Offworld Trading Company (PC) Preview

This article contains coverage of a preview build of Offworld Trading Company. The opinions expressed below pertain to a piece of software in preview state, and may deal with features […]

This article contains coverage of a preview build of Offworld Trading Company. The opinions expressed below pertain to a piece of software in preview state, and may deal with features which are in an incomplete or prototype form. The coverage below is intended to provide a general impression of the game in its present state and may or may not apply to the finished game.

Sometimes we get our hands on a game for preview and discover, quite happily, that it is being RAPIDLY IMPROVED during the preview period. This is great news for when it releases, but when you’ve got to write a preview article, it leads to a lot of rewrites. So forgive me if this review is a smidgen on the general side, but I’d like to avoid complaining about a feature that gets fixed in the next update. But enough preamble, let’s see how Offworld Trading Company looks.

Visuals

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Good news, guys! We’ve got a bunch of water and it’s way expensive!

 

Visually, Offworld Trading company probably looks better than it really needs to. Never a bad thing. Visually it has a lot in common with an RTS, because that’s effectively what it is. The game board is divided into a field of hex spaces that are separated across a realistically sparse martian landscape. Hills, valleys, craters, and plateaus slice things up a bit, giving a bit of visual variety to an environment that is otherwise little more than red soil and two types of ice. (More on that later.)

Adding to the diversity is the full 3D array of buildings and vehicles that will eventually litter the map. Unless you’ve researched a specific upgrade, every shipment you receive will be arriving on its own little transport that you can see coming.

On my PC (still badly in need of an upgrade), I found the visuals to be disproportionately sluggish, but that improved quickly with sequential updates. There also is only a cursory visual difference between the various factions in the game, basically just the shape of the home base, so you’re going to be relying upon color coding to know whose stuff is whose, but that’s probably for the best. Late in the game rapidly identifying the most productive things on the map is important, and only having to memorize one steel mill or rocket pad is easier than having to remember four.

Gameplay

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This is what you want to avoid.

 

Quick, what’s your favorite part of an RTS. If you said research gathering, congratulations, OTC is for you! If you said combat… well, probably play Supreme Commander 2. Seriously though, this game is essentially a massively enhanced version of the standard resource management end of a game like Age of Mythology.

Each game begins with you surveying the most recent stretch of mars. You can click the edge of an explored area to reveal the available resources in a given region, and once you see what you like, you can plop down your base. Any resources beneath your base are instantly yours, but are effectively consumed. Any others are free to be claimed, provided you have enough remaining claims. Claims are by far the most limited resource in the game, if you want to build or harvest anything in the game, you’ll need to claim the plot where it will go, and claims come in dribs and drabs as you ascend the tech levels. There are some additional ways to get them, but more on that later.

While there are four factions to play, each have at least a few needs and wants in common. Energy is a must, since it powers the buildings. Similarly, materials to build said buildings and also raw materials to build higher tier items. But everything, and I do mean everything, comes down to money in this game. There’s a market with constantly shifting prices, and everything you need can be had for a price. Don’t want to build any farms? That’s fine, you can buy your food to keep your workers fed… but it’ll get pricy in a hurry. Heck, you can even buy power, but just be mindful that the person you’re buying from is going to be getting rich off you. Power, you see, is one of the only direct sources of income, as the overage is automatically sold at market price. In all other cases it is up to you to sell what you don’t need (or what you do need, if the money will turn out to help more).

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This, on the other hand, is what you’re aiming for.

 

Different factions have subtly different play styles. One of them is robotic, so food and oxygen are nice, but not necessary. Instead, you’ll need the far more expensive electronics. Another faction can mine required materials directly from the ground beneath them, eliminating both the acquisition and transport through other means.

Since playing fair isn’t terribly capitalist, so shortly after the start of the game a black market comes on line that lets you buy extra plots, cause damage, cut resource production, and even outright destroy parts of the opposing teams. You can also buy patents at auction, such as the marvelously useful “Teleportation” that will obviate the need for shipments, and any patent you own will gain you exclusive access to said technology. You can also research it on your own, but where’s the fun in that.

But why, might you ask, are you getting all of this money? Because the end goal of each round is to be the last company standing, and the best way to do it is to buy out the competition. When I said everything came down to money and could be bought at a price, that also includes YOU. Yep, everyone’s stock is on the market, and buying out the competition gets you all of their resources and facilities. Buy the last guy and you win. This is usually achieved by working your way to the final tech level and selling your goods off world for a huge markup.

All things considered the game is fantastically complex, and it only gets worse when you realize that every building can be switched off or on, and shipments can be triggered early. The micro adjustment potential is through the roof, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll find yourself becoming quite the tycoon with very little practice.

Sound

There are little audio cues to indicate any of the major actions, such as surpluses and shortages, sabotages, and stock purchases. There’s music, too, but you know me and sound. I’m not so good at paying attention.

Story

The story isn’t really there at this point. Multiplayer is just an isolated hunk of gameplay, and the campaign somewhat wraps things in a story about your character being a fledgling business magnate hoping to make a name for her/his/itself. If you seek drama, look elsewhere.

Summing Up

For a game composed entirely of the part of the RTS that I’m least effective at, this game really grew on me. It’s a fun, engaging, and extremely deep game of tradeoffs and strategy that offers a good deal more flexibility in your route to victory than most. Definitely worth a try for strategy fans.

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About Decoychunk

Editor, Writer, and general Knower-Of-Words, if there is text to be read on BrainLazy, Joseph Lallo probably has his fingerprints on it. As the final third of the ownership and foundation of BrainLazy, Joseph “Jo” Lallo made a name for himself when he lost the “e” from his nickname in an arm wrestling match with a witch doctor. Residing in the arid lowlands of the American Southwest, Joseph Lallo is a small, herbivorous, rabbit-like creature with the horns of an antelope. He sleeps belly up, and his milk can be used for medicinal purposes. Joseph Lallo is also author of several books, including The Book of Deacon Series, book 1 of which is available for free here.