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Unfortunately Easy To Confuse With Guild Wars 2

Good Lord, and I thought I had played simulations of boredom before!  For example, Euro Truck Simulator is a series about simply driving trucks around European countryside, the Farming Simulator series is about utilizing farming equipment to seed and harvest land before delivering the goods, and The Sims series is basically playing house with artificial intelligence.  But over the past couple days, I put WildStar down a bit in order to pick up The Guild 2: Renaissance, and I have to say that my bar of boring game premises has been set to new heights!

I started as a craftsman, one of four classes, and for me this was a real time strategy game about barely scraping by.  I'm being fairly literal here, if the GUI is the game, then The Guild 2: Renaissance is mostly a real time strategy game.  However, instead of amassing giant fleets of hostile units that fight, you instead control three members of a family (a "dynasty") and their businesses and employees.  It's sort of refreshing, really, because I've played enough of the standard kind of real time strategy games to last a lifetime, so this is a much needed deviation.

If you play The Guild 2 like I just played it, you would think it's more like The Sims, because I was mostly moving a craftsman between his home and work.   At home, he would study to improve his skills, sleep, or try to knock up the wife.  At work, he would toil endlessly at a foundry.  Unlike The Sims, my craftsman sim actually owned his place of business, and I could control the wagons and employees and was responsible for buying resources, selling goods, and facilitating the travel of both.

So it is that this game is not advertised as real time strategy, but rather a combination of a life simulator and an economic strategy game.  Yet, I don't think it meant to be either of those things, but rather The Guild 2 is actually a game about intrigue.  This is evident in the support for politics and dirty dealings.  You can pull a wide variety of nasty pranks on your competitors in business, from firebombing their buildings, framing them for crimes, and even flat out assassinating them!

If my first play of The Guild 2: Renaissance proved anything, it's that you can sabotage the fun for yourself.  My craftsman simply worked the shop and tried to make an honest living.  By the time he recouped his initial business investment, he died of old age.  Unfortunately for his heirs, it seems this cycle of pointless toil is just doomed to repeat.  It's like this game was trying to teach me a nihilistic lesson about the futility of human life!  Apparently skullduggery is the spice of life.  Yet, being a legitimate businessman is also a decent strategy, as it makes you less enemies with rival dynasties and sends less members of your dynasty off to appointments with the headsmen.

Being up to no good is where The Guild 2: Renaissance really shines.

An intriguing game, but imperfect.

To be clear, The Guild 2: Renaissance is basically the best of The Guild 2 series, combining the lion's share of the features of the previous releases of The Guild 2 and The Guild 2: Pirates of the European Seas, while introducing tweaked AI competitors which are now smart enough to actually survive some of the time.  It's sort of silly that Steam sold me a bundle of all three games because, once you have The Guild 2: Renaissance, there's no real reason to go back.

Yet, even in the latest and greatest official version, there's still a number of odd little bugs.  The goal of the first game I had started was to eliminate the other dynasties I was up against... and they largely facilitated this by dying off of various causes all on their own, most of them not bothering to secure a bloodline.  Pathing is a little strange, with the various characters and units frequently wasting some time spinning on their heels before realizing which direction they need to go.  There are several extensive community mods out for it, and I should consider giving this game another play with one installed.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of The Guild 2: Renaissance is the general kludginess of the interface.  After all, the interface of The Guild 2: Renaissance comes from 2006, the date of the original The Guild 2's release.  Yet, even if user-friendliness had not improved much in the past 8 years, I think this game may have been a bit behind the curve to begin with.
Though dated, the game is reasonably pretty.  Aside from that, this video has nothing to do with how the game actually plays.

For example, to simply buy and sell some goods for my smithy:
  1. First, left click on the smithy. Then click the button on the bottom to open the production interface.
  2. Then move the goods into the cart.  (Note that when I refer to "moving" things, it's a bit tricky.  Left click the good once to just add one to your mouse pointer to move.  Double-click will grab as much of that good as you can from that slot.  If you want to get some number in between, then you will need to hold down left click and drag a slider, but it's nearly impossible to get an exact number, and single-clicking to increment carries the danger of double-clicking by accident.  Regardless of how you grabbed the good, click an open slot on the cart to drop it there.)
  3. Then order the cart to go to the marketplace by right-clicking on it.  (If you right-click on the marketplace on the map and order it to "unload all," you can skip the next two stages, but at the cost of getting whatever the marketplace is willing to pay for the entire load of goods.)
  4. Then wait for the cart to get there.  (You'll probably go do something else at this point, and maybe forget all about the cart.)
  5. Then open the marketplace interface and move the items from the cart to the marketplace to sell them.  (Before doing that, you will want to right-click the goods individually in order to pop open the interface that shows comparative prices in order to make sure those prices are currency acceptable, as they will fluctuate on a supply and demand scale depending on current marketplace stock).
  6. To buy items, move the items from the marketplace to the cart.
  7. Then order the cart back to the smithy.   (You can also order it to automatically unload everything, at the cost of not necessarily wanting to unload everything, but this will skip the next couple steps).
  8. Then wait for the cart to get back to the smithy.
  9. Then select the smithy, then open the production interface, and finally move the items from the cart into the smithy's stock area.
There has got to be a better way.  After all, we spoiled people of the year 2014 have many games where all I would have to do is select a building, right click on the items I want to buy or sell, and all the details are handled automatically.  Even the notoriously-hard-to-control Dwarf Fortress has you merely specify what belongs in the trade depot and what doesn't, and then dwarves automatically move the items to the appropriate crafting stall as required.

I suppose, in defense of The Guild 2: Renaissance, travel time and manual buying/selling does have to be a factor, because the supply and demand structure of the economy makes handling these logistics part of the game.
 This Let's Play video demonstrates the general kludginess of the interface well.

Mercifully, The Guild 2: Renaissance does have AI shop management to handle just about everything, but unfortunately the AI has nowhere near the efficiency or intelligence of a player.  This game actually charges you gold for turning the dumb AI on... I suppose that makes sense in a multiplayer game because they have to do something to counterbalance a player who has a ton of shops to run versus players who don't.  Given the general kludginess of the interface, it's inevitable that you will need some help when you have three dynasty members and several buildings with employees, resources, and goods to handle.

A joyously novel experience soured by general kludginess.

As far as being an economic life simulation goes, the level of detail in The Guild 2: Renaissance makes it perhaps the most comprehensive of its kind.  It's all here:
  • A barebones treatment of The Sims-like day to day living; marrying and making babies in order to secure your dynasty.  (Yet, you can neglect eating and sleeping all you like.)
  • A market driven by supply and demand in dozens of professions scattered across the 4 classes (Craftsman, Patron, Rogue, and Scholar) all working together to form a simulated society.
  • Intrigues in the form of crime and politics.
  • Historical diseases like the boubonic plague and leprosy.  (Mercifully short on simulated detail.  They tend to make your characters die faster and can actually be cured.)
  • Important events occurring off-screen such as wars.  
Though The Sims Medieval has a lot better simulation of the day-to-day and clearer defined goals, there's no better open-ended sandbox real time strategy game for feuding trade families than The Guild 2.
However, it is perhaps inevitable that the developers of this game overreached; by trying to do so much, essential details become lost that make the game less than fully functional.  In addition to the kludginess of the UI, issues include:
  • Balance problems such as goods or activities that can net a ludicrous amount of gold in a short amount of time.  One popular exploit involved capturing a building, selling it, and then capturing it again repeatedly.  Another was to simply save the game, bet the house in gambling, and reload the saved game if you lose.  Patches are available for both exploits, but paths of least resistance remain.
  • The occasional game-stopping bug.  For example, my first game ended with the last remaining rival dynasty member stuck somewhere where they could not be interacted with nor even die of old age!  The latest Legacy mod pack has introduced some fixes for this, but it introduces a few issues of its own.  Though these problems are infrequent, and autosaving is well-implemented, backtracking around these issues is a hassle.
  • Needless obfuscation introduced by the various expansions.  The addition of these new buildings and resources have partially upset the balance and are that much more difficult for the player to keep track of in an already complicated game.
It's a shame, I think The Guild 2: Renaissance is one of the cooler, most ambitious games I played in a long time, but it's just slightly short of what it should have been.  I hope that a sequel is made that improves upon its predecessors accordingly.
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