Reviewed: January 15, 2003
Released: November 19, 2002
Are you constrained by the oppressive laws that govern modern society? Do you ever wish you could take your annoying neighbors out back and do some violence to them, or perhaps you would like to ďinviteĒ your boss to your secret back room and show him the proofs you have of him and his mistress, and discuss a raise? If so, you can take out your frustrations with this game, Europa 1400: The Guild.
Brought to life by JoWood Productions and 4Head Studios, The Guild is a game that places you as the patron of a family in the late Middle Ages. You have to start and build your career, and more importantly, your familyís social standing and power. You first start off by choosing your parents, and then your profession. You can be any one of a decent variety of professionals, such as smith, priest, herbalist, carpenter, mason, trader, thief, etc.
Your first objective is to get your business up and running, so you can afford to upgrade your business, house, and personal belongings. Once your economics are supporting your odious spending habits, you set about getting a wife (or husbandóthe game lets you play a woman without penalty; they admit that itís a historical fallacy, but point out that it is just a game) and starting your family. Once that is done, you also need to land a position in the town or church authority, and start your rise in influence and power. Of course, this whole procedure sounds easier that it actually is. While you are trying to do this, the computer (or other human) players are trying to do the same thing.
As is human nature, people will stoop to any level to accomplish their goals. You can be honorable, and just do nothing. In this case, have a nice time being the townís Master of Sewers for the rest of your life. You can be nice, and just rely on spies to get proof of your enemiesí wrongdoings, and expose them via the legal means. Or you can be Machiavellianishly-mean, and blackmail and sabotage your enemies and their operations. Lastly, you can emulate old Emperor Palpatine and sic your Sith Lords and cronies on your enemies, and thrash or kidnap them as necessary.
Now that you know the basic idea of The Guild, let me expound on how this game plays. While I truly relish the plot and the idea of the game, it falls short of its potential. My first complaint is that you can only interact with individuals directly connected with you; friends, family, opponents, and town officials. You canít just find a chump on the street and manipulate him. This isnít inherently bad, but the chumps can mess with you. I once got kidnapped by a person in town that I couldnít even find, much less have a relationship of any sort with him. However, my greatest frustration is that you really canít manipulate people very well. When you attempt to obtain a position in the town council, the members above your position vote or appoint you. Yet, you cannot manipulate them with kindness; only blackmail works. And naturally, this will work for a short term, but when the blackmail wears off youíre worse off than you were before.
Another aggravating feature with this game is the time you have to spend managing your economics. They have a nice feature where you can hire an overseer of your business, but he or she will not make half of the money you will micro-managing, and that is a pretty hefty setback. Lastly, this game has no plot. While you are obviously supposed to develop your own plot by playing the game, they donít have any scenarios. The only thing to do is to play the game, at least playing one-player. You can decide which goal or goals determines victory, but as RTS games go, itís the same as having only skirmish battles available. Once I had mastered the game mechanics, there was nothing else for me to do, and I quickly lost interest. Playing this game in any mode other than multiplayer is absolutely pointless.
The multiplayer adds a whole new dimension to this game. From the Prehistoric Era of text MUSHes, to the teenage years of Doom played between college dorm rooms, online multiplayer games have begun to come of age, and this title is one of the prodigal children of multiplayer games. Europa is not just a multiplayer game; it adds something new to the genre. Europa 1400 is a multiplayer game completely based on intrigue, not just interaction. You have to make enemies and alliances to play the game. In many online games, there are always plenty of people that either make friends with everyone, or are hair-to-toenails Class ďAĒ jerks.
In my experiences playing this game, I encountered few individuals behaving this way. Of course, trust is a commodity worth more than gold, and more scarce than weapons-grade plutonium, but that makes the game even more interesting. My personal favorite scenario was watching the town priest and the thieves guild come to rule the whole town. All I needed was Officers Joe Friday and Pep Striebeck and I had another Dragnet on my hands! However, the multiplayer game is definitely the saving grace of this gameóit never got old for me. Keep in mind though, I am a sneaky, manipulating bastard that enjoys chaos and mayhem.
The process of actually playing this game was very disappointing. First of all, while the written instructions are good, the in-game help files are terrible. Secondly, this game is 98% mouse-driven, and Iím never a fan of that. Give me keystrokes or give me death!! Wait, noÖgive me keystrokes or give me a rebate!! Thatís better. At any rate, the mouse will slow down the speed of any master level player. They do have keystrokes in this game, but they are limited and hard to find. An easy fix to learn these quickly would be to show them right by the place where you click. For example, if you want to buy oak, then have the screen show ďOak (O)Ē.
Secondly, to do the bulk of your actions, you need to go to the interior of your rooms which serve as visual menus. Inside the rooms, you have to find the miniscule item that opens the appropriate menu. Of course, this item isnít highlighted or made interesting in any way, but hey, just wiggle the mouse for an hour and youíll find it. Gak! Whatís even worse is that each room has three or four camera angles, so youíll need to wiggle that blasted mouse for two hours to find all of your options.
There is also a combat mini-screen that occurs when your caravans are attacked. This is literally the worst combat screen I have ever seen. Itís very similar to the old Krondor games based upon Raymond E. Feistís books, but worse. Those games were round-based, and while awkward, were at least easy to determine directions. In this game, to go on some of the eight possible directions, you have literally one degree of error in a 360-degree circle around your character to get him going the right way. And, sometimes he doesnít even respond to your clicks. Itís truly annoying.
Overall, the graphics arenít too bad, theyíre just underdeveloped. They only have a few styles of houses and businesses, and it gets very monotonous. Furthermore, the people are all very similar. Sometimes it even looks like the town is the barracks for the Emperorís Clone Army, and that thereís only one person in duplicate strolling around.
There are short movie snippets in the game that cover things like trials and council votes; they arenít bad but they arenít great either. The interiors of the buildings are well detailed, but sometimes a bit busy and hard to determine what is a button and what isnít. This game isnít really a graphics-driven game, which makes my criteria for decent graphics lower than on an action game.
The sound for this game is pretty good. There is the typical medieval music in the background and it sounds pretty good. The voices in the movie snippets are pretty cool and each building has itís own interior sounds. The smith has the traditional hammer-on-anvil sound; the carpenter has the wood sounds, and so forth. All in all, there isnít much to say on the sound. It meets expectations and the demands of the game.
For the retail price of about $39.99, this game really isnít worth the money. I have played it for about 15 hours or so, and some of that was just to make sure I gave it a good shakedown for this review. A large part of this stems from the fact that there is no real one-player storyline to follow. You just make skirmishes up and play them to fruition. Well, to quote Adam Sandler, whoop-it-dee-doo!! You can pretty much see all there is to see in this game in about 7-8 hours, and then put it away after that. I expect a minimum of 20 hours out of a game (and really, more than that if Iím going to spend my increasingly low funds on it).
You'll probably get much more value out of this game if you take your business ventures online, and while that is fine, it would have been nice if the box stressed that this was a game best played online. I can foresee a lot of people picking up this game because "it looks cool on the shelf" then getting home and sinking into depression.
If you havenít noticed, Iíve used a lot of words like annoying, frustrating, and aggravating in this review, and thatís a pretty good summary of this game. It has tremendous potential to be cool via insidious plots and political wheeling and dealing, and the multiplayer potential is really immense. Unfortunately, I like to see a game that can be played alone as well as online. With my crazy schedule, I donít often have time to dedicate a couple of uninterrupted hours to play a game. I need to pause and save often, before my kid starts licking the outlets or something. In my opinion, if you like multiplayer games, get it. Otherwise, save your money.