Europa 1400 - The Guild for the PC gaming platform is that quirky game that comes up once in a great while, giving game review writers like us here at The Laser an obnoxiously large and painful headache. This annoying by-product of playing games such as this latest release from 4Head Studios has absolutely nothing to do with its overall quality, gameplay, design, or any other negative attribute of the game. Actually, it's the exact opposite of those reasons that causes us to haul ass to the medicine cabinet in order gain quick access to those massive bottles of Ibuprofen that we all keep stashed inside. Europa proved to be a highly interesting, entertaining, and innovative title that encompassed many positive aspects about it, making it very difficult for this writer to accurately portray what the game is all about in so many words. After quite a few dabbles within our word processing program (and after a few large scale deletes), we've been able to at least walk away with a least a semi-decent written review of this exceptional game…well, as close as The Laser is going to get this time around.
Right from the beginning when we first received Europa 1400 - The Guild, we knew we were in for a gaming experience that would be unexpected. From the included press releases and various retail box information, we weren't quite able to define exactly what type of game Europa was, or easily place it into any known form of gaming genre. Everything that we read about this game seemed to transcend normal gaming parameters and simple classifications, which isn't an easy trick for a gaming company to actually pull off. Proof is in the pudding, so to speak, and our sweet tooth was aching to get at this particular game and see what we really had on our hands. What we found after finally diving headfirst into Europa was an extremely complex game in both design and gameplay, successfully incorporating many aspects of several PC gaming genres into one entertaining product. We also found that it was a lot of fun to play.
In order to understand what kind of game Europa 1400 - The Guild is, you'll need to try and visualize a game that blends elements of such games as The Sims, Civilization, Hotel Giant, and even Everquest into one title. Add in some heavy doses of 3D-Strategy gaming into the mix, and you're only part way into figuring out all of the ingredients that make up this interesting concoction. At the core of the gameplay behind Europa is a builder/econ archetype, modeling itself around the business practices found in the 13th Century AD. Players assume the role of one of 12 available entrepreneur models, engaging in active and competitive commerce as they try to build up their own empire while keeping other dynastic families also working to increase their influence in check. Not only do players have to worry about running a business in the game, they also have to contend with other forces running rampant during the Middle Ages that could also affect your livelihood, including but not limited to: Religious schisms, political sabotage, conspiracies, war, and even acts of God.
The builder aspects surrounding Europa were rather simple to grasp and maintain. Players begin the game with one building, some money, and at least one employee. Depending on what type of work you do or provide dictates what your shop can make as well as what services you can provide to others. For example, the Tavern owner/landlord has the ability to produce beers with various levels of alcohol content, spirits, and even grain by-products. A Perfumer can create perfumes, elixirs, and even various forms of poison, while a Thief can build up a thriving enterprise via theft and fencing as well as open blackmail with his 'employees'. Players who manufacture items can sell or trade them at the local market place or even sell them at their own place of business, allowing them to build up capital. As the game progresses and money is (hopefully) generated, players can choose to upgrade their facilities in order to bolster production, hire more employees or managers, and even create additions to their business, including storehouses and quarters. Players will also find themselves able to purchase other buildings within their particular town, starting new businesses, and even taking over a competitors industry.
Although the builder portion is a mainstay of the game, it isn't the most important aspect of the title. The true 'meat' of Europa lies within its life-simulation gameplay, which allows players to take part fully in their character's lives in the workplace and beyond. Revolving around the past days of the Middle Ages, players can choose to dabble in numerous real-life activities that take place during the gameplay beyond their own business, including but not limited to town politics, religious pontification, blackmail, murder, sabotage, spying, warfare, dueling, gambling, marriage, courtship, thievery, etc. How the player wishes to partake in the world surrounding their character and its dynasty is completely up the individual. Perhaps you wish to run for a public office in order to gain prestige in your town, or to change some of the rules in order to favor your business? You want to spy on several town officials in order to get some juicy info that you can use in a blackmail scheme? Go for it. How about that unscrupulous competitor in town that's been muzzling in on your business? Just fire-bomb his house and storefronts. Europa pretty much gives you carte blanche in achieving your goals with its micro-management system surrounding its sim gameplay. Just like in the Real-World, every move or action that a character takes does lead to some form of repercussion, both negative and positive. Also of note, players can also build up special Talents with game points awarding after every round (which plays out like a full 24 hour day, even though its calculated in years), allowing you to increase your abilities in either Negotiation, Handi-craftmanship, Stealth, Combat, or Rhetoric. Talents have the ability to add bonuses to certain actions within the game, adding bonuses to spying, fighting, gambling, etc.
Overall, we found Europa 1400 - The Guild to be a strong and entertaining game, even if it did get a bit complicated and even slightly overwhelming at times. For example, it took us a few a few times around to get the feel of the in-game console in order to fully utilize the production and building controls. Even with the help of the tutorial, we still found ourselves returning to the printed game manual in order to figure out what we were doing wrong, or, what we were doing period. Once we were able to fully comprehend the mechanics behind the console, building and production became a breeze (even more simplistic after we were able to hire a virtual 'manager' to take over the more menial chores found with shop keeping as a whole). This allowed us to venture more into the RPG/Sim world, and fully immerse ourselves in the historical reenactment that continuously unfolds around your main character, successfully keeping our attention more often than the builder aspect of the game.
Though the 3D graphics and sound were both well developed, probably the most attractive element of the game lies within its incredibly large replayability factor. Europa's microcosm of gameplay is incredibly diverse, allowing from 12 very different occupations to choose from, several religions, multiple political and civil jobs to campaign for, and even a ton of products and items to buy that can help with a players skill based attributes. The social and political climate of the game can also radically change in a heartbeat as laws and legislation become altered, unemployment rises, churches gain power and prestige, war or famine breaks out, or the intermingling of dynasties takes place due to marriage. Not only do the random factors of the game's design effect the outcome, a large portion of what happens in a players campaign in Europa deals with his or her own actions as the game unfolds. A fine example of this takes place at the very start of the game, during character generation, where players choose whom their parents will be, what sort of occupation they'll hold, and what religion they will start with. This combination will effect how much money the player starts with, what position he will hold in society, and how others will ultimately react towards your character.
Beyond the in-game mechanics that lend toward great replayability, Europa also contains multiple single-player modes that can drastically change the dynamics of the gameplay. These 'Assignments' as they're called range from Easy to Very Hard, and include such specific goals as becoming a town magnate, building a lucrative career, becoming a noble or scholar, or serving as a policeman or judge. Just for kicks, 4Head Studios even added a multiplayer option that mirrors the basic single player 'Freegame' option, allowing networked players to join in an online campaign against one another.
Simply put, Europa 1400 - The Guild turned out to be a great game. The numerous amounts of options available in the games design gave us one of the most replay-able titles we've even come across for the PC. That coupled with a highly original theme provided us with a unique gaming experience. Fans of the Builder/Production genre of gaming will enjoy Europa's core design, allowing them to control the fate of a Middle-Ages business and all of the trappings surrounding it. Those who enjoy Life-Simulation games will no doubt lose themselves in the myriad of activities and experiences that this title provides, allowing players much more control over the fate of their characters than other similar veined games. The only real drawback that we came across was with the titles' high learning curve and rather unfulfilling tutorial. With a bit of persistence (and a lot of game saving) this obstacle can be overcome, allowing players to fully enjoy the gaming experience that lies within Europa 1400 - The Guild.