East India Company: Privateer Review (PC)

East India Company was a quaint, yet focused little game under the Paradox Interactive name that immersed the player into the world of 17th Century trading. It was yet another niche title from a company that thrives in these small self-contained markets and despite being an interesting break from the norm, it wasn’t perfect. Reviews were average at best, the game was a tad unstable at release, and since then, it hasn’t garnered much attention from the mainstream audience.

Still, that’s not to say developer Nitro hasn’t been busy. Bugs and other technical errors were addressed, and they even released a micro-expansion in the form of Pirate Bay, in response to player enthusiasm. This add-on put allowed players to play as the Pirate faction, with the sole goal of acquiring as much wealth as possible. This was an interesting variation on the main game, focusing solely on fleet battles and earning money through piracy, however one could argue it was just a small distraction.

Now, the game’s first official expansion, Privateer, has been released. Once again, the player is put in a more focused and unique situation, whilst keeping the overall goals the same. As a ‘Privateer’, you hold no allegiances to any one faction, not even the pirates, but in order to stay in business you must make money though any means necessary. Whilst this can include resorting to piracy a la Pirate Bay, without support you may find it difficult to contend against everyone. Whilst trading in the main goods from India or Africa is still a major gameplay facet, instead of being the focus like the original game, it’s more of an afterthought. Instead, players can accept missions from the major powers and earn money.

These missions can take on a variety of forms, and are split into two categories: privateer and merchant missions, and these range from capturing or destroying an enemy ship, to smuggling, to purely transporting goods from A to B. There is only one goal to this mode: make as much money as possible in the time allotted, and as such you can pick and choose which missions you want to do. This means that things are less restrictive then the main game, as you had periodical criteria to fulfil otherwise you would fail. You also have to carefully balance what missions you pick, as even though it may make you friendly with one faction, it could just as easily make you hostile with another. Added to that the fact that if you fail a mission, the faction that issued it will also be wary of you in the future.

Privateer boasts many improvements over the original game, which are most aesthetic or to do with the UI. Interaction between the different modes, such as the strategic map and the port view has been made more efficient, and trading provides more XP to fleets in order to balance things out for players who try to avoid fighting. To be quite honest however, as good as these changes are, they don’t do anything ground breaking to the game and one could argue that they should have been included from the beginning. Still, it just goes to show how responsive the developers are to feedback, and they’ve even re-released the original game in a ‘Designer’s Cut’ edition that includes Pirate Bay, as well as all of the new improvements.

Other additions just for Privateer include new skills that are suited specifically for the privateer campaign, a couple of new multiplayer maps, the ability to hire ‘specialists’ which further augment your commander and fleet abilities, and perhaps the most promising new feature of all: fort battles. Whilst these battles can only be fought during a specific mission type, they never-the-less allow your fleet to engage these stationary installations and any protectors. This new battle type requires a subtle shift in tactics, especially if you have to deal with both a fleet and a fort, and should provide some much needed extra entertainment value. This could also possibly pave the way for more land-based engagements, which were also prominent in this time period and should really be essential for a game such as this.

Still, as good as all these changes are, with most of them included in the new ‘Designer’s Cut’ edition, it’s hard to completely justify calling this an expansion. At best, it’s another distraction, a mini add-on similar to Pirate Bay, and whilst it will entertain for a while, the necessary repetitiveness of the gameplay will settle in once again. On the plus side, along with a full blown ‘sandbox’ mode, Privateer also has two 20 year modes which cover the early and later periods of this era. Working in such a short time frame should add some excitement to the game, as well as eliminate the eventual tedium by keeping things short. What, however, does that say about a game when the only way to get any real enjoyment out of it is to only play in bite-sized chunks?

Sadly, it also seems that, whilst many bugs and errors were addressed for the original game, Privateer seems to have added (or re-added) just as many. The game crashed several times during testing, and several other oddities were witnessed. Do a quick scan of the forum and you’ll see many other such reports. It seems Nitro still have a little way to go in order to perfect this game, but going by their past record, these shouldn’t be a problem for much longer.

What else is there to say about Privateer? It’s only £7.99, so you could do worse when it comes to an expansion such as this. Fans of the game will enjoy this distraction, even with its similarities to Pirate Bay, and with any luck some of the more promising additions will pave the way for further enhancements for what is really a neat, if slightly flawed, little game.

Top Game Moment: Taking on a formidable fort with one ship, intellect, and a whole lotta luck.



By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Nov 16, 2009
I think I'll just stick with "The Designer's Cut" free addition. There just isn't enough in the game to draw me too deeply, compared with Empire: Total War.