1701 A.D. Gold Edition (PC) review
"Chances are you know the game's titular century well enough; the late 1600's and early 1700's serve as the backdrop for just about every pirate movie, game, and comic book known to man. Do pirates factor into 1701? A little, but the game's focus is more on the other, less popularized aspects of the era."
Historical games are something of a balancing act for developers. There's got to be enough Game there to entertain your customers, but not so much that your artistic liberties piss off anybody who knows anything about history. But, at the same time, if the game is too close to the Historical Accuracy side of the spectrum, it just isn't fun.
1701 AD, for its part, falls somewhere between Age of Empires and Mount and Blade. If you're unfamiliar with either of these two games, then you're probably unfamiliar with the historical genre altogether, which in turn means you have no idea what the devil I'm rambling on about.
If, on the other hand, you know enough to point out that Mount and Blade is a MMORPG rather than an RTS, then I'll point out in turn that I'm discussing historical accuracy, not gameplay. And again, my apologies to the people from the previous group, who still have no idea what the devil I'm rambling on about.
Chances are you know the game's titular century well enough (Hehe, titular); the late 1600's and early 1700's serve as the backdrop for just about every pirate movie, game, and comic book known to man. Do pirates factor into 1701? A little, but the game's focus is more on the other, less popularized aspects of the era.
It was a time of colonization and exploration of The New World, and that's exactly what you do. 1701 AD casts you in the role of a nameless and equally ambitious merchant/aristocrat/otherwise wealthy and influential person who sets sail from
England his home with twenty thousand pounds gold, a stockpile of wood and provisions, and a ship on loan from His Majesty King William III a nameless entity known only as "The Queen", whose unmistakable accent assures you she must be English royalty.
It doesn't count as historical inaccuracy if they never mention the name of the country, right?
It's clear who you're supposed to be representing, anyhow, and this minor lapse in lineage, while it might cost you the European History exam, is forgivable. 1701 seems more concerned with the how of colonizing the New World, and less with the who and where (which is more than some other games can say). Fair enough. If you're familiar with the RTS genre at all, you should feel more or less at home as soon as you start up the game, since the basic selection/camera/interface control scheme used in virtually every RTS title is required by law or something. If you aren't familiar with RTS games, however, I must commend you on making it this far into the review, and your courage in trying new and interesting things. 1701 AD will not dissapoint; it comes complete with several tutorial scenarios that teach you first the basics of the RTS genre, and then the basics of this one in particular, through the multi-media pincer of annoying-voiceover and helpful popup text. The tutorials are quite helpful in getting your bearings, such that once you're finished them all you are well-equipped to dive into your very first Continuous Play game.
You'll screw up horribly and cause the deaths of hundreds, of course, but wouldn't be an RTS without a bit of a learning curve.
You have the option to start play with a single ship, explore the game map, and choose which island to settle, but if you prefer you can begin play with the beginnings of a town on a random shore somewhere instead. In either case, it's fairly straigh-forward laying down the foundations of your colony; pick something from the build menu, click to place it. The interface is intuitive enough that, even if you aren't a seasoned RTS veteran you'll catch on pretty quick.
To advance to the next stage of development and unlock more shiny buildings, you must meet certain needs your pioneers have. Unlike Age of Empires and clones, you need not simply build the right structure, amass enough gold/wood/stone, and then click Advance to Feudal Age; rather, your goal is to build up infrastructure, raising churches and schools while stocking up on goods that your citizens need to make their lives more comfortable; anything from food to cloth to alcohol. You can produce the stuff yourself, if you like, or make use of the game's in-depth handling of trade and economy to purchase it from your neighbours. Once you have the right things stockpiled, your Pioneers will start upgrading themselves to Settlers, your Settlers to Merchants, and if you're good enough, to Aristocrats.
Most of the goods you need, either for culture advances or building more warships, have to go through a few stages of production before they're usable. If you're short on space and have another settlement, you can transport any of the intermediary goods to facilities at a nearby colony via ship. Or set up trade routes with your allies, sending ships to swap early-tier goods you don't need for finished products you do, stockpile a whole bunch of items and passive-sell it from your island warehouse, or just trade all your stuff for more alcohol if that's your thing (might want to look into that). All these tasks are fully automated once they're set up, leaving you free to focus on more important matters like battling pirate armadas.
Every once and a while you'll be contacted by
England the Queen, who will let you know how well you're doing and whether she's impressed or laughing at you. As your acheivements grow, you can call in a favour and ask for help, either loaning a few thousand pounds gold, or calling on the Royal Queen's Navy for military aid. A far-off goal, and one of the victory conditions, is your eventual bid for independence.
Of course you can always go the way the American colonies did and simply gain your independence by blasting everything in sight. 1701 AD shows one of its greatest strengths here; while you certainly can pursue the above, it's possible to play an entire game without ever resorting to full-scale military action. You'll always have to deal with marauding pirates, but you never need to take a musket to your neighbour's head and demand his stuff. You always can, of course, but you can simply blockade trading ships with a superior navy, ally yourself with the pirates and get them to raid his ships, drive him into bankrupcy by undercutting his goods, or simply go about your merry business and be friends with everyone. Then stab them in the back. There's something here for all ages, demographics, and neurological disorders.
There's a special kind of openness to enjoy in whatever path you carve for yourself. Sure, perhaps it's the kind of openness you've long come to expect from the genre, but there's a comfort in familiarity. 1701 AD might not be groundbreaking, but it hits all the notes and sounds pretty good.
Freelance review by Will Roy (September 09, 2008)
Will is grumpy, sarcastic and Canadian. He occasionally crawls out of his igloo to cover sci-fi and strategy games. Has a love-hate relationship with cats. And the colour purple.
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