Guild 2, The Download (2006 Role playing Game)

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In the dark times of the middle ages, the aristocracy is losing control, giving lowly merchants and business owners a chance to build some wealth and power. In Guild 2 players begin by creating a character, customizing their features, and assigning a class and profession such as craftsman, rogue, alchemist, and more. The object of the game is to build an empire by utilizing the skills the character has. Players may choose to build their wealth the honest way, or by using strong-arm tactics or outright stealing. Building structures in town is a must to increase one's bank account, and the structures may be upgraded to supply various types of goods for trade. The game includes a single-player campaign and sandbox play, as well as co-op, team play, and free-for-all multiplayer action for up to eight players through the Internet or a LAN.

Some four years ago, Europa 1400: The Guild arrived, a combination of RPG and strategy game that enabled you to live a virtual life back in the middle ages, climbing the ladder of medieval wealth and politics. While the game was kind of rough around the edges - most of your time was spent staring at static screens of statistics and figures - it was still surprisingly unique and really deserved a lot more attention than it got.

Sorry to say, The Guild 2 isn't even that good. Admittedly, it's a lot more graphically interesting than the original, with fully 3D towns packed with virtual inhabitants scurrying to and fro as they busily go about their lives. The music is excellent, and there's a lot of digitized speech and ambient sound to set the mood.

There are also a lot of problems. For one, there really just aren't a whole lot of choices or options. You start by creating a character (oddly for a game set in the Middle Ages, whether you choose to play as a man or woman has zero effect, except in choice of marriage partners - no Massachusetts weddings here), limited to one of four basic classes: patron, craftsman, scholar, and rogue. Each class has its subdivisions - a scholar can choose being a priest or an alchemist, for example - and these are chosen mostly by which kind of buildings you buy and in which areas you concentrate your skills as you earn them.

Way back in the day, I played The Guild and felt it was something new in the strategy genre, a tycoon game set in the middle ages. I had fun running a smithy in olde-time England, and so when I heard there was a sequel coming out, I was obviously quite interested. The result is much like the first, with some good new features, but heavily plagued with its own share of problems.

In the Guild 2, you start out with a peasant and a family name in a variety of settlement scenarios. These scenarios are just varieties on a few scenarios, just changing the size and number of towns that you can interact with. You can choose your class at the beginning of the game, and they have a fair amount of variety to what they do. The patron, for example, is the farmer and inn keeper of the game, and is responsible for keeping the market stocked with vegetables and alcohol. The scholar is the world's educated, dabbling in alchemy but also becoming priests to convert the masses. There's the craftsman, who creates the tools and clothing, and then there's the rogue, which, instead of making things, steals them, either through some pick-pocketing or all-out attacks on trading carts. With this humble start, you'll try to build up your dynasty (your family name) into something that can live on long after you've passed on.

But even the aspect of death isn't the end-all in the Guild 2. If you play your cards right through the game's frail social interaction, you can woo a potential someone and make progeny to be proud of, even sending them to school, an apprenticeship, and maybe even university. If you hadn't noticed it, my first gripe with the Guild 2 is its social interaction. All said, it's pretty basic, allowing you to execute a variety of interactions, such as complimenting, embracing, kissing, and so forth, to anyone of the opposite gender in order to have them warm up to you. Problem is, there's no real depth in this, and wooing, for example, can just involve complimenting someone, waiting until a certain amount of time has passed (many actions require you to wait an amount of time before executing them again), then complimenting again. Repeat over and over, maybe throw in an embrace or kiss, and voila, time to marry.

Your character's class (as well as those of your family members) affects what buildings you can construct, and therefore what businesses you can run. Each of the businesses vary greatly in what they can produce and what you can do with them (the robber and thieving professions especially), and depending on the level of your character, you can upgrade the level of your building, which gives you access to more improvements like extra employees, burglary protection, and so forth. And your buildings aren't the only things that go up in level. As you perform complete actions (like using an item or interacting with someone else), you'll earn experience points that you can spend on various stats that aid in your character's actions, such as constitution or martial arts.

These 'actions', however, are loosely defined, and earning experience is a lot harder for some classes than others. The rogue, for example, fights and defeats enemies as par the job description, quickly earning him or her experience. The craftsman, however, works in a store, and the only way for him or her to earn experience is through purchasing and using expensive items. This results is some fairly unbalanced gameplay.

In your jobs, you generally control what materials to purchase from the market, what kinds of things to make, and what you want to sell (either by selling it in the store or sending a cart to market). The problem with this is that, while interesting at first, after a while things start to get dull and repetitive. Unfortunately, every business, from church to blacksmith and farm to bandit (you eventually have to sell the items you plunder) follows this model. Well, except for the thieving class, but waiting for pickpockets to earn cash or finding houses to burgle is equally unexciting after a while. Luckily, you do not need to micromanage your professions all the time, and once your places of work reach the second level, you can get the AI to do everything for you, after you set a couple of parameters for it to follow.

Luckily, the social scene and the micromanagement aspect of purchasing and selling items is not all there is to the game. For one, there are politics to consider. Each settlement, depending on its size, has a number of political offices than can be held, each with privileges of their own. The mayor of a small village, for example, can set the sales tax and embezzle some funds, while the bailiff can control the town guards. So now you've got some incentive to run for town office. This means pleasing the people above that position (they vote on who gets the job) through comments, coercion, or a nice big pile of cash. If there's someone in a position you don't want, you could always do away with them, either outwardly or perhaps with the appearance of a duel between gentlemen. Accidents happen, after all. The politics are a nice touch to the city, bringing it to life that much more, and allowing you to expand your ambitions.

That's something I really liked about the game; the cities seem to have a life of their own. People mill about, going through daily routines like crafting, visiting the market, holding meetings and trials, and the town rolls on with or without your presence. Carts travel between cities, bandits and pickpockets mill about, and you can even attend church (and listen to the latin-english sermon). It was really interesting to see a game bring to life a medieval city so well. Yes, the poor collision detection meant people were walking through each other a lot, but considering the size of the crowds, that would be very hard to avoid no matter what.

Graphically, things work well, at least from a general perspective. People mill about below you, the sun rises and sets with the days, and the scenery looks quite nice. In fact, the insides of the buildings are done quite well, filled with detail and small touches. There are a few issues, however; for one, the people look unimpressive close up. Despite the clothing, which looks quite well done, the people of The Guild 2 have frightened-looking faces that get even worse as they age. Adding to that is animation that stutters often, as well as path-finding problems and a couple of other bugs.

Did I mention a couple? Actually, there's quite a few. For one, after some time spent playing the game, it slows down to an unplayable speed. Then there's the aforementioned path-finding problems (especially bad for merchant carts), and as always, lockups and simple crashes-to-desktop problems. Since this game doesn't auto-save, that might mean a lot of lost time. And this happens often. A glance at the message boards over at JoWood's website shows there's an enormous amount of gameplay issues that have cropped up, and many of them really hamper how enjoyable the game is.

The game also features a multiplayer mode, which means you can play with your friends, though when I tried to look for a game to play online, the scene was pretty bare. Still, playing on a local network was a lot more enjoyable than just playing alone. There's very little out there as satisfying as lording the position of mayor over your friends (and having them banished as well).

The game is a micromanager's dream, but if you don't like that type of gameplay, it may be your nightmare. It's a fairly enjoyable strategy/RPG mix for those that enjoy the empire-building games, but the severity of the bugs hurt the experience immensely. Still, the drive to further your dynasty and see what levels of power you can attain means a lot of gameplay and a lot of replay value.


People who downloaded Guild 2, The have also downloaded:
Gothic II, Gothic 3, Europa 1400: The Guild, Fable: The Lost Chapters, Heroes of Annihilated Empires, Gun, Final Fantasy VIII, Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone


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