Friday, December 10, 2010
Review: The Guild 2: Renaissance
# of Players: 1 (2 - 4 online)
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)
As deep as the ocean and surprisingly addictive once you get into the intentionally slow pacing, The Guild 2: Renaissance is an intriguing mix of RTS, RPG and simulation gaming that's definitely not for the casual gamer. In fact, heavy experience with The Guild 2 is highly recommended, as this latest expansion lacks a tutorial mode (despite the manual stating there's one available, D'oh!). Once you get past that mind-boggling hurdle (the JoWood forums and YouTube are great helps, by the way), the game becomes a bit hard to stop playing as you guide your character's destiny in any way you choose. The amount of content and things to do here are staggering and despite the occasional bug, the game can really grow on you.
If your RTS experience leans more toward the faster-paced WWII, StarCraft or Warhammer type of war games, well... this isn't that sort of experience. Go into the game with expectations of Zurgs blowing stuff up and you'll probably be thrown for a loop when you start up the game and get dropped right into the character creation screen, then into the scenario select which again, has no tutorial option. Once you shut the game off, go poke around the Internet for a bit and come back with some notes on how to get started, things start looking up. Yes, it's a pain to have to hunt down what should have been part of the package, but it's also a good way to end up with a copy of The Guild 2 in your collection and have the chance to bury yourself in that game for a few long months.
Renaissance is all about your avatar and how he or she makes it big (or doesn't) in the game's many scenarios spread all across the Renaissance-era world. Yes, there's a ton of resource management, buildings to buy and sell, workers to hire plus a heck of a lot more to tackle and for the most part, it all works quite well. However, don't expect to see full scale military battles or any dragons swooping through the skies. What's here is supposed to replicate much of the minutiae of daily life in the 1400 era setting and doing pretty much any task will take you some time as the game is heavily focused a lot more on you raising or lowering your social status on a more person to person basis.
For example, you might spend a few hours opening up shops, hiring workers, seeing to trade routes and the like, working your way slowly up the ladder to wealth and respect while gaining fame with other cities and notoriety with others. Or you can run a thieves den with a bunch of cut-purses looting up the village as you lead a life of crime for as long as you can stay out of prison. There are dynasties to forge, random events that can ruin your day (or life in a case or three) and a ton of other variables that make the game world ridiculously interesting and hard to pull away from. In a way, the game can be even more compelling than the Civilization games just because you get more of a feeling of everyday life in the Renaissance world it recreates. If you set the game timer off, don't expect to come up for a breather for quite some time, what with marriage, children and the passing on of your lineage to take care of.
If all that sounds far too dull to you to even consider going near, it probably might be a good thing to avoid Renaissance if you're "expecting" anything resembling a high action game. On the other hand, if you like games such as the Fable or Elder Scrolls series but somehow wished the gameplay had a lot more depth than just sallying forth and killing monsters for fun and profit or fairly simple "diplomacy" aspects, this might be up your alley. While you won't find too any deep fantasy-themed elements here (despite the Transylvania map which you'd think would be packed with vampires and werewolves, or hell, even a single fruit bat), the sheer amount of things to do is quite overwhelming yet rewarding if you crave something with a lot more meat on its bones than your more user-friendly console or PC RPG.
Like those RPG's mentioned above there's a benefit to being good and some pretty harsh penalties for acting out those evil fantasies. While you can indeed play as a thief or decide to kill a random stranger, the townspeople don't take too kindly to criminal behavior and will respond accordingly. As long as you're keeping those around you pleased, you'll be fine. Playing as a criminal only works well if you've grown a network of other thieves and have a few distractions and hiding places to hoof it to when trouble arises. You can also live out your life as a merchant, become a priest (male or female, an amusing bit of choice in some religions), a big shot politician and much more. Again, the choice is all up to you and how you interact as your avatar grows as a diplomat during the game.
Renaissance has no true campaign mode at all - there's just a wide selection of scenario maps and mission types to choose from and a time limit you select. Most maps are single player, but you'll find a few multiplayer maps here, should you decide to try thing out online. Of course, that's going to be a rough as hell experience if you don't know what your doing, so again, the more time you spend playing the main game and getting into how things work, the better. This free-form structure makes the experience quite like a mix of stand-alone expansion and a bunch of really awesome mods packed onto a single disc. Again, experience with the original and/or sequel and its expansions go a very long way in determining what sorts of fun you'll have here, so I'd actually recommend tracking a few of the older games down down before you jump into what's here.
Visually, the game might not be as impressive as whatever hit PC's last week or games using every texture trick in the book, but overall, it looks great and thanks to a host of adjustable graphics options, should run fine on any moderate to high-end gaming PC. The art style is realistic with a bit of fanciful stylization here and there and features solid texture work, great use of color and some fine lighting effects. Sound work is solid with some great effects and really nice tunes warbling away from your PC speakers. Although the voice acting is OK, it also leans toward the intentionally campy at times. It's not the best voice work in a game, but it's definitely far, far from the worst stuff I've heard in one of these simulations. While I haven't tried the online portion yet, I hear it's pretty decent provided all the players have a great connection and all are well-versed in the gameplay.
As good as the game can be, don't expect to see any mods any time soon. the developer has stated on the official message boards that the game code is too complicated for basic or even advanced players to fiddle around with and I'd have to agree to some extent. It could also be that they really don't want people fooling with the game world they've crafted (no Star Wars or GTA Guild mods here!), but I'd gather the former version is actually the truth. Overall, for twenty bucks, The Guild 2: Renaissance is definitely a great buy for fans of this decidedly niche sub-genre. What's here will be a great game for those interested in historical simulations with a tiny dash of the fanciful, but again, you'd better be prepared for the long haul should you pick this expansion up. I had to drag myself away from Renaissance so i could get this review done (and a few other things), but I'll be back at some point... I still have a dynasty to build on my hard drive...