This naval-centric strategy game merely treads water.
- Satiates your inner accountant
- Diverse commander abilities
- Big empires and big mustaches.
- Tactical combat won't float your boat
- Multiplayer campaign lost at sea
- Combat auto-resolve favors the AI.
East India Company is a mercantilist real-time strategy game set at the dawn of the global trade age. As governor of one of the great European East India companies, you must compete against others for dominance of the lucrative markets of Africa, the Middle East, and especially India. As the commander of a private navy that includes both merchant and military vessels, you'll stop at nothing to secure a profit, which includes seizing port cities from the natives, sinking the fleets of rival companies, and forming alliances to wage all-out war. Success in East India Company derives primarily from sound financial planning, measured growth, and innumerable boatloads of exotic luxuries. In addition, you'll find it necessary to personally direct every naval battle using the "tactical" mode for resolving ship-to-ship combat, which is sadly the weakest and most tedious element of EIC's gameplay. And unfortunately, multiplayer action is limited to these lackluster battles. While not without flaws, the trading gameplay is solid and should entertain many fans of the genre; however, those lacking in patience may find the laborious early tactical battles less fun than a watery grave.
East India Company comes with four single-player campaigns, which cover the years from 1600 to 1750. During every campaign, you'll play the East India Company of one of eight Western European nations, all of which historically chartered such companies. This excludes the Holy Roman Empire, which was presumably included to represent the short-lived Austrian Ostend company. However, there is no real difference among the factions aside from the geographical locations of their home ports. Those locations may give England and Portugal a slight advantage over the others because they are in good positions to box in their rivals. Every campaign uses the same strategic map that covers Europe, Africa, and Asia, through India. The exclusion of China is somewhat disappointing because it could have been fun to play through the Opium War time frame. However, controversial trade goods, such as opium and slaves, are left out of the game altogether.
The bulk of your single-player experience will be spent at the strategic and port views. Here, you'll build ships and organize them into fleets, buy and sell trade goods for profit, conquer ports with marines, and negotiate with foreign companies. Such missions as sinking a pirate fleet, delivering a special commodity order, or upgrading a port facility provide some variety, but nevertheless, buying and selling goods gets repetitive. Despite the availability of detailed reports about the price of tea throughout your empire, the trading game seems incomplete because you can sell your exotic goods in only one European city--your home port. When you get inevitably tired of manually managing trade, you can set up automatic trade routes, but unfortunately, these take away any satisfaction you might have derived from maximizing profits by buying, hording, and selling at the right times. As it turns out, the real key to a successful company is not micromanaging trade deals, but rather balancing how much you spend on ships, munitions, and upgrades while leaving enough free capital to buy massive quantities of spices, silk, and the like. Be careful: A few careless expenditures could wind up ruining your company. Another necessary consideration is diplomacy. If you offend enough of the other companies, your fortune will end up at the bottom of the ocean.
East India Company's interface functions capably on the strategic level, providing easy access to the location and cargo of your ships, the main trade goods supplied by various ports, detailed price histories for everything you have sold, and more. The strategic map is not very detailed--it mostly comprises empty expanses of land and ocean--but it is clear and easy to use. The port view interface, which you use to buy and sell goods, build and organize ships, and upgrade buildings works effectively as well, but only after you switch to 2D ports in the game options. 3D ports look great and function without a hitch, but the load times are absolutely intolerable. The music in port view is a nice touch because it rotates Indian, African, Arab, and European themes depending on the port's location.