|System: PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: 4Head Studios||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: DreamCatcher Interactive||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Feb. 19, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-8||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Nathan Meunier
For some gamers, picking up re-released collections of older PC games is a great way to get caught up on some excellent titles they missed on the first go around. Also, the once-steep system requirements of some older games may not be such an issue on upgraded, current-generation PC hardware. Occasionally, publishers capitalize on this since many players don't have deep enough pockets to keep up with the need for frequent upgrades to get new games up and running smoothly, but other times a series is just so good it warrants seeing the light of day once again. The Guild Universe falls somewhere in between: it's a collection of slightly aged medieval civilization and economic simulation titles and expansions that have a few irksome quirks, but on the whole they're definitely worth revisiting.
Mixing elements of life simulation, role-playing, medieval time, civilization building, and historic real-time strategy, the Guild series has offered a deep, open-ended play experience over the years since it first came out in 2002. This reasonably priced collection contains Europa 1400: The Guild and add-on expansion pack, The Guild 2, and The Guild 2: Pirates of the High Seas. It's a fairly strong series, and the minor shortcomings of each separate installment are generally balanced out by the highlights of the whole package. The four components essentially break down into two full games with each expansion already integrated into its main title. There's no option to separate the two main games from their corresponding expansions, but that's not a bad thing. Aside from a decent mission-based campaign, the pirate expansion enables naval trading, sea battles, new professions, additional maps, and other goodies.
In Europa 1400, players will be charged with creating a medieval dynasty from the ground up and managing their guild as it slowly grows through hard work and perseverance in the face of stiff competition. Exactly what role you'll take on in society and how you choose to go about advancing their house is completely up to you. You can choose to be an upstanding citizen, run for public office, craft and sell your own wares, and stake out a healthy and honest living; or you can engage in thievery, conduct espionage, and cheat, maim, or bribe your way to the top. It's fun to have the option to play one extreme or the other, and players can also stick to the middle road if they like.
A wide range of different professions are available, and running various shops and operations is necessary to expand your dynasty. Players can specialize in weapon crafting, alchemy, bartending, and many other pursuits, although most revolve around producing goods which can be shipped and sold at a reasonable profit at the local market. Early on, this involves hiring staff, upgrading your shop and home, keeping a steady supply of ingredients needed to craft items, and cranking out products assembly line style. Eventually you'll be able to afford hiring someone to oversee your operation which will free up time to let you engage in other activities including interacting with citizenry, running for local election, and taking on additional work. Running a thieves guild is the only major exception since players will spend more time robbing, waylaying unwary travelers, and being a thorn in the side of society.
The initial learning curve is quite steep, and it's hard not to be slightly overwhelmed by the range of possibilities available to players from the onset of gameplay. Spend a little time getting up to speed, however, and you'll quickly find Europa is surprisingly deep and engrossing once you move beyond the early stages of play. It's worth taking the time to play through a couple of different dynasties in order to explore all the possibilities and professions. Each day you'll be awarded points that can be used to level-up your profession ranking or increase other important skills which will help you keep the edge over the competition. There are also numerous upgrades that can be purchased for you home and business, and it's possible to build and manage new structures in town. In order to continue playing your dynasty once you've shed your mortal coil, you'll have to get married and have children who can carry your legacy forward into the future. You can also speed up the process by leaping out of a window to certain doom which lets you play on as your offspring.