Review

East India Company Review (PC)

Paradox Interactive has long been synonymous with decent, in-depth yet niche games. For nearly 10 years the Swedish publisher has been delivering titles suited to those with ore ‘hardcore’ tastes, especially in the strategy genre. Whilst this may prevent them from truly breaking into the mass market, even by PC standards, this hasn’t stopped them from being a dominant force in the area they operate in.

East India Company, by newcomer Nitro Games, is another such title. Focusing entirely on trade and naval warfare, EIC is an in-depth historical strategy game that manages to provide addictive gameplay, as well as Paradox’s trademark depth. Whilst not on the same standard of ‘deep’ as games like Europa Universalise, and definitely not as big, EIC still carves out its own little corner in the historical strategy market, and does a fairly decent job of it to.


Port View Mode, unfortunately it’s to look at only, everything here is dealt with in menus and sub screens.
Strategic View – give orders to your fleets and tell them where to go, whilst making sure you can get there in one piece.

For those of you whose history is a little rusty, East India Company is a game that charter’s the rise of European influence in India. The ‘East India Companies’ were corporations set up by the various European nations with a sole focus of trade and development in India, China, and everywhere in between. Arguably the most famous of these companies is undoubtedly the British East India Company, who were a dominant force at the time, and even helped ‘fund’ the British Empire. The BEIC grew to such prominence and wealth that they were given their own charter, and towards the later stages of their 200 year long reign acted like an autonomous political entity separate to the crown.

That’s not to say Britain was the only country to set up an East India Company – many of the European powers had their own version, and you can choose to play as one of 8 European factions in the game and lead them to dominance. This is generally achieved by outlasting the other 7 AI companies, either by out-trading them or physically forcing them out of business using hostile force. However, you can also achieve victory by controlling all of the ports (more on this in a bit) in India for a certain amount of time.

At its core, EIC contains two main levels, along with the third minor level. First off, there is the Strategic Map. This is a ‘world map’ by another name, and basically encompasses the whole of the game world in a very Empire: Total War-esque fashion, although not as well rendered. One of the first drawbacks you may notice is that, at the end of the day, there’s not much too the game in terms of things to do. Stretching from the UK all the way to the edge of Burma, EIC’s map is quite small. Granted, history would dictate that this area is the only place the companies would operate in at the time, but many a fact has been wavered for the sake of gameplay in the past. Still, the way the game is set means that you’ll never get bored with what’s there, and the amount of micro-managing involved almost makes you glad there isn’t any more.

Since the game is purely naval based however, there are entire swaths of the map that you simply cannot go to, and so serve no real purpose other than to stop it looking like one big trade theatre in Empire. Understandable, but a waste. Still, these are mere niggles that the majority of players can probably over look. The map is split up into trade ‘regions’, like Africa, India, etc..., but also by what resource is produced. The Ivory Coast in Africa for example lives up to its name, whilst Diamonds are found purely in South Africa. The Indian Subcontinent itself is split between resources like Spice & Tea, and there are several other ‘main’ resources dotted about the map.

Interaction on the Strategic level takes place between ships and ports that are located along the coastal routes. Since the basis of the game is trade, the player is meant to buy and sell goods at these ports in order to make a profit. As the game progresses, you can take over these forts by force, develop them, and even try to gain a monopoly over the specific trade resource they produce, if any.


There are multiple camera angles available so that you can get close up to the action.
Diplomacy is an important part of the game, despite being a tad limited. Don’t declare war lightly.

The second main level is the ‘tactical’ level. Naturally, competition begets to violence, and at some point along the line you will be at odds with the rival AI’s.... that, or the pirates will try to raid you from time to time. Either way, it involves a battle of some kind, and the ‘tactical’ level is basically the games battle engine. It’s here that the Empire contrast comes into full swing as the tactical mode looks a lot like the Empire mode. It even looks like they spent as long coding the ocean as Creative Assembly did. Not that we want to promote any kind of comparison – they are both different games, just set around the same period and involve similar things.

However, whilst we’re on the comparison angle, the battle engine seems more ‘accessible’ then it’s Empire counter-part. It’s easier to handle, even with larger fleets, and for some reason everything seems to just ‘flow’ better in this game. That’s not to say it’s perfect, it has its own flaws – ships seem to move very slowly, especially when going against the wind. This can make things difficult if you want to get up close to your enemy, as it takes ages just to catch them up. The AI handling of ships could also be better, as more often than not you may find yourself entering the ‘direct control’ on all your ships just to make sure they’re pointing the right way. There’s nothing game breaking about this mode however, so again Empire fans will love this aspect of the game.

The third level of the game is the port view. If you own a port, you can develop the buildings there to give you various bonuses, as well as repair/build ships. Unless it’s a neutral port, if you don’t own it then depending on your relationship with the owner, your actions will be limited. Also, all buying/selling of goods is handled in the port view. Late-stage gameplay is made quite interesting because of this, as nearly all of the important ports will be taken by someone, and so it’s up to you to either charm your way into them, or take them by force. The only real drawback to this is that you have to ‘load’ between port and world map views. This can get annoying if you need to check into several ports at once, so at the end of the day it probably would have been better to combine the two areas.

The most interesting aspect of the game is the political side of everything. Given that the standard method of victory is to outlast your competitors, the player must orchestrate a delicate balancing act between keeping your company profitable, securing allies where needed, but also making sure those same allies don’t become as strong as you. It’s easy to get a slight God complex when you set several AI companies against each other, and pick up the pieces afterwards. There are other uses for diplomacy as well, however we found them to be a bit weak, and as frustrating as any Total War diplomacy AI, which is further impounded by a lack of options in most cases, but that’s not a big thing to worry about.


See what I mean about the Ocean? I wonder if they just borrowed the code...
No idea what this is about, but you can’t get this close to a person on land in the game. Dropped feature maybe?

Despite its flaws though, East India Company is a lot of fun whilst playing it. The main campaign will take you a while, and there are several factions you can try it with. It’s a shame there’s no factional variation however, as that would add to the replay value considerable. As it stands, it would be surprising if anyone played through the main campaign more than once, seeing as in the same thing tends to happen each time. There are ‘mini’ campaigns you can try out, form different starting dates, but apart from skirmishes, there really isn’t a lot else to this game.

Still, as niche strategy games go, this is one of the better ones. A good blend of economics and warfare, Paradox fans and newcomers alike should like it. Those who liked the new trade system in Empire will love this game, as whilst not being perfect, it sure as hell is addictive.

Top Game Moment:
It’s a tie between making big money, and fighting a really invigorating fleet battle.

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Comments

By Nicolas19 (SI Core Veteran) on Jul 29, 2009
Nicolas19
This is really a promising game. I've only played the beta, and it was really fun even with it's flaws. If they managed to root some out, it can be even better.
However, the map is as dumbed down as Empire's, and there's almost no history in the game (apart from the setting, of course). More national characteristics, events, conditions, variables would be welcome to add to this game's longevity, which is now, really isn't much.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Jul 29, 2009
herodotus
"...acted like an autonomous political entity separate to the crown." Well, in fact they were from Day One. It wasn't until Robert Clyde came along that the British Empire became involved at all. Also, the EIC did involve itself in land battles, and these should have been presented in some fashion. Thanks for the review, but I'm going to pass and continue with ETW.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Jul 29, 2009
herodotus
Couldn't edit my post, but that should read Robert Clive (of course), Govenor General of India, and known popularly as "Clive of Inidia". A proper scoundrel if ever there was one.
By melzerith (SI Core) on Jul 29, 2009
melzerith
Good bit of info Hero. I'm not going to get this one though after playing ETW sea battles i'm afraid it ruined me for Sea games.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Jul 30, 2009
herodotus
Which leaves the Trading, which is done best in "Patrician III". I might get it when the price drops...and it will.
By Nicolas19 (SI Core Veteran) on Jul 31, 2009
Nicolas19
Sadly, it will, soon enough. Despite the eye-candy I fear it won't sell enough.
By JustCommunication (SI Core) on Aug 01, 2009
JustCommunication
After having spent many a day playing this game for review, I went back to Empire to try out the naval battle engine, and I have to say I prefer the way they did it in EIC. I don't know what it is, but the subtle differences in the mechanics just make EIC's naval battles that much more better then Empire's, and more accessible.

@Nicolas Heh, at least you can interact with over 90% of Empire's map, in EIC it's more like 20%

It's still worth a play though if the concepy intrigues you. As Nic said, it's very fun despite the flaws, and very addictive.
By Nicolas19 (SI Core Veteran) on Aug 02, 2009
Nicolas19
Well, you already explained the lack of other thing to do on your map. But come on, one port per home country? No Italian city-states (like the Genovese)? No interaction with your crown?
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Aug 02, 2009
herodotus
I've played the Demo and am most unimpressed. The naval battles are comical with enemy ships running away and coming back. They look bland and almost 2D sitting on a nice looking ocean. The trading? Meh!
By JustCommunication (SI Core) on Aug 03, 2009
JustCommunication
*shrug* well each to their own. I'll admit the trading can get a tad repetitative towards late game, especially since only one or two items become the most profitable, so its not worth trading with any of the others.

@Nic Yes, the game could benefit from more 'things' to do and more interaction, although I don't see why there would be a need for more then one home port, gameplay wise.

As for the Italian states, etc... I think it depends whether they had their own official East India Company, like Britain, Holland etc... If they only traded with the east, then they really have no place in the game since it's about the EIC's, not people in general.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Aug 03, 2009
herodotus
What gets me Justy, is that the EIC was involved in land battles, even initiated some, and the Briitsh Army was at their disposal, as the navy was. This is not represented,and for that I'm disappointed.
By melzerith (SI Core) on Aug 07, 2009
melzerith
Sad thing is it got a score of 7.6