Historical wargaming has always been popular, especially titles that involve taking over the world. Whether it’s reliving Napoleon’s triumphs, enjoying the Romans’ domination of civilisation or recapturing the dark years of World War II, nothing tempts a gamer like absolute power. It’s with that in mind that Paradox has focused on the seventeenth century equivalent of the Gold Rush to India and the Far East, when all the European nations saw huge fortunes to be won in these new markets.
While the principal focus of East India Company is on trade, there’s some serious enjoyment to be had from the constant need for naval combat. The aim of the game is to outdo all your trading rivals by cornering the Indian market and/or destroying the fleets of the competing companies. You start with a couple of basic vessels which you load with goods from your home port and then establish a trading port in India where you pick up profitable imports.
There are several aspects to the strategic planning involved. You need to spend money on your fleets so that you can gather the targeted goods quickly and protect your ships from pirates and competing nations with warships. To recoup the money you must open up more trading routes, which then of course means spending more on convoys, etc. Also, if you organise auto-trading routes, you could quickly end up with a surplus of one commodity in your home port, thus making it hard to sell at a profit.
Ports themselves can be upgraded so that, for instance, more forts are created to repel possible invaders. Your ship commanders also gain in experience after each completed mission or battle success and are rewarded with upgradeable skills which could help turn the tide in future conflicts.
The other key area of planning is during the naval battles themselves, where a number of vital decisions must be taken. You can only have a maximum of five vessels in each fleet, so you have to work out how to balance merchant ships against fighters and speed versus armoury. Fighting takes place in two possible modes; RTS, where you have an overview of the battle zone and give commands collectively to your fleet, or Direct Command, where you zoom in to deck level and steer individual ships.
Other factors such as wind direction and speed, plus the weight of your vessel, have to be taken into account and you can even jettison vital cargo to escape being sunk. If you don’t want to micro-manage each battle then you can allow events to be auto resolved, but with this option you don’t get to keep the captured goods of defeated enemies. Political factors also come into the equation as you can start diplomatic relations with any of the other seven countries to either form an alliance or instigate hostilities.
While there’s a reasonable amount of diversity within the gameplay and the graphics during the sea battles are realistic enough to make you feel seasick, ultimately the game devolves into a ‘get me this shopping list before the deadline runs out’ format, which is satisfying enough in the short term but doesn’t provide enough overall depth to keep you hooked for a long time.
Company: Paradox Interactive