I will not belabor the point: The Guild is my favorite game. In this review I’ll try to explain why this is, and where I’m coming from in terms of my interest in the game, and probably games generally speaking. Hopefully this will help introduce like-minded gamers to The Guild and perhaps also steer some people, if they have different tastes, from the game.
I have always enjoyed simulation games, particularly economic and life sims. I grew up playing what now seem like fairly simplistic sims (e.g., Theme Park, The Settlers, and The Sims) and was fascinated by the seemingly living world of the AI inhabitants in these games. As I began to enjoy role playing games more, and in particularly Ultima Online, I longed for a simulation game in which I wasn’t in complete control, but instead could actually be one of those small inhabitants in the simulated world. Nothing like this existed until I played the first Guild game (Europa 1400) and I was immediately won over, realizing that it was as close to a perfect game as I would ever find, short of developing one myself.
The Guild is indeed a simulated world. It doesn’t attempt to be huge like Skyrim. You are controlling a small family in a single town or on some maps a single town out of up to four. There are up to eleven other “dynasties” (i.e. families) living in these towns, and they all go about their business without your intervention. You are not god in this game – you are just a family existing and striving in the middle ages, and it is amazing fun. It seems there is not one area that The Guild has left out of its gameplay. You can get involved in politics, your character has a religiosity meter, favor (or disfavor) with every single sim in the game, a disposition based on their criminality or lack thereof, skills, perks (think fallout), marriage, children, trials, duals, and the list goes on.
The world in The Guild feels more alive than any game I have played. NPCs go about their business with a real purpose, and it is all simulated. They will do everything from sit around town and chat, go to the pub, hire a ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥, to run for office and command the city guard (who, by the way, are also governed by some degree of AI logic). In short, the game feels a lot like living in a real, functioning medieval town.
This all sounds extremely ambitious, and it is. Unfortunately, these ambitions come with a price: bugs (and lots of them!). The Guild has been officially patched twice (only once here on steam) and even with these patches there are numerous bugs. The more you play, the more you notice them and the more they suspend the reality of controlling a family in this simulated world. You can probably get about 100 hours of gameplay out of The Guild before these bugs really start to ruin the experience (I have played 100s of hours of the non-steam version).
The good news is that The Guild still has a small but surprisingly active community (go to the runeforge forums for this). McCoy! and a few other modders have made huge progress fixing bugs in the game and even adding some very cool features (e.g., the ability to become the pope and accuse people of heresy) and they continue to work on the game. My recommendation is to go to the runeforge forums and download the 4.17b patch and McCoy!’s legacy mod, then you’ll be ready to go for hundreds of hours of relatively bug-free simulation bliss.
In summary, if you’ve always enjoyed god games, economic sims, and life sims, but wanted to be part of the world rather than the controller of the world – wanted to have to work within the confines of human ability to influence the world (e.g., become mayor and change the law instead of using a hand in the sky to smite someone) then this is the game for you. If you want complete control over the world and all of its inhabitants then you might not enjoy this as much, but I still say it’s worth a try. Finally, if you’re a gifted or even aspiring coder (the game uses lua for everything) head over to the runeforge forums and join the modding community. I have no coding experience but they have been extremely kind and patient with me and I even managed to churn out a few helpful fixes/mods for the game.