The Guild 2: Venice is a stand-alone expansion that purports to be all about the legendary sinking city best known for its canals and singing gondoliers, but it's actually just a third-rate face-lift of its predecessors. The only noteworthy additions to this economic simulation are a couple of new professions, four new scenarios depicting Venice and its neighbors on the Adriatic Sea, and some horrific bugs. So even if you're hungry for more merchant-on-merchant action after the original game and its Pirates of the High Seas add-on, you don't need to take this Venetian holiday.
If you played any prior Guild 2 games, you'll find the gameplay here very familiar. You once more sign on as one of four medieval classes and work at making money, building RPG-like skills, and going forth and procreating to establish a multigenerational dynasty. That description makes the game sound a little more far-ranging than it actually is, however. Instead of a role-playing medieval adventure, you're actually playing a merchant in a humdrum real-time economic sim. The patron, craftsman, scholar, and rogue classes may allow you to take on a wide range of occupations that stretch all the way from priest to highwayman, but each deals with nearly identical buy-and-sell busywork. As a priest, for instance, you set up a church and make your daily bread by selling holy water and the sacrament. On the other end of the moral spectrum as a rogue, you do pretty much the same thing, although you take a shortcut to wealth by stealing items that you later sell. All of the lines of work here seem just about identical, with similar goals that mainly revolve around buying raw materials and turning them into finished goods dished out for a profit. Basically, you're playing a medieval workshop boss, with all of the thrills and chills that such a job entails.
About the only difference between this expansion pack and the previous Guild 2 games is that you're now plying your trade in Venice instead of northern Europe. Changes are so superficial that it can be hard to even notice them. About the only difference between this expansion pack and the previous Guild 2 games is that you're now plying your trade in Venice instead of northern Europe. The lagoon-based city and its neighbors such as Trieste and Ravenna are depicted as being waterlogged, which generates a lot of atmosphere in comparison with the blah northern European maps in the original Guild 2. The canals in Venice really set this backdrop apart from those in the earlier games, although the way that city neighborhoods are spread across tiny islands connected by narrow bridges makes the map layouts feel almost puzzlelike. A lot of tedious scrolling around is required to find specific buildings. Trieste is even more of a pain to navigate, due to it being scattered over even dinkier islands connected by narrow, half-submerged roads. This city looks more like it could be found in the Florida Keys, not along the coast of the Adriatic.
Pathfinding is awful, too, and the number of roads so limited that you can never guide a character directly from one place to another. You need to head west a lot of the time to go north, east to go south, and so forth. Even worse, your characters move so slowly that they might as well be running underwater, while NPCs race around. Even people that you're in the process of successfully wooing tend to just take off and run away from you at a moment's notice. This forces you to either break it off and pick up with someone less fleet-footed, or run after your intended and hope he or she takes a breather at some point before you lap the entire town.
The constricted map design also restricts building possibilities, especially in Trieste. Lots are so tightly packed that it can be tough to find enough space for the game's generally large structures. You typically have to do a fair bit of scrolling across the landscape in order to find a spot big enough to accommodate something like a cathedral or even a smuggler's den. Perhaps this is a realistic concession to the watery landscape of Venice and the surrounding region, although these building restrictions just seem annoying from a gameplay perspective. Bugs cause even more problems with building placement. The tutorial mission on building purchase and setup cannot be completed because there is no place big enough to put the foundry that it requires. Since you have to finish each tutorial to keep going, this little problem nicely locks you out of the remaining primer missions (which is kind of a big deal since the game ships without a paper manual). Also, the ghost building outline routinely vanishes when you try to place structures, making it even harder to properly drop them onto the map. We have to wonder if anybody play-tested these maps before booting the game out the door.
And even though the general map terrain is vaguely Venice-like when it comes to the "water, water everywhere" shtick, the city itself looks very little like its canal-laden counterpart in real life. Most buildings appear to have been reskinned with new textures, but in a quickie fashion that leaves everything looking unfinished. Cheap homes now look like shotgun shacks thrown up with a few two-by-fours and some corrugated metal. Adding to this rough look is a lot of clipping. Characters routinely run through buildings and carts, and also tend to hang out half their bodies sticking into a wall or door. This at least makes the awful pathfinding a touch easier to deal with, but it gives the game a real shoddy look, especially when you're inside a building with lots of people, like a tavern, or have zoomed in to get a close-up look at city streets and see unemployed serfs loafing around with their legs buried in benches up to their knees. The camera doesn't seem to know where solid objects are, either, as it frequently gets jammed behind walls when it switches over to the letterboxed sequences depicting conversations, such as when you're courting a potential spouse. Just a few new iconic structures have been added to give Venice a distinct appearance, such as the Council Palace and the University of Venice, but most of these are inaccessible, and those that can be entered seem to reuse interiors from the earlier games. At any rate, the landscape here is nothing like the exciting domain of canals and carnivals promised on the box.
While we did experience a few crashes to desktop, always during political events like voting, we haven't experienced the hard crashes and corrupted saved games that have apparently plagued other users. Yet it's hard to really credit the game here, since these issues have been reported on many online message boards and have caused the publisher to hurry a patch into private beta development. So despite our dumb luck in at least partially dodging the bug bullet here, the game seems unstable enough in other areas that you should be sure to download a patch as soon as one shows up.
Any way you look at it, The Guild 2: Venice is pointless. It provides almost nothing new, includes none of the content in the original game or the first expansion, and even omits the multiplayer mode of play included in both of its predecessors. Instead of taking you for a ride on a gondola, all this expansion does is take you for a ride.