Cultures 2 Gates of Asgard
by JoWooD Productions
Two years ago a game called Cultures was released. Looking very similar to the Settlers series, in particular Settlers 2 which many consider to be the best in the series, the game offered an enjoyable experience that managed to contain all the essential RTS qualities and yet managed to play at a more gentle pace. The game also managed to incorporate RPG elements where your men could develop experience points and you could decide to which skills they were to be attributed.
In Cultures the main character, Bjarni, was merely a boy. Bjarni is now a young man and in Cultures 2 a very different kind of adventure awaits him. One day Bjarni has a vision. The vision involves himself and three others fighting a huge monster. The vision greatly troubles Bjarni and he goes to seek advice from the local village druid. The druid tells Bjarni that he is convinced the vision is of Ragnarok, the Viking end of the world. He advises Bjarni to seek out goddesses who weave the thread of fate.
If you've played the original game you'll find quite a few changes in Cultures 2. The first thing you'll notice is the absence of a tutorial. This time around the basics have been incorporated into the campaign. The campaign this time also has a tighter focus and to begin with you only control Bjarni whereas in the original you immediately had control of the villagers and all their tasks.
Some buildings can now be upgraded. A dwelling can be upgraded if you have the requirements to do so. In the original you were simply able to build a bigger dwelling and couldn't modify existing ones but the new method helps conserve valuable territory. Workshops can also be upgraded to allow for more workers. You do not need to build a workshop for every type of material either. In Cultures you had to have separate woodcutters, stonecutters and mushroom pickers etc. but in Cultures 2 you simply appoint an extractor and tell them what you want from a choice of clay, quarrystone, wood and mushrooms. This is a prime example how the developers have simplified the micro-management The technology tree has also been amended to take account of these gameplay changes.
If you played Cultures a lot, one change that will strike you as odd is the way that you have to now right click to place buildings and move your people. In Cultures you had to left click to perform these actions and it took me some time to get used to this change. The only reason I can think of is that the developers have tried to make the game feel more like other RTS games where right clicks are often used to issue orders. Like Age of Empires 2 you can now send your villagers into the headquarters if you are under attack. Scouts can be set to automatically explore but to be honest I found this feature pretty useless, as they hardly go anywhere and just complain they have nothing to do, and it is far better to send them to specific locations yourself.
In Cultures 2 you have a little bit more control over your people. You can now tell a household whether they are allowed to bring luxury items into their home. Before they just did it automatically and you had no control over it. You can tell your military to equip themselves with weapons, armour, shoes and equipment and as long as you have the items available they will equip themselves with the item.
As well as the campaign there are a whole host of single player and multiplayer maps. These range from having economic and military goals to be being completely unrestricted and open with no mission goals whatsoever. One nice feature that has been included both in the campaign and stand alone missions is the pickup items. These include items such as technology scrolls (that instantly gives you a technology) and chests (that can have a free building that is instantly built when you place it). There are many more pickup items and they serve to get your economy up and running as soon as possible. One disappointment though is that there is still no map editor. This really is a standard feature of the modern RTS and one should have been included. Having said that there are a fantastic amount of gameplay hours to be had with Cultures 2, it's value for money cannot be questioned.
Graphically the game has advanced from Cultures. The game can now be played in 32bit colour compared with 16bit colour of the original. The maps are now far more richly detailed with animals, trees, grass and water all looking more feature rich and lush than in Cultures.
Cultures 2 is fine for deaf gamers. Like the original game the introduction is not subtitled but everything else is. However once you start the campaign, you will be introduced to the storyline of the game, just not in the same way as the introductory cutscene. Your villagers make murmuring noises which isn't real speech so this doesn't need to be portrayed visually. All mission objectives can be recalled and all information is almost solely given in text.
Cultures 2 is a fine sequel to Cultures and if you like the original then you'll like the sequel. Personally I like the story of Cultures better than Cultures 2 but taking the game on the basis of it's gameplay Cultures 2 can be regarded as slightly better. Cultures 2, like Cultures, still isn't a game for those who like fast action in their RTS but if you like a more gentle pace in your games then Cultures 2 could be the game for you.
Overall Game Rating: 8.4/10 Cultures 2 contains quite a few gameplay refinements over the first game and manages to play even better. Like we said with Cultures though as long as you don't like the action thick and fast you'll love Cultures 2.
Deaf Gamers comment: The missing introductory cutscene subtitles are the only problem with every other detail being given in text.