East India Company is a new upcoming naval warfare RTS from Nitro Games and Paradox Interactive. Set upon the high seas, you command a fleet of ships and battle with rival companies for supremacy of trade routes. Managing and maintaining a maritime monopoly is the name of the game. Will East India Company have you shivering timbers or leave you with a soggy case of scurvy? Read on for more about my sneak peek of the game.
The game begins with a history channel-esque CG intro movie. The graphical presentation in the opening is passable, but doesn’t quite look like current generation. Additionally, the game’s beginning does little more than tell you there will be ships and cannon fire, neglecting to give you much background on the actual East India Company.
The tutorial mode is a great place to start, as most RTSs are quite a bit different from one another. For some confusing reason, tutorials one and two are locked in the demo, with only three being available. I couldn’t help but feel I was being handicapped from the start. Tutorial three attempts to teach the tactical aspects of naval combat. The lesson begins with two of my ships facing two other ships. Relevant areas of the screen are circled in red to offer cues, as lackluster text boxes appear with instructions. Reading quick is imperative, as your ships can be sunk by the enemy during the lesson. Ultimately, the tutorial explains how to move around, select units, and how to use special abilities.
East India Company features two different control types for commanding your fleet. RTS mode allows for the mass selection and navigation of ships. Commander mode zooms the camera in on your chosen ship, allowing you to steer it manually and fire cannons as you please. Clicking and dragging virtual boxes around multiple units in RTS mode is needlessly challenging, as your mouse will get snagged on one of the many onscreen menus. Additionally, selecting units is finicky, requiring multiple clicks to highlight what you want. Commander mode is the most approachable means for controlling ships. It is very useful for lining up multiple units for efficient cannon volleys.
Your ships’ cannons can be loaded with several types of ammo. Standard cannon balls are great for penetrating ship hulls, chain shot is used for rending enemy ships’ sails, and grape shot delivers a mega-shotgun blast to decimate enemy crews. The varied ammunition types offer the prospect for custom tactics, but it’s difficult to appreciate such details if you can’t get your ships in range of the enemy.
One important thing the tutorial fails to properly explain is effectively using the wind to sail your ships towards the enemy. More often than not, set destination markers are completely ignored by your fleet. Even when the wind is filling the ships’ sails, their progress is painfully slow. Your ships will remain stationary regardless of how long you wait after issuing a command to attack enemies across the map. Nothing happens, despite your “loyal” crew’s assurances they will send the wretches to a watery grave. The game has simulation, normal, and arcade “realism” modes, and only minute differences in ship speed is noticeable upon changing the setting. Arcade is almost bearable, while in simulation mode it takes two full minutes to turn your ship in the right direction.
Upon diving into the “demo battles,” you are greeted with another set of issues. The battles begin with the opposing ship factions practically on top of one another. Your inability to competently ride the tide is finally a non factor, but now the enemy is attacking before you have the opportunity to select units. As fleets charge into battle at the speed of a glacier, the battlefield slowly becomes a scattered mess. In RTS mode, the camera refuses to pan out far enough to gain a convenient perspective for unit management. Also, at times ships will leave battle under their own volition as if they’ve spotted a school of mermaids beckoning them to follow.
The in-game visuals are decent. Looking at ships closely in commander mode allows for a peek at the tiny crew scurrying about the ship like ants on a fallen ice cream cone. The ocean waves ripple realistically according to the direction of the wind, and look even more impressive during one of the in-game storms. Despite this attention to detail, ship types are often difficult to differentiate from one another. Battling on the sea at night does nothing new graphically, save for making already similar looking units even more unidentifiable. Despite the adequate visuals, the game ends up being a handful of ships on a huge ocean map. Not much to gawk at.
In the end, it’s hard to tell who the target audience for East India Company might be. If slowly lining up ships in formation to wage a lengthy battle sounds like fun, this might be for you. Anyone who enjoys having responsive units when commanding them may become quickly frustrated. However, as this is simply a preview of the game, there is still time for Nitro Games to tweak the sailing and control mechanics enough to create a fun experience.