In addition to automating battle, you can also automate your trade routes. The option is great, though automating anything is usually a good way to trip up progress. Leaving trade on autopilot will quickly flood the market for items, cutting into your profits and the all-important "volume traded." Profit is a good thing, but the game places more emphasis on how much you trade, which seems to go against the game's core concept. The only real motivating factor behind a strong economy is the ability to purchase more ships.
Purchasing new ships opens up another of the game's issues. New types show up as the game progresses, rather than through good old R & D. As odd as it sounds, this lends an "arcade" feel to progression. Topping it all off is the ability to hire new commanders with special abilities. Considering the era ushered in a number of naval innovations, I expected a little more from progression.
Automating battle is unnecessarily harsh. Defeating opposing fleets offers experience and loot, though if you decide to bow out of direct control, you gain nothing. I could understand a penalty of some type, but to completely lock players out of rewards is just forcing failure and shortsighted. You aren't likely to notice much of a difference earlier in the game, but as resources begin to dwindle later on, you'll want everything you can get your hands on.
Taking the battle in your own hands isn't a major feat, however. Battles are 3rd-person skirmishes using the WASD and mouse to navigate and attack other ships. Similar to ship development, it feels sort of "arcade-y", though here I didn't mind it as much since true naval combat simulation would take forever. One really cool aspect of combat is the ability to board and capture rivals ships. It's risky, but completely worth the trouble.
East India Company has a clear goal and, for the most part, accomplishes what it sets out to do. At the same time, the game is not without issues. Though many can be overlooked, others go against the game's core goals, diluting the experience.