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Patrician II: Quest for Power

Score: 80%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Strategy First
Developer: Ascaron
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 8
Genre: Miscellaneous/ Strategy

Graphics & Sound:

For the most part, Patrician II: Quest for Power makes use of an isometric viewpoint, the sort of god-like view that is common in real-time strategy games. Unfortunately, the level of zoom in the game is not configurable, so while the world looks quite well-detailed, it's also sometimes hard to differentiate between some of the different structures in the game, and you'll find yourself picking out the buildings by tool-tips when you're searching for a particular structure in a city. The visuals definitely aren't mind-blowingly stellar, but neither are they shabby; they play the part intended well, and indeed shine quite nicely when necessary (battles, for example).

Patrician II's sound ranges from passable to unnoticeable, as this genre of games tends towards. The voice acting in the tutorial is amusing, in a Castlevania: Symphony of the Night sort of way; you have to wonder how the person being recorded felt about saying some of the horridly translated lines in the game. Ugh. My family was listening to me play the tutorial and they asked if I was watching the Discovery Channel on my computer; it's extremely dry. The game's music is actually quite evocative, with the sort of beat I'd expect from a game having to dealing with maritime trade. It fit the mood of the game well, if not necessarily the pace, and while it's not particularly memorable, it's something you may find yourself tapping along to as you play.


Gameplay:

Man. This is one of those games that can easily do one of two things: suck you in for hours on end, or leave you cold no matter how much you play it. Fortunately, I found myself enamoured with the setting and the concept, but it took quite a bit of hard work to get to a point where I could enjoy Patrician II. The learning curve is steep, but the result is worth it, for fans of the trading genre who'd like a little originality in their lives. Standard strategy gamers might do well to steer far away, but those who don't mind spending a little blood, sweat and tears to get into a game may very well find a new love here.

The concept of the game is intriguing, and while it may seem familiar to fans of Merchant Prince and the like, it's definitely done differently than any other game I've played. You're to become a patrician, as the title says, by building a massive trading empire and controlling the seas. If you work hard enough, you may even become head of the League, which can only mean fantastic things. Of course, as the game progresses and you gain more and more abilities, you also gain more and more responsibilities.

The whole thing starts off as a fairly simple trading simulation. Find what your home port sells cheap, find places that would like that stuff, and sell it to them for a profit. Find what /they/ have that you could use, buy, sell, and so on. This is how all trading empires start off, and you'll find yourself doing a lot of this sort of thing at the beginning of the game as you build up your starting cash.

Of course, as in any complex game, this is merely the tip of the iceberg. Not only can you trade back and forth with your ship, you can control a fleet of ships, hire sailors and captains to keep them running, and even create convoys on profitable routes. When you have the raw resources in a location but no production of a finished good, you can always build a workshop to produce the goods, in which case you make the profits. If you want to hand out loans and charge interest, you can do that too. The game is very open-ended in terms of what you can do to make money, and indeed it can be very confusing for a first-time player. It's something best learned step-by-step.

Part of the learning curve comes from the realistic portrayal of markets. You can be making a profitable run, when someone else floods the market and drops the selling price of your commodity way down, eating into your profits. Of course, this is a valid attack as well, if you're trying to drive away a trader. It can be frustrating, but it's a part of life in the times, and it's well simulated.

Unfortunately, while the game itself is amazingly complex, it took the route of Tropico instead of Railroad Tycoon II. Instead of giving you a large number of scenarios with goals to fulfill, you're practically expected to play in the sandbox mode for the greatest amount of time. It's a shame, too, because there's so much that could be done with trading goals. It's still not a bad setup, and the game's quite configurable, but it would have been nice to have more built-in challenges.


Difficulty:

Patrician II sports a hellacious learning curve, and it's not a good idea to attempt anything particularly challenging in the 'Single Game' mode until you've learned many of the ins and outs of the game. Be forewarned that you'll probably never learn all of them; once you master trading, you've got to worry about ship-to-ship combat, and so on. A positively confusing tutorial does little to help matters--while it definitely points you in the right direction quite a bit, it's also done in a very strange manner, and it's downright frustrating to complete while staying sane.

Game Mechanics:

Patrician II is powered by the mouse, with a complex interface allowing you to interact with your businesses and ships. Unfortunately, the interface is a little clunkier than it could have been; going house-hunting in each city to find the places that you need to do business in is unnecessary. But then there's the automated convoys that you can do that help mitigate some of the micromanagement. The game bobs back and forth like this; for every neat idea, there's a frustrating interface problem, like the small confusing icons for the various tasks that are not necessarily indicative of what they do. Perhaps the game's main hinderance is the fact that the translation is quite possibly the worst one I've seen in years; the text is all over the place, ranging from humourously unreadable to just plain unreadable. It definitely doesn't help learning a game when nonexistent ships and locations are referenced, which can be mildly confusing to say the least. More work should have gone into finishing this aspect of the game before release; as it is, Patrician II comes off as a more sophomoric effort than it should have.

People who aren't into deep simulations will probably not give Patrician II: Quest for Power a second glance, and to be honest that's probably a good thing. There's a lot of meat in this game, but it's got a hard shell around it; fighting with the learning curve, poor translation, and sometimes confusing interface can be quite a challenge. If you're stalwart enough to brave your way through the game's problems, however, Patrician II can offer up many hours of enjoyable gameplay, embroiling you in the culture of the Hanseatic League of the fifteenth century. The hardcore will definitely find a lot to like here, and fans of trading games should definitely give it a sail.


-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Minimum System Requirements:



Win9x/2K/Me, P2 233/AMD K6-2, 32MB RAM, 4MB video card, 380MB HD space, 4x CD-ROM, mouse, soundcard
 

Test System:



Athlon 1.1GHz running Win98 SE, 512MB RAM, GeForce 2 GTS w/ 32MB RAM, SoundBlaster Live!, 8x DVD-ROM

Windows Outlive Windows Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated