“… for a game based on economics it’s surprisingly engrossing and fun.”
Offworld Trading Company is an early access project, soon to be fully released on Steam, in development by Mohawk Games and being published by Stardock Entertainment. The game focuses on the ongoing competition between massive corporations attempting to make their mark amongst the new colonies of Mars. Using an actively updating free market economic system at its core, the game puts an entirely new spin on what your average space strategy sim seeks to offer. On board with the project is Soren Johnson, the Lead Designer of Civilisation IV, which as a marketing point for a strategy game is a very strong backing to have too. Needless to say, hopes have been high for this game for some time. Now that we are so close to its final release, it seems like the ideal time to preview what is on the table thus far.
Diving into the game’s tutorial levels, everything seems illusively complex at first. Once you get past the first couple of them and actually start playing as intended, things become very natural pretty quickly, but the initial learning curve is tough. The basics involve constructing resource-gathering and resource-utilising structures in order to trade on the market. Resources range from your standard food, water and power to silicon, carbon and oxygen. From these you can go on to create higher value goods, including electronics, glass and pharmaceuticals. You are only permitted however to build on a certain amount of land, meaning you have to plan early on for what you are going to shoot for. You gain more space as you upgrade your headquarters, but there is a limit, and that limit is pretty tight. It is impossible to do everything effectively, so a focussed strategy is key to success.
In these levels, the purpose of earning money through trade is to buy out your competitors’ companies in order to achieve a monopoly on Mars. This is done by saving up money to buy out their shares, the value of which is based on their worth at the time. You also need to try not to dive into too much debt though, as this devalues your shares and leaves you vulnerable to a similar fate. The way you approach this end goal is largely determined by the type of company you choose to run. There are four different options; Expansive, Robotic, Scavenger and Scientific. The tutorial levels give you a taster of each, allowing you to try out their unique advantages. These bonuses can make or break your strategy just as easily as a glass shortage or crippling debt.
Strangely, once you finish the tutorials and naturally head for the campaign mode, the style of play changes entirely from what you have just learned. The basics are there, but the style of play and the overarching goal are totally different, meaning you have to rethink and relearn how to play again. In this mode, you have to purchase workers in order to unlock a certain number of each structure to use in each scenario. This means that not every option is available to you, and you have to plan ahead for the long term. The goal also changes from buying out opponent’s businesses to progressing the local colony as much as possible. It is strange that this game does not follow the standard pattern of simply challenging you with different scenarios that have varying objectives. Instead, the entire method of play is essentially altered…
Personally, I find the play style outside of campaign mode far more preferable and enjoyable. Fortunately, this is the one which you play during skirmishes and multiplayer, so there is plenty of scope to enjoy it beyond learning to play. Quite why the style was altered for the campaign I do not know, but it is certainly a lesser part of the game as a result. Speaking of multiplayer however, the game is well suited to this option, with the base, single-player modes setting you up against intelligent AI anyway. This means that the structure of multiple-corporation gameplay is already in place and fits naturally into a working multiplayer situation.
Finally there are the sounds and scenes of the game to consider. The effects and voices in the game are fine. They have a very basic style, in no way being elaborate, but they work for their purpose. What I find most bizarre however is that you are forced to do a lot of reading in the tutorial and campaign modes, despite the resources having been available to voice over these for the ease of the player. As for the look of the game, this too is simple, however it is well designed for ease of play and is certainly easy on the eye. It complements the style of the game and does benefit the flow, making it easy to see what is what quickly and easily. A few structures are visually similar to each other, and zooming out on the map makes it a little difficult to get your bearings, but otherwise the game is visually ok.
Offworld Trading Company is very good fun to play, but it is not quite as awesome as I had expected. I really like a lot of the gameplay and could play the standard game style for hours on end. The campaign however I did not like so much, and I feel like that is a big chunk to leave out of my experience. Other than that, I found the game perfectly enjoyable and for a game based on economics it’s surprisingly engrossing and fun. Depending on the changes made before the final release, this game has a lot of potential. Fingers crossed the direction in nudged in just the right way to round off an already well constructed package.
Checkout the game here
- Well structured tutorials teach you the ropes at a steady pace.
- Intelligently designed strategy gameplay around a well-made economic core.
- – The free market system works fantastically well.
- – Different corporation styles have different bonuses, varying gameplay.
- – Clear objectives in skirmish and multiplayer modes give the game focus.
- – Plenty of room for several different routes to victory, promoting replayability.
- – Visually the game is basic, but this helps to understand the map and action.
- – Looking strong and maintaining its potential just ahead of its final release.
- The game’s campaign mode significantly changes the method of play following the series of tutorial levels. This style is arguably less engaging.
- There is a lot of reading to do in the tutorials, rather than having a voice over.
- Some buildings look visually similar, which may cause some confusion.