When I first saw Guild Commander [$4.99] pop up on Steam I thought I had found my perfect game. One that takes the simulation aspect of Football Manager and gives it a Swords and Sorcery spin. On paper the game sounded amazing. One I had hoped to sink many, many hours into. But I saw the dreaded review status of ‘Mixed’, and from there I knew I was wading into choppy waters.
The game puts you in the position of the titular Guild Commander, a once powerful warrior who is losing the battle against time. Your sword arm is weak, your spell knowledge is fuzzy, and your running speed is now a crawl. It’s time to pass the mantle on to the next generation of foolhardy adventurers, and they’ll need a leader. So in a final effort to rid the world of the Necro-Lord you put up your generous savings and found a guild, open to all applicants from across the land. The guild acts as a personal military, allowing you to send troops cross-country to stop invasions, help locals, kill goats and act as general security. With the money earned through unseen quests and loot. That money is used to hire more troops, fit out rooms in your guild hall, craft gear, and fund local militia.
A never-ending stream of scholars, bards, rogues, and other classes show up on your hall doorstep, eager to lose their lives for the sake of making the world a better place. Each class has the same set of skills but with varying proficiency in each one. Knights are stronger than Scholars who are in turn more knowledgeable, Engineers have better equipment, and Adventurers have a little bit of everything. These stats affect how well your recruit works in certain situations. There are six provinces in the world that need assistance, and their status ranges from Peace and Construction, to Chaos and Destruction. Sending a knight to a chaotic province will have a better result than sending a Scholar, who is better suited to helping in times of peace. Sending a recruit will remove them from your active pool for up to a month, and while away they will be earning gold and losing stats. Each character has a max number for each stat, and that number will drop while they are away, requiring rest once they’re back in the guild hall. Resting is improved by turning one of the four dozen rooms in your hall into a kitchen, bedroom, armoury, etc. Once the recruit is healed up, you can repeat the process again. That’s the main mechanic of the game, but unfortunately that’s essentially also the entirety of it.
The learning curve for this game is insane, and the small video of the developer stumbling through the mechanics doesn’t help at all. But around the time of my fourth guild, I figured the system out. Once I knew how the game worked I started to have fun. A surprising amount of fun to be honest. I had cracked the outer shell of this game and finally had a taste of the sweet centre. I got into the flow of sending recruits where they fit best and the guild funds came pouring in. But that fun was short-lived. I found that once you figured out how the game works, it just feels like you’re stuck in a routine. Sometimes provinces will have events happen to them so you need to direct troops elsewhere, but that doesn’t do a lot to change up the gameplay. Reacting and adapting to the changing conditions takes little effort.
There’s no real progression in guild commander, troops will show up with a set of stats, and that’s it. Apart from the stats going down temporarily due to fatigue they don’t change at all. There is no ability to nurture and grow your recruits into legendary heroes. You can craft or loot items and assign up to six to each character, but there’s no reflection that anything has changed. I gave my Soldier an axe that increased morale, but the bar for his morale remained unchanged. I don’t doubt that the morale boost was there, it probably would have come into play behind the scenes with the game engine calculations. But I wanted to see at least some acknowledgement that he was wielding a +Morale weapon without having to open his inventory and double check. This is something the game does a lot. There are tons of bars, numbers and labels, but so much of it is unnecessary while the stats I would like to see are left out. The menu and UI in general is a mess. As soon as you open the game you’re overwhelmed by numbers and bars that have no real meaning.
The developer has also tried to inject some humour into the game, but it’s so sporadic and blunt that it alters the mood to something rather crude. Selecting ‘easy mode’ will prompt the game to take a swipe at console gamers. Every recruit that appears at your guild hall is named from a mixed pool of puns, dad jokes, and just flat out non-names (one solider was named ‘Stabby Stabus’). There is repeated use of the term ‘nerd’ when in reference to the Scholar class, and Bards always seem to have names revolved around them being bad singers. If the game was going for a more humorous approach that would have been fine. But the game isn’t sure what it wants to be. It tries to be a serious simulator while throwing bad jokes at you when you least expect it. It makes the whole game feel muddled. The majority of the humour can be found in the Lore section, but it’s so poorly written it makes the entire section pointless. It honestly feels like the dev tried a serious story but their writing wasn’t up to scratch, so they opted for cheap humour instead.
Graphically the game is fine. The guild hall looks great, it’s reminiscent of a tavern in Baldur’s Gate or Icewind Dale, but it’s more of a burden than anything. When upgrading rooms you have to drag the map around to find the room you’re looking for. Of the dozens of rooms available in your guild hall you can only see 4 on the screen at any one time, and navigation is limited to the keyboard and the zoom has a tiny range. The game would have benefited more from an ‘ant-farm’ style of view, with most if not all rooms accessible with minimal scrolling about.
The isn’t much to say about audio. It’s minimal.
Guild Commander is a fantastic concept that completely falls flat in execution. I wanted to like this game so much, but the more I played the more I came to dislike it. It feels empty, like it’s a proof of concept prototype. The game can be fun when you get into that swing. But it doesn’t last. It’s a game you’ll enjoy for an afternoon at the most.
About the author:
Tom is a software and game developer with more than 10 years experience. He is passionate about educational applications, and games of all kinds. Ranging from the latest AAA shooter, to the smallest indie release, and even the more traditional board games and D&D.