Economic games are not typically known for producing sweaty palms, anxiety, and emotional outbursts. Traditionally, economic PC games have been slow-paced affairs in which you nurture the development of some sort of city or business over a long period of time. Mohawk Games, and lead designer Soren Johnson, are working hard to change that tradition with their first game, Offworld Trading Company. Offworld Trading Company is a fast paced, cut-throat, economic RTS which is currently available on Steam Early Access.
The basic premise of the game is simple to understand and participate in. It’s also quick, with games taking less than an hour and many taking less than 30 minutes. Your job is to found the most successful settlement on the planet’s surface and eventually buyout your opponent’s companies. To do this, you’ll be extracting minerals from natural deposits on the planet, refining these into materials such as glass and electronics, and selling these off when the market price will offer you the best returns. While doing so, you’ll be buying stocks in other companies, and perhaps your own, in an effort to acquire all of their stock and take full control of their company. The player who acquires control of all of their opponent’s companies is the winner of the game.
While at its core a relatively simply game to understand and play, there are additional factors that make achieving these goals a more taxing endeavor. There are random maps with differing distributions of resources, 4 unique headquarters each with their own slightly different playstyle to choose from, advanced buildings that offer benefits and rewards if you spare a building slot for them, and a black market that lets you spend some of your cash to debilitate your opponent’s economic empires. There are also auctions for resource tiles, unique patents, and pirates to think about. You’ll also need to be able to adapt to the fluctuating market and change your economic engine on the fly.
In its Early Access form, Offworld features several single player modes including Tutorial, Skirmish, Daily Challenge, and even a campaign. Multiplayer is also included with matches supporting up to 8 human or AI players. While the presence of all of these features and modes may give the impression that the game is nearly complete, Mohawk has said on their Early Access page that they will be “in Early Access until 2016.”
I’ve had the chance to spend quite a few hours with various versions and modes of the game including both single player and multiplayer. In fact, Adam and I had a chance to meet up in a few multiplayer games with other players. Unfortunately, one of these sessions was plagued by very high latency that made the game barely playable. This latency has since occurred for me a few other times in multiplayer, and while this will almost certainly be addressed by release, I want to issue fair warning that this isn’t an isolated occurrence at this point in Early Access.
The single player experience is already pretty solid and enjoyable. The signs of an experienced development studio are evident right from the start. Tutorials are included to help get you started and slowly introduce new aspects of the game. By the time you’ve finished them, you’ll be gloriously overconfident about your skills. When you start tackling the harder AI in skirmish mode, you’ll quickly realize how unprepared you really were. The AI in this game can be quite tough. They won’t hesitate to unleash an unholy and unreasonable amount of black market nukes, EMPs, and mutinies against you. Staring at your economic engine and seeing it completely shutoff for a period of time can be very humbling. Watching the AI start buying your stock while this happens can be downright rage inducing.
The campaign allows you to become the CEO of your own company and compete in a series of games against rival CEOs in order to takeover parts of Mars. The unique thing about this mode is that you start with access to only specific buildings and a small budget to spend on improving the capabilities of these buildings or to unlock new ones. As you win games, you’ll take over parts of Mars. These areas will then increase your income, unlock unique bonuses, and even provide permanent patent technologies. As the game proceeds, the worst performing companies will be eliminated until only one company remains. It is an interesting mode of play that isn’t fully developed yet, but I can see potential here as it offers quite a different experience from the standard skirmish or multiplayer modes.
With a few more hours of experience under my belt, I was defeating the AI fairly regularly at all but the highest difficulty levels. Once again overconfident, my swagger took me into the multiplayer world. While single player can be stressful, multiplayer can be full on panic inducing. Real people sniff out weakness long before any AI will, and from the moment an opponent purchases some of your stock you’ll be frantically looking for a way to survive. Your stock price will fluctuate based on your debt, and with other player’s influencing the market regularly through the use of hacker array buildings, you may find yourself broke due to lack of the power or food you must purchase to survive. Humans are also adept at hitting you where it really hurts, and the black market is a ruthless and merciless tool for this process. If you thought an economic RTS game would offer much less conflict than a traditional RTS game, think again.
There is a surprising amount of decision-making to be had for what is essentially a straightforward economic system. For instance, just because you can buyout an opponent, it doesn’t mean you should. I made this fatal mistake in one game and spent a lot of money buying out an opponent. Despite controlling 4 of my opponent’s bases, I lost to the only other remaining player, who controlled only 2 other bases, because he had saved enough to buy me out.
In another occasion, I neglected to buy any of my own stock and despite having a great economy I was quickly bought out. Buying your own stock ensures an opponent will have to pay significantly more to try to buy you out. There are also opportunities to pursue production increases, or unique special powers granted by patents, but it’s not always obvious whether it is worth doing so since it will prevent you from using that spot for other buildings.
At this stage, there are many changes still ahead for this decidedly unique game. Balance changes, UI adjustments, multiplayer fixes, and more in-depth tutorials are almost a guarantee.
There is no doubt, I’ve enjoyed the game thus far. What is less certain is how long the game will remain fresh and interesting. I feel like highly competitive players who really want to sink their teeth into the game will get tons of value, but casual players looking to play a game here or there might find their experience lacking after a short while.
Given the game’s relatively high price tag for an Early Access game, I’d advise prospective buyers to carefully consider whether this is an experience they’d enjoy for a long period of time. Those on the fence may consider revisiting this one later in the year or when it releases in 2016.Subscribe RSS
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