STAFF REVIEW of Railway Empire - Complete Collection (Xbox One)

Sunday, September 6, 2020.
by Brent Roberts

Railway Empire - Complete Collection Box art Before the days of interconnectional flights and transoceanic shipments, nations were dependent purely upon rail transport for almost everything. From vacations to employment to farming and commerce, the railroads became the vascular, nervous and skeletal structure of every growing nation. Game developer Kalypso decided to not only show how powerful the rail system was to developing nations, but create a massively deep experience in doing so. Going into this game I thought "oh I'll just hook up some stations, send some trains out and call it a day.". I've never been more surprised and more wrong in my entire life. Having missed out on this title back in January, I was excited to see what this game had to offer, and it turns out it was more than I ever imagined.

Real Time Strategy games require you to balance expenses with the resource management, then expand and dominate your opponents. This quintessential core function is Railway Empire's strongest feature. Starting up you're greeted with a long list of options at your disposal, and every one of them is going to happily drain countless hours of your life away. I started out with the campaign and decided to see just how Kalypso decided to tell their tales, and the campaign is broken into chapters where each has with it a set of objectives where some are required and others are optional, but all are time sensitive. This small adjustment forces play and requires you to start thinking of a plan and how to properly develop your company.

Railway Empire is more about managing your railroad company against your opponents. However, there is more to this game than just developing faster. You will have to manage your business by paying attention to things such as the stock market, your competition and the needs and wants of the various towns and businesses. This is how the campaign attempts to get you to focus on the basic methodology of the game itself. Every town has supplies they stock for shipment while at the same time are in need of others. This way direct lines of transportation are established that ship from one city to another dependent upon the need. However, as you will see on the map there are various businesses that provide things such as milk, cattle, corn, wheat and more, and it's these places that need to be connected to various cities so that goods can be traded.

Should these businesses fall on hard times you have the ability to buy them, but auctions are also available but can become more intensive with your competition. While you may see it as a way of blocking an opposition from expanding their grounds, they may see it as a necessity and will bid high for this, putting it possibly out of your price range depending upon your cash reserve. You can also play the stock market though, which can provide you some ample cash injection should you strike it big. To adequately manage this side aspect of the game though requires tremendous diligence as you will constantly have to micromanage the investments, but for now, I'm getting a bit ahead of myself. Back to the campaign.

Railway Empire's learning curve is steep; very, very steep. I hit the start button and I said to myself "self, why is there a highlighted blinking circle on the Tips & Tricks part of the game?". 10 minutes into the tutorial and I'm digging deeper into that than a colonoscopy. The game itself will go through a tremendously shallow introduction that will teach you about connecting cities, supplying trains with resources, setting up side tracks with switches, establishing a maintenance building and that's what the game basically covers in the beginning. Now as you progress, the game will take you through the rest of the menus in again, a very anemic way which will, once again, have you looking at tips and tricks to see if there's something that can help you.

One of the big aspects of the campaign involves the research tree. Before I get into the research though, let me touch on how the game expands and some resource management. Throughout the game your cities will grow in size based on the happiness of the people. This comes by meeting the needs of the city while setting it up to sell its goods and have an economy stream of its own. When the population expands, the city grows, and when it grows you can start to generate some businesses that can start producing better quality items should the resources be available. All of these take time to produce and require large sums of cash to begin with, plus as stated earlier, the resources required will be tremendous, so start thinking of warehouses. These act as massive storage facilities and can house resources from other trains. For example, let's say you have an area that has about 5 production businesses near a town. Create a warehouse and have those businesses funnel their resources into the warehouse, then send a train from a warehouse to a city station. This way you don't have to worry about congestion, as you can have a dedicated line for a warehouse and a dedicated line for transportation between cities.

Now as you progress and grow you'll have the ability to expand into the research tree of the game. What this will do is allow you to unlock permanent bonuses for your trains, unlock new main trains, and even acquire specialized train cars as well. The main train unlocks will grant you access to more specialized and bonus upgrades that you can acquire by spending what is called "innovation points". You get a set amount of points every month, but you can also do things that increase that amount. A lot of these permanent bonuses can mean fantastic things for your trains such as shortening the time for repair work (yes your trains will break down), resource increase (your trains will need to have resources feed them along the lines otherwise they will not run efficiently), to increasing the fares you get when transporting passengers. This research tree is fairly expansive and will require a lot of playing to unlock but that's the beauty of it.

You'll already be engrossed into hours and hours of the game, and once you start to get over the learning mountain (no hump here), you start to have fun with your strategies and how you network the cities and grow your business. Which reminds me, earlier I touched on the stock market. When you take a look at the company tab you'll notice your competitors, see the stock market and banking activities. If you want to dominate your competition, you'll need to buy their company. To do that you'll need to buy shares in the rival company. Doing this early will undoubtably set you back tremendously early on, however, would you rather buy Apple shares when they were $20 or $400? Exactly. Should you wait, the competition's company will grow and become more valuable. Now you're getting money for your percentage ownership if the company grows, however, the stock shares become higher value as well. Once you gain 100% of the company you own everything.

To acquire the capital you can have some options at your disposal outside of just grinding it out. You can buy stocks as well and you have various fields such as consumer and industrial goods or food and raw materials that you can invest in. These can net you a tidy profit but take time to grow, so don't look to this to make you an overnight millionaire. You can also gain extra cash through bonds which act as loans for your company. While this sees a tremendous increase in cash, you will have to pay that back after a set time, and yes, there are even prepayment penalties as well. Going after your competition has always got to be on the top of your agenda because throughout the game your competition can do some serious damage. For starters, they can completely take over your cities. They can buy out businesses in your cities and take it over from you. Next, just as you can buy out their company, they can buy shares in yours and make money off your efforts. Yes, you can actually fund the bankroll of your competition, but that's business. Then they can even hit you hard at the auctions or even steal your employees away from you.

Yes, in Railway Empire you will have to manage your crew on your train. When you observe your train you'll see 4 slots for personnel. The train personnel are the two squares on the left while next two consist of your office worker (who impacts things such as faster unloading times, lower construction costs, etc.) and the last slot are your commission personnel such as the about to be mentioned Saboteur. There are many different types of personnel that you can employ including characters like a Saboteur. What does it do? Well you can deploy one on an opponent's industry or city and cause damage to the company which can lower the share prices of the company. Not bad if you want a quick way of cutting the competition, but beware because they can do the same to you. Your train personnel has to get along with each other which means you have to be mindful of the stats that each available personnel carries with them. If you have a good crew that will work well together and get along, then you can expect a more efficient train with bonuses to your income. Should you though have a train where arguments and fights break out then you will run the risk of them leaving, or being targets for your competition to steal them from you.

There are other personnel that you can acquire that provide interesting bonuses such as Promoter, Spy, Auctioneer, Bandit and many more. Each one of these is on a limited time availability and can cost a nice bit of coin for a high quality personnel. You should consider what personnel to look for and employ based off the needs of your situation, but I can't stress enough to always be mindful of your competition and how they headhunt employees away from you. Should you take on regular employees you will have to pay out regular sums of money but it will be smaller than the one time large payment to a commissioned employee.

Everything I've covered so far pertains to the game mechanics themselves, but doesn't begin to start talking about strategy. Trying to navigate these menus and options will take some time to get to become comfortable with as the buttons can feel a bit cumbersome as they change context from menu to menu. As you progress though and become more comfortable (I've personally played a bunch of practice and campaign sessions to familiarize myself with it) you'll get used to networking, managing and micromanaging all at the same time. And you'll be doing all of this while looking at some beautiful scenery. Railway Empire looks absolutely beautiful and Kalypso has done a fantastic job in all the details from the bridges, to the tunnels and the cities themselves. You can see how cities expand and how the citizens evolve with their transportation and society and all of which blanketed by an ambiance that fits the area you're looking at, encompassed by a soundtrack you feel is plucked straight from the 1830's itself.

The other modes for Railway Empire consists of challenges and scenarios as well as a free mode sandbox that allows you to experiment and try out new strategies and methods, but I strongly suggest you go through the campaign to get used to the game, the mechanics and the initial strategy of the game itself. Once you progress through the game and become comfortable with how you plan your operation, then think about venturing into the scenarios to test your abilities.

When you start to think of the depth of involvement that trains played in the beginning years of any developing nations, Kalypso has done a masterful job in delivering an experience that will leave you captivated and challenged for hours. Railway Empire is beyond deep with the amount of content and management that you will have to commit to, but at the same time it looks beautiful, sounds authentic and provides a level of strategy that will have you wonder where the last few weeks of your life went. Now when you combine all the DLC that has been released since January, Kalypso has bundled this incredible experience together for only $40 which makes this one of the best investments you can make on the Xbox One and should definitely be experienced.

Overall: 8.8 / 10
Gameplay: 8.8 / 10
Visuals: 8.8 / 10
Sound: 8.8 / 10


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