asking price of just under £25. Certainly if you are interested in the game it’s probably the best way of purchasing it and it’s easier to forgive the disappointing experience of the Battle of Trafalgar expansion. Back in our review of the East India Company we said that the game wasn’t up to the standard set by games such as Patrician III and Port Royale 2 and even with the expansions this is very much still the case. However, this collection is still worthy of your time if you like the mix of sailing the oceans to trade and engaging in battles.