Standing atop your rickety deck, sea spitting into your face as a storm rages all around you, East India Company successfully provokes nausea. In the best possible way. It’s impossible not to feel your stomach churning while you take direct command of your ships, steering through the full fury of a high seas storm.
Given chance to preview East India Company, the first impressions are perhaps the initially limited number of controllable ships -five. This however doesn’t quite betray the complexity required to take command of just one vessel. It’s a subtle combination of fighting the hostile elements of the ocean, limited ammunition management and preparing firing angles via both the traditional RTS perspective ala’ ETW, and directly controlling the ships from the captain’s perspective. You’ll find yourself switching between the two control methods regularly; organizing the flow of the battle from above, before switching to any one ship for a little extra finesse, and certainly also to just enjoy the clash from eye level! Interestingly, your admiral also has certain “abilities” such as “ride the wind” giving you faster movement, or “repair sails”; I believe this hints at the grander scheme of the game, adding more persistent, RPG like characteristics linking the economic and strategic side of the game to the tactical. Similarly, you can drop your cargo if it all goes pear shaped for an extra speed boost in flight at the expense of profit in the economic half of the game.
Try as I might, technically, it’s impossible not to compare with Empire: Total War with regards EIC’s sea based antics. Both certainly have their merits. ETW is the more graphically appealing of the two, and provides the generally most visceral experience, though the aforementioned weather induced nausea certainly demonstrates that EIC has its own graphical atmospheric novelties. EIC is also perhaps the deeper sim. Steering makes for a harder game, being also dependent on the motions of the ocean as well as the wind, while limited ammunition and cargo control add to the number of tactical choices you have to make. It’s slower paced, and perhaps requires more forethought before engaging your enemy. I certainly like the ability not only to change from “Easy” to “Hard”, but also between “Arcade”, “Normal” and “Simulation”.
There’s a few months before release, and in this time I’d like to see Nitro Games work on the interface a bit. It’s functional, and the tutorial makes most of the important functions clear, but it can be a little fiddly. With a little practice things quickly become clear, but in the heat of battle you don’t want to be flicking over icons trying to work out what they do. AI seems to be a little work in progress at the moment; you occasionally find ships clumping together quite randomly, and your own seem a little helpless if you spend too long directly controlling one. It would be great if they could up the visual feedback when firing; more overt destruction to the ship targeted, and more noticeable cannon firing in general – larger muzzle blasts and smoke would add greatly to the superb sound effects they make as they expel their deadly payload.Despite these provisos, EIC looks good. Based purely on the sea combat, EIC won’t be solid enough to stand up to ETW; its main rival in the market; even if it is the more in depth simulator, and has a few aspects that I think EIC surpasses ETW in. Increasing the visual impact of combat would greatly add to the superb environmental realism. It’s got some teething interface issues that if resolved could certainly make it more accessible.
Overall, the sea combat is a solid, if not entirely innovative experience. I’m greatly intrigued to how it ties in with the economic strategic layer of the game. Admiral traits and cargo and ammunition management should work well to combine the two layers. So long as the economic layer itself is good, EIC should prove different enough from competitors, and involving enough on its own terms to merit a purchase when it’s released in a couple of months.