Rise of Venice Review27 Sep 2013  by
Taking over the route and just doing it manually solved that problem, but it’s not feasible to juggle more than a couple of manual convoys at once (nor are you really supposed to once you’re potentially commanding eight or ten of the buggers.) It’s not that automated trade routes always fail, but since you’re unable to rely on your instructions actually being carried out it’s necessary to babysit them. This rather defeats the purpose of automation.
It’s possible to micro-manage even further by designating precisely how many of each particular commodity an automated trader puts on board instead of defaulting to a general “buy low, sell high” command, but the ever-changing nature of economic forces mean this sort of route needs to be tinkered with even more frequently.
Faffing about with trade goods is mostly preferable to fighting the real-time naval battles though, which haven’t changed a great deal since I last criticised them in Patrician IV. My heart sank for these when I realised you couldn’t even select individual ships by clicking directly on them, but instead had to choose the correct one of three from a menu list over on the side. An absolutely insane UI decision.
Here’s how to win every single naval battle in the game: use chain shot to disable sails, and use the absurdly fiddly boarding mechanism to (sometimes) steal the ship you’re attacking. Once you have enough cash, use burning oil to set the sails on fire instead. Sell the stolen ships for cash or use them in your trading empire. Profit.
The only challenge offered by Rise of Venice’s naval scraps is struggling with the interface and trying to see what the hell is going on when the game opts for a “fog” battlefield that obscures 80% of your view. After a handful of ‘manual’ naval fights you will probably want to avoid them forever.
Well tough, you often can’t. The campaign mode is hyper-focused on quests involving battles (the final chapter is literally just wave after wave of pirates going after you) and will force you to play at least some of them in manual mode whether you wish to or not. Unless, of course, you don’t have a particular convoy selected and it gets into a fight off-screen; then you won’t even be given the chance to try to save it will just have to watch it (most likely) get destroyed. This is obviously terrific when you have multiple convoys of precious cargo to watch out for.
Free play mode is, by its nature, less restrictive and won’t push you into any unwanted manual battles. You can randomise which cities will produce which goods, how large the starting populations are, what price goods will max out at and other economic tweaks like price curves and slumps. It’s still victim to some apparently dodgy trade mechanics and awful battles, but at least you can mitigate the former by staying as hands-on as possible and the latter by auto-resolving.
Sadly, the political layer is underwhelming in all forms. As a keen player of Crusader Kings II, the potential for devious Venetian backstabbing was an aspect I’d really looked forward to. There are indeed murders and kidnappings galore; but only in narrative cutscenes. The stuff you actually control is restricted to lowering a rival’s status with the Council (something that seems most suited to multiplayer, a mode that was uninhabited in this pre-release review code,) blocking their access to a certain port (same) and nabbing stuff from warehouses. If you’re going to attempt political intrigue in a game, it helps if it’s actually intriguing.
That warehouse option helps goods to wind up on the (very useful) Black Market that pops up in the ocean from time to time, and the others can increase your standing with certain Council members, but those benefits are offset by the frequency with which the AI rivals will use them to randomly screw you over with no recourse. Why, exactly, is my character so opposed to hiring some warehouse guards to prevent this? Sure, I could retaliate by lowering their Council standing, but I’m the only one actively pursuing a quest for noble advancement so why should I waste my time and gold?
Members of your family tree exist as flavourless, functional mechanics rather than actual personalities. I know that someone related to me gives +10% influence with a Council member, but ask me for her name and I’d have no idea. At some point I had a daughter, but the game didn’t even bother to tell me. Like so much of the game, the familial and political sides are an outright disappointment.
Rise of Venice is a strategy title that fails on almost every level to achieve what others have already perfected. If you like the idea of economic production chains, give one of the recent (also Kalypso-published) Tropico games a go. Alternatively, fire up Anno 1404 and get hold of the Venetian-themed add-on, or maybe just play as Venice and beat up the Ottomans in the excellent Europa Universalis IV. If character intrigue is your thing, Crusader Kings II has that locked down hard. And if you’re wanting to just swashbuckle your way across the waves, something like Sid Meier’s Pirates! is probably still your best bet. Whichever you choose, you’ll have a far more rewarding time.