Review by DJ_

"Not what I had expected at all."

I'm sure that many of you out there had heard about this game, seen reviews, read advertisements in gaming magazines about this particular product, but I had neither read nor seen anything on this game. That is, until I waltzed into Electronics Boutique one day on a quest for something different.

There it was, a little flat demonstration (demo) CD priced to own for $1.99 + tax. Well, that didn't sound too bad. I just hoped that I could run it (a year ago, there wasn't too many games that my PC couldn't run, these days the number seems to be increasing) and I took it home.

Having envisioned it as being something akin to TSR's D&D Strongholds game released several years prior, I was still pretty psyched as that, too, was a great game. But loading up the game for the first time, I could see that the game of old and what was on my computer were not the same creature.

I admit to being a bit crestfallen, thinking this to being another sim-type game where the idea is to create and manage a stronghold without going under. I have no luck with sim-type games. SIMCity, SIMCity2000, SIMCity3000, SIMCoaster, SIMThemePark, all of these titles are fun to play (at first), but in the end (no pun intended), the same thing always happens: I somehow manage to get anally reamed by whatever integers and fractions the system is keeping hidden from my sight within the inner workings of the game mechanism.

It eventually boils down to me getting on a web site and looking for cheats or hints, because I'm just not good with sim-type games.

But, after playing around with it for a few moments (in the economic mission) I could see that this was not what was happening at all. It's all rather intuitive. You want wood, build woodcutter's huts. But to build the huts, it requires wood, so don't go nuts building things that require a lot of wood at first if you're going to need more wood later. Laying farms and gaining more food was a simple matter as well. Soon, I had discovered how to get more peasants (make more huts). Amazing, the simplicity of this concept!

Well, after the economic mission flopped (yes, I blew chunks at it, but it was fun to play) I had to play it again, this time, I got the hang of it and won. The siege mission wasn't really my style and I didn't like it that much, but I do have to admit that the animations of the combatants and the way the battles were played out are truly amazing!

I was sold. I HAD to get the full version. When it came out. I promptly un installed the demo, handed it to a close personal friend of mine with a smile, said ''Enjoy,'' and installed the full version on my PC. Last I heard, my friend was saving up to buy the full version as well. :)

The full version supports a mode of play that I swear by. The Free Build mode is everything that I've ever wanted with a sim-type game, and the map editor makes this game infinitely re playable! This is the end-all, be-all game. The only thing in my conceivable memory that doesn't make this game what it could be is the lack of sea-faring vessels for trade.

In fact, the only reason I gave this game a 9 is because, in Free Build mode, when it's possible to get gold up into the thousands and thousands and you go on building sprees, you just go to your trading post and buy the necessary building materials if you're running low on your stockpile. Sadly enough, there seems to be no limit to the amount of resources you can buy. While this is convenient, it isn't realistic. I think I'd like it if you could arrange deals with a dockhand to automatically purchase certain types of goods and materials the moment a new ship arrives, and sell off certain amounts of food, resources, weapons, all for an increased price, to simulate real trading. But that's just me. That's the only thing that kept me from giving this game a perfect 10. But it's pretty darn close to perfect.

This game deserves several expansion sets. No lie!

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 11/06/01, Updated 11/06/01

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