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Guild II (PC) artwork

Guild II (PC) review

"Welcome to 1400, a time when everyone bribes, spies, and blackmails for personal benefit. It just so happens, though, that life in medieval times isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be, as repetition quickly creeps in."

It’s not hard to draft a list of similarities between The Guild 2 and The Sims. Both have you take full control of a fictional family, both let you climb the social ladder, and both encourage acts of love for the sake of having children. But while The Sims -- a mega-hit worldwide backed by a ridiculous number of expansions -- simulates modern life, The Guild 2 takes place six centuries earlier, and it’s each man for himself. Welcome to the Middle Ages, a time when everyone bribes, spies, and blackmails for power and survival.

Much like The Sims, your aim is to help your family flourish, and in three of the four samey game modes (dynasty, time limit, and extinction - a “last man standing” variant) you’ll need to earn heaps of cash, have children to preserve the family line, and protect yourself from the threats of rivals to come out on top. Only the mission mode pans out differently, but even then, you’re given rather generic self-explanatory tasks like ‘get rich’ or ‘climb the ladder’.

In an attempt to persuade you to play through the game multiple times, you are given a choice of four classes from the outset: patron, craftsman, scholar, and rogue. By far the most interesting is the rogue, a role in which you survive by threatening, extorting, robbing, plundering, and brutally breaking the bones of helpless citizens. Scouring the outskirts of town with a band of men on the lookout for your next poor victim is engrossing. For everything you do, caution must be exercised. Make a false move, and the townspeople will retaliate or run for help and seek the city guards, as they come en masse to stop you in your tracks. And even if you get away, the locals will have enough evidence to take you to court, hoping to see you exiled or even executed.

The other three classes, however, are far too similar to each other to warrant separate play-throughs, as patrons, craftsmen, and scholars all make money by selling products made from raw materials. Where patrons buy barley, wheat, and dough for their bakery, craftsmen purchase metals to forge swords and armour. In fact, all the game boils down to with these classes is selling manufactured goods, wooing someone of the opposite sex (which isn’t hard at all if you stalk your mate and continually ‘compliment’, ‘embrace’, or ‘beguile’), and attending the odd election or trial once in a while.

In addition to classes, character stats and special abilities add some depth to this sim. Here, you gain experience by performing everyday actions, and the points you earn can be spent on numerous stats. Rogues need dexterity and martial arts, while bargaining and handicrafts are more useful to cake-sellers. And as you level up, you can learn special abilities like ‘Leader’, which increases productivity in the workplace, or ‘Kama Sutra’, which makes bearing a child much more likely.

The innovative blend of role-playing and sim elements aren’t the only thing that makes The Guild 2 stand out, though. At any time, you can apply for office and work your way from the bottom to being the sovereign of your town -- that is, after you suck up to enough council members by complimenting them or giving them generous gifts. This not also grants you a higher social status, but also some nifty bonuses, such as the ability to order arrests and immunity from your crimes.

But before you make it that far, you must stand trial for any charges brought against you. Though you can try to sway verdicts with bribes (be warned that many law-abiding men will take offence), being found guilty or not usually hinges on the strength and credibility of the evidence. Was there an eye-witness around when you so cannily extorted protection money from the local pub? How convincing is your rival, as he testifies that he saw you cold-heartedly stab the victim to her untimely death? It’s a particularly nice touch that some dynasties really have it in for you and go to any lengths to prevent you from reaching lofty heights with acts of sabotage, prosecution, and threats.

After a generation, though, court cases and elections get tiresome. Once you’ve seen a few, you’ve seen them all. It doesn’t help at all that dialogue is constantly reused, boring the heck out of you and forcing you to right-click repeatedly to skip everything. The same applies to all the tacky chat-up lines too, which horribly backfires when you hear two very wrinkly, horny fifty-year-olds falling in love with conversations like:

You have the most pleasant, beautiful skin.
Seldom have I had a more pleasant conversation. Thank you.

And there’s also a hefty amount of bugs to cope with. Besides the game sometimes refusing to acknowledge your mouse clicks and occasionally crashing, it’s not uncommon to see fellow townspeople walk through each other or carts failing to reach their intended destinations. Citizens can even hold onto their office positions after death, which prevents anyone from taking over. To their credit, 4Head Studios did release a patch shortly after The Guild 2’s release, addressing the majority of the bugs, but one wonders why they weren’t fixed at the testing stage.

It’s a shame, because while there is plenty to like about this game, several large flaws let it down. Had all the classes been more distinct, and had there been more incentive to continue playing past the first generation without getting déjà vu, then this could have been a good game. But, as it stands, it is a wasted opportunity. The multiplayer doesn’t get much love, either. Even if there were plenty of people on the servers, there’s not much to do anyway, unless you want to endure the same repetitive single-player action again. However, if you’re intrigued by a more hardcore, medieval version of The Sims with a dash of strategy, then some of the more redeeming and entertaining features make this worth a look.

freelancer's avatar
Freelance review by Freelance Contributor (November 16, 2006)

This contribution was provided by a writer who is no longer active on the site.

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