Historically, strategy games have always been one of the genres that just felt at home on PC. For years, developers have struggled with interfaces and have tried to dumb down the genre in order to work on home consoles. The latest company to be tasked with the problem of getting a strategy game to successfully play on consoles is Kalypso Media. The question is, have they finally cracked the puzzle?
In short, not really. Kalypso Media’s latest title, Grand Ages: Medieval, is a full fledged strategy set in Medieval Europe, offering zero compromise for being on a home console. In fact, it’s a pretty cut and dry port from PC to home consoles, as it defaults to a terrible interface that makes the text unreadable on a television. A more TV-friendly interface can be selected from the options, but it shows that the console version was never the top priority for the studio.
And really, that first impression of not even being able to read the fonts on-screen sums up a lot of the experience. This is a PC title that has been ported to a home console, but without any changes to the core gameplay. While strategy fans will be glad to find out that all the depth of its PC counterpart is intact, it provides an experience that is far from user friendly, despite its attempts to be accessible.
Despite not really succeeding fully, Kalypso Media does deserve some praise in how they attempted to make Grand Ages: Medieval user friendly. Its campaign mode is basically one gigantic tutorial that has been built to show players the ropes of how to play the game. Sadly, the tutorial is a bit too open for its own good, allowing you to dig yourself into a hole financially that isn’t easy to climb out of. Throw in a confusing controller layout and a busy screen where you are trying to manage several towns at once, and you have a recipe for confusion.
Thankfully, due to my familiarity with the genre, I was able to figure out the systems and mechanics of Grand Ages: Medieval, but that wasn’t due to the game’s design. I can’t blame Kalypso Media too much for failing to make this beginner friendly, as it has been a systemic problem of the genre for decades now, but it’s disappointing, since clearly the German developer tried to make it more accessible than it ended up being.
The campaign is also where players are first introduced to the interesting marketplace mechanics that help Grand Ages: Medieval stand out from other strategy offerings. Players can set up advanced trade routes from city to city, and distribute goods they produce for a healthy profit. It’s an interesting economic system, and it rewards you for producing different types of goods in different towns.
It’s a good thing that the trading systems are interesting in Grand Ages: Medieval, since the combat in the game is pretty lackluster. There just isn’t enough control over the action, and while that was by design, it doesn’t translate into an interesting gameplay experience. I ultimately gave up on hopes of conquering neighboring cities, and instead acquired them through business deals. Thankfully, the game is complex enough to allow you to play in ways that minimize the game’s weaknesses.
Once players finish the long tutorial that is the campaign, they’ll be able to jump in the meat and potatoes of the game. The bulk of your time will be spent in what Grand Ages: Medieval calls open games. These are highly customizable games where players are tasked with becoming the emperor of Europe. You can take on anywhere from 1 to 8 different competitors, and choose which part of Europe you start off in.
The length of each match will vary due to if the goal is to take over a smaller area such as Germany, or the entire continent. Long matches are quite a commitment, which largely kills the appeal of the online multiplayer mode. Unless you are willing to spend your entire afternoon trying to take over Europe, you’ll be better off playing against the computer.
Sadly, that accounts for all of the modes that are offered in Grande Ages: Medieval. While the core gameplay is solid, once you get used to the controls, it’s lacking different scenarios to keep the gameplay interesting over time. This makes the game’s day one DLC all the more frustrating. The two pieces of DLC change the way how the game plays, as the first allows players to start with a gorgeous castle that is based on Camelot, and the second adds historically significant areas to the world. These would’ve been interesting additions to the core game, but instead, they are locked away.
While it will only appeal to those that love micromanagement and trading resources, Kalypso Media has done an okay job at porting over Grand Ages: Medieval to consoles. It isn’t the definitive way to play, as PC is definitely the way to go, but with a few tweaks, Kalypso might be able to finally crack the puzzle that is strategy games on consoles with their next offering.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version, which we were provided with for review.
Grand Ages: Medieval may have lackluster combat, but an interesting trade system manages to keep the gameplay interesting.