Monday, November 23, 2009

East India Company: Privateer Review

East India Company: Privateer, developed by Nitro Games and published by Paradox Interactive.
The Good: New campaigns focus on a variety of short-term missions
The Not So Good: No advantages (and several disadvantages) of being a privateer make it a pointless choice, most significant enhancements were already available for free
What say you? Even for only $10, Privateer offers neither innovation nor variation from the original: 3/8

East India Company was OK, but it was limited mainly by the unwieldy trading interface and a distinct amount of repetition. The developer remedied some of those shortcomings with the free Designer's Cut patch, which, of course, begs the question of why the Designer's Cut wasn't part of the original release to begin with. My guess is undue pressure from Paradox to remove all of that hardcore nudity. The Designer's Cut mainly introduced a more streamlined port trading interface and removed those really annoying loading times, putting everything on the main screen. That solves my primary complaint of the original game, so what's left for Privateer, the priced ($10) expansion for East India Company? Here, you control a privateer (surprise!) with no national allegiance, free to trade and become disturbingly friendly with any company of your choosing. Does this significantly change the gameplay for the better?

No noticeable enhancements have been made in either the graphics or the sound departments other than a new introductory video and maybe some new background music. Well, that was easy!

East India Company: Privateer lets you play a privateer in competition with the East India companies. Amazing! The game comes with two twenty-year campaigns (1630 to 1650 and 1700 to 1720), in addition to a longer sandbox campaign that spans the full length of the game from 1630 to 1750. Your goal is to make tons of money by successfully trading and completing missions. You can only play the privateer campaigns if you fire up East India Company: Privateer, meaning you must exit the game and execute the regular version of East India Company in order to play the “classic” mode: a minor annoyance. East India Company: Privateer also advertises new multiplayer modes (breakthrough and beehive), but these were included for free in the Designer’s Cut of East India Company.

The biggest enhancement East India Company: Privateer offers is the new missions, which come in both privateer and merchant flavors. Bascially, you are given a cash reward for completing such tasks as smuggling a spy, destroying a ship, escorting important goods, or transporting specific goods to a destination. It’s a nice addition that brings more direction to the game, although you’ll probably be doing the same sort of actions anyway in order to make money. Being a privateer offers no benefits, though, as you are initially locked from building any new ships (since you must first acquire good relations with one of the nations) and your starting fleet is anything but intimidating. You don’t make significantly more money on your own, either, as the missions reward only small amounts of cash for their completion. It is exceedingly difficult to successfully complete missions in the beginning since you are given such paltry starting resources. You are given more options to modify your fleet, as there are ten new commander skills (for a total of twenty-nine) that offer a nice amount of customization and specialists can be hired as crew members to grant small bonuses in combat and trade. The most significant difference in East India Company: Privateer is the much improved (but still cumbersome) city trade interface, but this enrichment was also included for free in the Designer’s Cut of the game. There are also problems and issues that still remain, from small economic bugs (getting the incorrect amount for goods) to never capturing goods or ships when battles are automatically resolved (a very important source of income for a privateer). I do like the shorter missions as opposed to the static objectives of the standard game, but $10 should deliver something more than just repetitive, low-profit, and difficult missions.

Even for only $10, East India Company: Privateer doesn’t offer near the amount of content we’ve come to expect from an expansion pack. There is only one new feature, the privateer missions, and they simply attach a cash reward to things you should be doing anyway. In fact, there is no reason to play a privateer, as it’s way better to just align with a company and be able to use their home port to buy ships. Being a privateer offers no advantages (you make the same amount of money, save for the mission bonuses) with plenty of disadvantages: you trade and fight like usual, but you only have access to a small number of neutral ports and can't build ships until you improve relations. So what's the point? You start out so small and so slowly that it takes you half of the campaign time to build up a reasonable fleet. I would much rather just start aligned so I can have more than three ships. I do like the shorter, more focused missions that Privateer brings to the table, but it’s simply not enough and, frankly, you at such a disadvantage playing as a privateer that it’s not even worth the effort. The free Designer's Cut patch offered an equal amount of much more important, interface-related content. Privateer would have been better if they added the trading aspect of the game for multiplayer (even if they had doubled the price because of it) or some other notable feature. There are still small annoyances, like never capturing ships during an auto-resolved battle, and the occasional bug appears during gameplay. Simply put, nobody should consider a career as a privateer.