For those who remember, I condemned Nitro Games’ East India Company to a watery grave. It was characterless, drab and unwieldy. I’ve had a little hands-on with it’s successor, Commander : Conquest of the Americas to see if it improves on Nitro’s attempt at the early modern trade sim.
Commander tasks you with founding European settlements in the Americas on behalf of your chosen nation; competing with the rest of Europe for the pleasure. Your tools are trade, angry floating houses and diplomacy. You set up colonies and trade routes then fire grapeshot at anyone who’s moving in on your wares, splitting the game between a trade strategy screen and a close up sea tactics game.
The first thing that struck me on starting a new campaign was the improved sense of scale; in EIC, India, the primary region you drew trade goods from was little more than an appendix shaped blob upon which the primary trade nodes were attached; Commander improves on this with a scaled map of the eastern seaboard of both North and South America. Quickly, the scale the previous game lacked is captured. Furthermore, you begin by founding colonies, rather than simply moving into them. Immediately, the sense of attachment is increased: investing energy into your enterprise seems like a worthwhile endevour where EIC’s accumulation of money failed to do so. One of my chief criticisms with EIC was the stunning lack of non-European factions. Commander improves here too – natives are a potentially devastating force against new colonies, forcing you to garrison them and set up missions to attempt to come to an amicable agreement with them. Sadly, land combat won’t feature; no real adventures of Cortez then, but hopefully interactions with the natives on the strategy side should ultimately give the impression that such campaigns are happening; and more importantly, give the challenge of supporting such sorties into the mainland even if you’re not stumbling through the mountains of Peru yourself.
Crucially, Commander improves on EICs lacklustre sea combat. First off the bat, the ship count now stands at 15, meaning battles happen on a much grander scale, increasing the challenge and heightening their cinematic value. Control is improved through the use of squadrons; you assign captains to lead up to 5 ships, allowing you to command through simply giving the whole squadron orders; while still giving you the capacity to give direct orders as well. Excellently, direct control also returns, meaning you can control a the ship from the 1st or 3rd person perspective. Replete with nausea inducing wave rolling, of course. Other additions include the appearance of battles by coastline or islands, even allowing settlements to be defended by deadly sea forts. They’ve certainly improved the battles graphically; particularly including better particle effects, meaning a volley of shot looks every bit as lethal as it ought.
Commander : Conquest of the Americas feels like a more well rounded game than it’s precessor. The sea combat is big, better and more grandiose, while the strategic side of things has been more tightly honed while cutting down on the shortcomings and overall lack of character EIC suffered from. It will definitely be interesting to see if the final product ultimately proves a more worthy entry into the increasingly competitive world of early-modern strategy games.
Commander: Conquest of the Americas is set for release during Q3 2010 on the PC.