While nobody expects a game about building a family dynasty in medieval Europe to be an action-packed thrill ride, The Guild 2 is so detail-oriented that it should be on meds for obsessive-compulsive disorder. Much like its predecessor, 2002's Europa 1400: The Guild, this is a micromanager's dream. 4Head Studios' manner of blending The Sims-style babysitting with Middle Ages economics remains original, but the gameplay is so repetitive and meticulous that it will even wear down medieval history buffs.
Medieval villages look and feel so authentic that you can almost smell them.
As in Europa 1400, the focus here is on setting up a family. You begin with a single peasant and must gradually move him up the ladder in society by starting a business to make lots of money, acquiring a wife, having children to carry on the family name, and even running for public office. A lot of the lines between genres are crossed. Your characters have role-playing game-style ability scores, classes (patron, scholar, craftsman, and rogue), and special abilities (complete with funny line-art illustrations reminiscent of those in the Fallout games). Your character also gains experience points and levels up like in a role-playing game. But you additionally construct and upgrade buildings, gather resources, and produce goods like in a real-time strategy game. And, you'll also oversee businesses like in an economics-simulation game. There is even a bit of action involved where you can hire guards to fend off highwaymen who are intent on robbing your goods-laden carts, or you can become a rogue and rob such shipments yourself.
Campaigns all play out in 15th century Europe on maps that represent the English, German, and French countrysides. There are a total of eight maps in the game, although they represent variations on just three general locations. The locations are mainly differentiated by building changes in the starting towns and some adjustments to the opening economic conditions. In Hills of Lyon, for example, you deal with a rich region that forms the hub of five trade routes. But in Alamannia, you have to contend with an economic slump that has been caused by the effects of trade-disrupting bandits. Goals can also be changed in each region by switching among four modes of play. Dynasty is the most enjoyable mode because it's open-ended and the most lifelike. Extinction, time limit, and assigned missions (which involve pretty basic goals like getting rich and becoming a top criminal) are more restrictive and feel more gamelike, although they are reasonable options when you don't want to leap into full-blown, dynastic family building.
All these options are available for play in multiplayer mode, so in theory, you can have some pretty lively online contests with fellow wannabe burghers. We tried to find an online match for a full week after the game was released in North America, but we never found any games in progress. So either there are technical problems with the game, or very few people have taken their dynastic ambitions online thus far.
Although it sounds like The Guild 2 has a lot going on, it is pretty limited in scope. The game centers on repeating a handful of tasks over and over again, even though there are numerous occupations available for each of the four classes. Patrons, scholars, and craftsmen make money in similar ways, by crafting goods from raw resources and selling them in town marketplaces. Scholars are the game's professional class, serving as priests, doctors, and the like, but they still manufacture goods like the parchment and holy water that are cranked out in churches. Food-producing patrons work in the fields to cultivate crops and raise beef cattle for sale. Or they run pubs and inns, making and selling booze and food. And craftsmen make their money by crafting metal goods like daggers in foundries or by making clothing in mills.
Special abilities are illustrated with art and humorous text reminiscent of that in the Fallout games. Meet the medieval Pip Boy!
All these careers are very similar in the way that they play. Even worse, acquiring raw materials, making finished products, and selling goods in marketplaces require painstaking effort. You can automate buildings and carts, but the pathfinding is awful. If you let carts go on their own, they inevitably run into pedestrians and slow to a crawl (it's like there's a narrow, invisible track for all traffic on roads), as well as take circuitous routes to and from markets. So you're stuck with manually moving a lot of workers and carts from your mills, foundries, churches, and assorted other places of business to the marketplace and back. It never gets overwhelming because the pace is moderate even when you've become a medieval tycoon, but it's never a whole lot of fun either. And movement isn't without problems, because the game is buggy and frequently requires numerous right clicks before it accepts destinations.