A modest title, Patrician II is a trade economy simulator. As the master tradesman, you'll be able to shape the growth of a small city in the Hanseatic League, a diverse mercantile economy of cities in Northern Germany. Formed around the trade of traditional textiles and foodstuffs, the Hanseatic League was formed sometime around the early 13th century and prospered until the early 17th century. Built on concepts of free trade, eventually leading to trade monopolies and treaties that assured their domination of shipping, the Hanseatic helped improve the German economy for quite some time.
Patrician II uses a 3rd person isometric view to give you control over an entire city, allowing you to interact with its trade economy by commanding employees, the creation of ships, and the allotment of trade resources. As a free trader within the Hanseatic League, you can play the single player campaign, which sets you in Lubeck, one of the most influential cities within the League. As you progress from trader to patrician, you'll see the intricate procedure and balance required to stimulate Lubeck's economy.
Not strong as a historical simulation, Patrician II focuses much more on the gameplay than on education. By demonstrating the principles of a small ship-trade based economy, the game gives you small glimpses into how to handle the survival and growth of a medieval city. The Hanseatic League makes an interesting backdrop for this game, but something may ultimately be left to be desired when you realize that the start of the game is just like the middle is just like the end.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
The game begins with the city map and overhead view that gives you a way to control your entire city. If you've chosen the single player campaign, you'll be in Lubeck, otherwise you'll be able to choose from towns like Cologne, Bremen, and many other cities between London and Novgorod, the primary operating area for the Hanseatic League. For those of you interested, this game takes place during the early part of the League's history, in the 1300's. The main objective of the game is to build your city through careful planning, eventually becoming the city Patrician, effectively its mayor. You can encourage the creation of new buildings, keep the population happy, and also produce new works in the form of ships and homes.
Once you've gotten used to watching the people walk around and the ships go by, you'll need to learn to use the controls. There are various screens that let you investigate your fleet, the current stocks of resources, and the income produced by your small city. By ordering the construction of new ships and controlling your crews, you can subtly or dramatically alter the way your city grows. Flood the market with a particularly trade good and you'll notice the price and demand drop drastically as people find that it is easier and easier to get a hold of. This part of the game is my biggest complaint, as the lack of relative complexity here reduces this game to a very simple trade simulator. All that means is that you'll be buying items, having your ships sail to another city, and then you'll sell those items. That's it. Over and over again.
Your greatest complication lies in the fact that you can be ambushed at sea by pirates and other players, whom you'll have to defend yourself from. These ships can be quite a nuisance, as loosing a ship, crew, or even a single load of goods can be very damaging to your small economy. When you've finished trading and you're interested in getting your ship back to port, like all strategy games you'll be given the chance to fast forward, moving at an incredibly high speed to let your ships get back to home port, which can take up to a few weeks.
One of Patrician II's biggest advantages is the interface. Free of buttons and clutter, it's pretty easy to keep track of the things you need to keep track of, and quick to adjust to the different status and information screens you need to use to follow the city growth. Strangely, I've also come to consider this one of the game's biggest drawbacks as well. Since you don't have to worry about much on the main screen, you've naturally got a lot of stuff to pay attention to behind the scenes. While you can manage everything with the basic controls, you'll want to get used to checking all of the small sub-screens if you want to excel at this game.
Something I take note of, although it's usually found in bad Japanese horror games that get translated for an American audience (like Resident Evil), there are so many grammar and translation problems in this title it isn't funny. Just follow the tutorial and you'll find a seriously high amount of mistranslated sentences and typos.
Patrician II supports network and hotseat multiplayer games, letting you play against your best friends online or on the same computer. The game isn't much different in multiplayer, as a long-term strategy title like this really reduces the need for a quick thinking attentive AI. Although human beings can react in a much different way than the computer, the computer is usually pretty good at avoiding mistakes and presenting a decent challenge.
Not the prettiest game ever made, Patrician II has a graphics engine that allows it to scale up to 1280x768x32bit color, giving you a good view of most of the city. The FMV sequences have a very complete look and the only real drawback to their design is the usual lack of convincing human faces. The first time you see the old man in the intro, you'll really wonder when human beings started growing straw for hair.
The nicest and most noteworthy thing I could find about the audio in Patrician II is that it was unobtrusive. Quiet and subdued, it leaves you to the challenge of running your city instead of distracting you with annoying sound effects. In the tutorial, and occasionally through the game, you'll hear the narrator, who speaks in a clear, easy to understand voice, but still uses a script that is laughable for the sheer amount of errors it makes, as you'll understand shortly.
At its strongest, Patrician II can be entertaining for a few hours, as you navigate your way between several medieval German towns. Relatively unique in the fact that it makes clear use of the Hanseatic League and has many references to the history of that large organization, this title still fails to present worthwhile gameplay, leaving the character to shuttle supplies from town to town, without much reward or entertainment value. When I realized that I'd be playing the same boring missions I experienced so many times before in games like 1602 AD and Civilization, I found the replayability of this game to be quite lacking.