Cultures 2: The Gates of Asgard Review

Are you one of those strategy game players that really enjoys building bases?  Love watching your economy grow and hate it when all that nasty combat gets in the way?  Then read on, Cultures 2 might just be the game for you.

Cultures 2 is a real-time strategy game that puts you in charge of a group of nomadic Vikings as they travel from their home in Greenland, through Europe by way of Normandy, and all the way to the Middle East and the outskirts of Baghdad.  The Viking's leader, Bjarni, son of Leif Ericson, has had a prophetic vision.  The fabled Midgard Serpent will soon be unleashed on the world and it is up to Bjarni and group of strange allies he has never met to save the world.

Bjarni's quest is played out through a series of eleven missions as he and his band of Vikings make their way to Baghdad.  Eleven missions might not sound like a lot, and it is smaller than the typical number found in most strategy game campaigns, but it will actually take you quite a bit of time to make your way through them.  While the missions often feature numerous subquests, this is not the reason for the extended gameplay.  The reason lies in Cultures 2's economic model, which is one of the most complex that you'll come across in a computer game.  Before I get into the details of the economic model, though, I'll have to start with the basics.

Your tribe of Vikings consists of both men and women.  Both men and women have three basic needs: food, rest, and entertainment.  For the most part they will take care of these needs themselves, but you can help them to fulfill these needs more efficiently by providing housing, food providers, and the like.

Men begin as citizens (in other words, unemployed loafers), and you'll need to assign each to a profession.  At first only a few professions are available; your basic builders, gatherers, fisherman, farmers, etc.  Once you have some gatherers bringing in lumber, stones, and clay, you can lay out the foundations for basic buildings such as houses and production buildings.  And then ... you wait.  Not only will it take some time before your resources begin to accumulate, it takes quite a while to complete structures.  The work habits of builders in Cultures 2 would make teamsters proud.  Build a little, take a nap, build a little, go talk to a passing lady, work a little, ... you get the idea.

Now that you've got the basic structures in place, you'll need to wait a bit more as your workers gain experience.  Only after they've worked at a job for a while will they have gained enough experience to move on to other professions.  You'll become quite familiar with this process right off the bat in the first mission.  The goal of the mission is to raise ten units of mead to pay a shipwright for a ship.  Simple right?  Well first you need to build a farm and assign a man to work the farm.  After he has gained enough experience at farming, he can become a miller, so you'll need to build a mill and assign the farmer to work it.  Of course you'll still need wheat, so you'll need to assign a new worker to the farm.  After your miller accumulates some experience, you'll be able to build a well, bakery, and beehive, so you'll then need to lay the foundations for these structures and wait for the builders to complete them.  Then you can assign the miller to become a baker, the farmer to be a miller, and a new guy to be a farmer.  Next wait some more until your baker has enough experience to become a brewer, build the brewery, and assign him to the brewery.  Finally, you'll be producing mead and will be able to pay off the shipwright.  And this is just your first mission and a single branch of the tech tree!  The next mission will require you to build up an entire village, working your way down several tech tree branches.  You'll need to advance your gatherers down the path to become craftsmen who produce advanced materials, and you'll need to do so for every type of resource.  You'll also need to train producers to use the advanced materials to produce goods and buildings.  There's an awful lot of work to get a village up and running ... and an awful lot of waiting too.

Women in Cultures 2 have their own role to fill: getting married, making babies, and cooking dinners.  I'm not joking, but before you become too incensed at this apparently misogynistic division of labor remember that these are 11th Century Vikings after all.  Like their male counterparts, the women need to be guided carefully.  You must make sure that your women are married, and that the couple is assigned to a dwelling.  If they don't have a home, then they won't have any children and you won't be able to generate any future Vikings.  Once a woman is married and has a home, you have to instruct her to have a baby and select the sex of the newborn.  Women can only have one child at a time and will never have children on their own, so once a child is grown you'll need to track down the mother and instruct her to have another child.  If you neglect to manage your female population, you'll soon run into a shortage of available workers and things will really slow down.  Also, by providing homes with food and furniture, women make the lives of the men a bit easier allowing the men to get more work done.  Believe me, they need all the boosts to productivity that they can get.