Like Christmas dinner with the entire family, keeping everyone happy in Commander is no mean feat.
Commander: Conquest of the Americas is the next title from the creators of East India Company, Nitro Games. In many ways Commander stands as the sequel to East India, in spirit at least, with both of the main aspects of the previous game being improved upon – trading and naval warfare.
The main course of Commander is the trading aspect, with the naval battles seeming to take a back seat. With the campaign running from 1500 to the mid 1800s, players are given the choice of six European factions and then charged with colonising the Americas and making their chosen faction a bucket load of cold, hard cash.
The player will begin with a small squadron of ships and a handful of colonists. They will then have the chance to scour the coastline, and a heck of a coastline it is, for possible sites to set up their first colony. The available sites are marked quite clearly, once the player gets close enough, and will give the player an idea of what resources are available in the surrounding area. This is of utmost importance as these resources are what the colony will be trading for much needed coin.
Once the first colony has been settled, there then comes the hard slog of building it up and possibly creating other colonies. This is going to consist of constantly sending ships back to the home port with goods to sell and the ships returning with more colonists. The second settlement is fairly simple to set up, but after that there will be a long wait as the requirements for a third settlement are that one of your settlements has at least 5,000 colonists. That will take a lot of ship loading and unloading to achieve.
However, there is still a fair amount to keep the player busy whilst trying to reach these milestones. Within each colony buildings can be constructed that will offer some small bonuses to the player. These may be as simple as raising the morale of your residents, which is another aspect of the game that must be monitored carefully, or as complex as refining resources. Certain buildings can take a raw resource that has been gathered, or traded for, and refine it into something that will sell for a higher price. A good example would be the tobacco leaf which can be refined, with the right building, into the more desirable tobacco, which can be further refined into much needed cigars.
The buildings all require money to start with and will cost the player a certain amount of upkeep. Maintaining that delicate balance between the available money and progression which leads to yet more money, is the secret to many empire building games, and Commander is no different in that respect. As already mentioned, the early years do have a tendency to drag as the trading of goods, alongside the shipping of colonists, is a slow process. It is possible to speed this up with the construction of new boats, but these do not come cheap and, as always, money is an issue.
Sending ships back and forth across the sea is not the be all and end all of Commander though. The player has people to answer to back in their home land, and their needs must be met. There are four advisors and the player must maintain a good relationship with them all, or face being replaced and the end of the game. They will make certain requests, missions if you like, and although not every one of these missions must be completed, ignore too many at your peril. They are mostly reasonably simple and serve the purpose of progressing the game, but the imposed time limit can sometimes be a cause for concern. If the mission asks that a certain building be provided and that building has requirements of its own, or if the mission requires a type of resource that the player has yet to find, then a time limit can be an issue.
Obtaining resources that are not immediately available will have to rely on trading, either with the natives or other colonies. It is here that diplomacy comes in handy and the player can become allies or even go to war with opposing countries. The naval battles that will take place between the player and other countries, or pirates, can either be automatically concluded or fought out in aÂ manner similar to Empire: Total War.
These battles at sea are far less complicated than the previous example in East India, and in my mind this makes for far more interesting conflicts. They can be played out different speeds, depending on the players preferences, and offer quite a depth of strategy, without getting too bogged down with realism. A nice touch is that, as the game progresses, the commanders can level up and gain some rather useful skills which can aid the player in battle. Not only does this make for more variety in battle, but it also gives the player a more personal stake as good commanders need to be cherished and protected. There are a huge number of different ships available in the game, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and the ships can be armed with various different cannon shot to further spice things up.
Once again Nitro Games have excelled themselves with the creation of what could be the most impressive water in any video game. It really is stunning. Whilst the rest of the games visuals may not be worthy of quite that much praise, the game still looks very good. As one would expect, the campaign part of the game has a low level of detail, but serves the purpose very well. The battles on the other hand look great, with very impressive ships and some really nice scenery.
If I had to fault the game, and I am afraid that I do, I could only offer two real criticisms. The first has been mentioned before, which is that the game is a “slow burner”. I can understand that Rome was not built in a day and such, but the pacing of the game in the early years is very slow and even a touch monotonous. This feeling does not last for ever and I personally still felt the desire to work through this period and build my colonies.
The second issue that I have with the game is that it really drops the player in at the deep end. There is no tutorial to speak of and the beginning of the game was filled with confusion. There is help, telling the player what to do and what each of the various screens are for. But it does not explain how to do these things. I took me a fair while to work out how to send my first ships home, laden with resources, and nearly as long to work out how to unload at the other end. There are a number of places within the interface that are not explained and the player will have to go through some trial and error in order to understand.
Even with these problems, Commander is quite a compelling game and will appeal to the Civilisation fans out there, as well as the East India players. The game marks quite the evolution from East India and offers some nice touches that move the game away from simply being a spiritual sequel. As I said a the very beginning, Commander is like Christmas dinner with the whole family. You will find yourself striving to keep the four advisors and your colonists happy, maintain your finances, and then there will be the fighting to contend with. Sounds like Christmas dinner at my house.
So the game is challenging and may not be for the feint-hearted, or for those looking to get a quick, adrenaline-fuelledÂ hit of gaming goodness. But for those of you with patience, colonising the new world and creating a trading empire is a challenge worthy of your attention.
Commander: Conquest of the Americas will be available on July 30th and can be purchased from all good digital distribution portals.