Premature Evaluation: The Guild 3

the guild header

This week, Fraser’s the one being offered up as a sacrifice to the cruel gods of Early Access. He’s been flung back through time to live his best serf life in GolemLab’s medieval sim, The Guild 3 [official site].   

Being a freelance video game man, I suffer from a great deal of existential dread, and it’s proved to be too much for me, so I’ve packed it all in to start fresh in The Guild 3’s recreation of 15th century London. In my new and improved life, I’m Carlton Bloomer, a rogue, a pickpocket and a feckless ne’er-do-well. Join me as I try to rise to the top of medieval English society using my quick fingers and juggling skills.

guild1

I could have picked a less… ethically challenging path for my first foray into The Guild 3. The character creator lets you choose a starting skill that informs how you’ll make your way through the world. I could have been a herbalist or maybe a craftsman, but why make when you can take?

Life begins at home. Literally. I spawn into the world standing right next to my awful house. My awful, almost empty house. In storage, I have two daggers. These represent my sole possessions. With no tutorial and a hint system that decides to break after the very first tip, I’m already a wee bit lost. I try to remember how I’d start things off in the previous Guild game, but I seem to have forgotten everything in the last seven years.

guildhouse

This is fine. It’s a lovely day, the sun is out, the serfs are workings — I should see what trouble I can get into. A quick glance at the confusing skill tree informs me that I can select a new skill. Obviously I choose pickpocketing, the foundation of any successful criminal career. I’ve already spotted my first mark: the very first person I see. He’s just standing there, oblivious to my ill intent.

Unfortunately, picking pockets seems to be beyond me. Clicking on my mark just moves me uncomfortably close to him. Close enough to kiss him right on the lips. We stand there, in silence, for a sexually charged in-game hour. It’s only after a cold shower that I realise there’s a button that reveals all the class-based actions I can perform, and pickpocketing hasn’t been unlocked yet. I’ve selected it, sure, but that just means I’m in the process of learning it.

guild2

This minor setback has not diminished my optimism because while I learn to pick a pocket or two, there are three roguish things I can do right now. Setting up an ambush seems like a bit much for my first day on the job, and who would I even ambush? I don’t know anyone. Scouting roads sounds a lot like just walking, and that doesn’t seem particularly thrilling. That leaves jugglery, the most devious skill of all.

The Guild 3’s jugglery skill appears to be more like a really bad interpretive dance and involves zero balls, swords or fire. I find an unsuspecting victim and throw some shapes briefly. She seems to dig it, laughing and clapping as I do my best impression of an inflatable tube man. When I’m done, she tosses me some cash. This doesn’t seem too hard, but I’m thinking too small. What kind of fool performs for an audience of one? I crave the adoration of a huge crowd, and that means leaving London’s sleepy outskirts and heading right into the heart of the big city. Fame and fortune and probably more not-really-juggling await!

guild3

It takes me a little longer to make my way down the road to London than I expected. The wild and unwieldy camera controls and UI work hard to befuddle, and I lose track of Carlton more than once. With a little perseverance, however, I enter the gates of England’s capital before dusk and start looking for the pub. Nobody likes an impromptu street performance more than drunks.

Lamentably, there’s no pub, inn or tavern of any kind to be found in all of London. I manually browse the list of buildings and the only place I’m likely to find drunks is near the church. London’s a pretty busy place, though, and I quickly spot a likely crowd milling around on the street. I only have to look into their eyes to know what they’re thinking: “Show us what you’ve got.” I’m going to show them shapes they’ve never even seen before.

guild5

It’s time for some mental arithmetic to predict how fat my purse is going to be after all this. I have around 20 gawking potential patrons and my sole previous experience tells me that I can earn 32 gold from a single onlooker. Even assuming that half of the crowd don’t dig my performance, I’m looking at a 320 gold windfall. I am obviously very excited.

I get 10 gold.

Come the hell on. Despite the increased size of my audience, that’s a third of what my first performance netted me. Why? That’s a question I’m asking myself a lot while attempting to muddle my way through the 1400s absent even a sliver of guidance or context. What is clear is that there’s no point in trying to attract big crowds, so I’ve wasted the better part of my day in the cosmopolitan city of London, with its two shops and a church.

guildlondon

A few more dances later and I’ve made a little bit of cash, no thanks to the vast numbers of people watching me make a fool of myself. I’ve also levelled up my jugglery skill and now I start to dream of all the new abilities I’ll learn. Perhaps I’ll even be able to actually juggle. But no, the life of a rogue is not a happy one. It’s tragic. So when I open up my sparse yet jumbled skill menu, I can’t even see a jugglery skill.

In the rogue section I can only see fighting, sleight of hand, veteran and shadow arts. The first two are sort of self-explanatory, unlike the others. Veteran might make me better at fighting too? And shadow arts sounds like it has something to do with murder. But the vague explanations are no help at all. At least that’s consistent with the rest of the terrible UI. To unlock these other skills, I’ll need to do a bit of grinding. Splendid.

guild6

But wait! I might not have enough experience to get a new skill, but I have levelled up my social status… somehow. The Guild 3 has a bunch of social classes, each unlocking new skills and abilities like creating businesses and controlling employees. In the previous game, new titles had to be purchased, but here it happens automatically while you’re doing other things. So now I’m a yeoman.

I’m also something of a hero. While I was busy trying to parse the menus, someone apparently tried to murder a man, but I spotted the attempt and called for the guards. My reputation is a little better because of my heroics. Except none of this actually happened. It’s just a random text event that offers me no choices or opportunities. While I’m making a sandwich, I leave the game running, with Carlton standing in the middle of the street doing nothing. As I enjoy my tasty lunch, I also manage to foil another murder attempt, dig up ‘antique shards’ worth 9 gold in a field and hold a lavish feast in my empty hovel for my invisible friends. I’m better at this game when I’m idle.

guild7

Maybe I’ve been going about this all wrong. My 32 years living with capitalism has made me focus too much on work when I should be making meaningful human connections. In The Guild 3, that means getting married. A spouse means kids, and kids mean a legacy. The ultimate goal, though that might be too strong a word in what is a sandbox, is establishing a successful dynasty. You can also pick more specific objectives, but I’m playing in the free-form mode.

I’ve noticed one woman showing up to several of my shows. And it’s definitely not because there’s not much NPC diversity. Her name is Melanie and she is single, 23 and has some peasant clothes. I’m smitten. Seduction is a lot like jugglery, in that it involves pushing a button, watching an animation cycle and then being disappointed with the results. “You successfully complimented Melanie,” the game tells me. Cool. Over the next few minutes, I successfully compliment Melanie 25 times. I can’t tell if it’s doing anything. Melanie wanders off, without a word. It’s started to rain.

guildcastle

Unable to find my beloved again, since the only way to search for a character is by manually looking through the list of every single dynasty and every character connected to it, I give up. I might be besotted, but I’ve got my limits. All in all, my first day in London has been terrible. I’m angry. Seething, even. And I’m going to take my rage out on the people of the capital. This is my supervillain origin story.

The plan:

the plan

Hitting the ambush button conjures up a hiding spot, with crates and bushes popping into existence as if by magic. This is going to be great, I just know it. Everyone will fear Carlton Bloomer, Evil Wizard Rogue!

Some filthy peasants walk right by my hiding spot, and I strike. Or rather, I walk right up to them just stare. Oh dear. I forgot that I still can’t pick pockets yet. I can’t fight either. So… I just let them walk by. It’s really awkward for everyone involved.

guild8

So I have an ambush skill that I can’t do anything with, a scout roads skill that I’m yet to find a use for and an interpretive dance skill that earns me a pittance. It’s the only thing I seem to be able to grind, though, so it’s back to jumping around like a berk for me. As I dance for my supper (but not really, since I don’t seem to need to eat or sleep, my life is a waking nightmare, send help) I start to think about Melanie. Maybe I just didn’t compliment her enough, or perhaps I should have given her a gift. But what? One of my daggers?

Eventually, I reach resident status, which means I can finally start fights, and I’ve earned enough experience to unlock the pickpocket skill. Time to bring back the plan! As I hide behind my magical crates and bushes, I spot a perfect target, the only person on the road. I click attack and I rush at him. My hiding spot also comes with me. Somehow it’s stuck to me. It doesn’t give me an edge, sadly, and the guy beats the crap out of me.

guild9

Aside from my injuries, there don’t appear to be any other consequences. After battering me, my not-quite-victim just stands there, not reacting. When I walk right up to him again and, in full view, pilfer his pockets, he doesn’t move an inch. I’m 54 gold richer. Pushing my luck, I start to dance. He throws another 36 gold. Incredibly, I manage to make 600 gold out of this guy, picking his pockets and dancing over and over again. When he does finally notice, I surrender and we’re cool again. I pick his pocket five more times. It’s bottomless and I’m loaded. I’ve also levelled up again.

I’m still wearing my hiding spot.

guild10

With my pockets full of gold, I feel like I could do anything, which is why I end up married to a woman called Regina after complimenting her five times and then proposing. Proposing is a new ability I seem to have unlocked. A day passes and now we have a son, Gilbert. He just… appeared one day. This family lark is easy. Balancing that out is the apparent uselessness of my spouse and offspring. I might as well be living with a pair of mannequins.

Disappointment has hounded me at every turn. Nothing I do feels like it matters, and the simulation that ostensibly drives the game is very, very slight. Relationships, jobs, the economy that’s meant to lie at the heart of the game — all of them are half-baked at best, and I’ve seen little evidence of any dynamism. This hollowness is making my existential dread flare up again.

guild11

Even by Early Access standards, The Guild 3 feels extremely rough. There are plenty of things to do, once you grind to unlock them, but they’re all empty activities that require almost no player input. GolemLabs warn players that it’s a complex game, but I’m just not seeing it. The systems and interactions aren’t complex, they’re just frequently obfuscated.

Reading the Steam store page raises some alarms, too. The developers say that they’re “nearing completion and balancing/polishing the game”, but I don’t see how that’s possible given that it feels pre-alpha at best. Apparently they’ve added all the features that they wanted to, and the only difference between this and the final version will be stuff added from player feedback. Like its predecessors, The Guild 3 still has a compelling Sims-meets-Anno conceit, but there’s so much more work left to do than its creators seem willing to admit.

The Guild 3 is available on Steam and GOG for £24.99/$29.99/€29.99.These impressions were based on build 0.018F.

35 Comments

  1. geldonyetich says:

    Thanks for that. The Guild 3 has been something I’ve been dearly wishing would come about since playing The Guild 2: Renaissance. When it was announced, it went immediately to the top of my wish list.

    However, the Steam early access reviews have not been encouraging. Getting a bit of an inside story from this entry has proven another insightful data point.

    I share your concern that this is not “nearing completion and balancing/polishing the game” status. This is, “We pull our heads up from crunch time for a period of time and remember there was an awful lot of important things we up and forgot to implement” status. Chances are they’re hoping people will send them more money so they can afford to do that.

    Well, if it releases a half-complete crashy mess of unrealized dreams, at least it would be continuing the legacy of The Guild series. The series has always oozed potential. Messily. All over the floor and up the walls.

    • Cim says:

      Couldn’t agree more.

      The previous two games felt like Early Access titles too, despite being released on disc.

      I remember bugs like my workers suddenly starting to grow in size, for no apparent reason, until they didn’t fit inside the room they were standing.

      Other more serious issues were things like the AI not bothering to show up to town votes I was supposed to take part in. Which resulted in me just being stuck on the voting screen forever.

      There was so many issues that I’d barely call either game playable… and yet they were so fun and engrossing. I really hope they get the latest entry up to modern standards because somewhere in there is a brilliant game.

      • 4Valhal says:

        I loved the first and second one. Little brother and I tried for ever to get games to work. We’d create masterpieces of dynasties and working economies just to look over and find that our bakery had ceased production or our blacksmith would no longer accept inventory. The fighting mechanics were worthless yet we waged rogueish war on idle citizens. Those were good times.

        This game looks even more broke than the first one… I don’t understand how people can release a game in today’s age and it not be complete. When you look at games like Kingdom Come: Deliverance or the Sims how could the developers look at this and even begin to think it is a success?

        This sucks because I’ve been waiting on a new Guild for years and I just assumed (ignorantly) that with today’s tech and what is being produced it would HAVE to be at least a decent game.

        • syndrome says:

          how could the developers look at this and even begin to think it is a success?

          Every day sees at least a hundred games’ releases. You are looking at a long line of games that are made to be successful, yet just 1 of them has any chance to be. More often than not, this is due to lack of developer’s perception, aspiration, energy, finances, or due to having a bad mental model of the world, or a wrong point of comparison.

  2. GrumpyCatFace says:

    Stifling laughter at my desk, apparently sounds like I was weeping. My coworkers are concerned. I go with it, because it’s easier to explain.

    • poliovaccine says:

      What the hell kind of environment do you work in where it’s easier to say you were crying to yourself than it is to say you were laughing at something funny on the internet?? I would think precisely the opposite was true..!

      • syndrome says:

        I find that much more realistic. Down with the “happy bubble” and “we’re a happy family” corporate idiocy. That’s a cancer factory.

      • jonahcutter says:

        Perhaps he’s supposed to be actually working while at work, and not reading about games.

        So chalking it up to a brief weep over the memory of his (imaginary) dead cat garners some sympathetic coworker understanding, instead of the actually deserved supervisor’s wrath at his goofing off.

        Another rogue in the making.

        • cpt_freakout says:

          Now he or she just needs to compliment a co-worker five times and propose. Ah, the life of plenty.

          • GrumpyCatFace says:

            LOL I can tell you that the Stardew Valley method of courtship is not effective IRL. It mainly consists of running up to a potential mate and shoving plates of food into their hands.

  3. vorador says:

    Man, it’s like every in-game mechanic is broken in some way. Even for a early access it’s impressive.

    If i paid for it i would be less impressed.

  4. Sin Vega says:

    I had fairly high hopes for this, as the first two had a lot of potential but were… well, quite similar to this in practice. I never even gave the criminal careers a go, since I’d always burn out on the buy/sell grind of the regular ones coupled with their lack of any personality to all the social/AI stuff. It always felt like a series that had a few vital parts missing.

  5. racccoon says:

    The guild franchise is quiet good but reading this tells that same old story.
    Early Access Should Be BANNED!!
    Its a bloody waste of time to release a game so Steam can hammer it to death before its released!
    Why?
    A/ because most of Steam players love a rant & whine!
    B/ They Paid for the bloody thing before its finished!!
    My answer to the NET! is..
    Stop paying for shit that’s not finished!
    end of..
    The internet is today so full of players who buy shit in this Early access and then complain that it don’t work or things are missing.
    OF COURSE THINGS ARE MISSING!!
    THE BLOODY GAMES NOT FINSIHED!!
    & YOu PAID FOR IT!!
    Early access means this game and others can go on forever to eternity in early access!
    So live with it!
    Its today’s player fault that this has happened!
    The devs just see as free cash before they launch the game!
    Early access is like getting pocket money off your mum or dad its that simple & stupid.
    Just how dumb has the internet got!
    Go back and re roll old school!
    PAY for a finished game!
    Then you got a excuse to complain! lol

    • Zenicetus says:

      Early Access as a concept is fine, but it requires a competent developer that can code a tight enough early version before it goes public, and that knows how to combine in-house testing with public versions that don’t suck. Like Amplitude (Endless Space/Legend) or Larian (Divinity Original Sin 2).

      Not every developer is competent on that level, and it’s being abused in cases like this.

    • Nelyeth says:

      Didn’t know Trump played video games.

  6. Faldrath says:

    Having never played the series, I note that neither the article nor any comments so far mention actual guilds in the game. So… how does it (not) work?

  7. Sunjammer says:

    God dammit. I love The Guild (the first one absolutely, the 2nd one with tongue in cheek), and this makes me so sad. What the series needed was a jank-free 3rd iteration that realises the emotional promise of the 1st and the mechanical promise of the 2nd but this just looks like a crummy fan game. The developer interview videos with all their indecisive umming and uuhhing have not been encouraging but this looks worse than I expected. Dammit. Just… Damn.

  8. InfamousPotato says:

    This was a delightful read.

  9. ThePeon26 says:

    As always lets complain on a game that is in early access and even said to be in early stage. Waah waah the game is broken there is to little to do and so on. Man am I the only PC gamer with a brain here the game is early access it is said it´s in alpha stage and you all complain like it is a fully working game that is broken. Do you guys even know what early access and alpha means do you even know why your allowed to play it now. It is to help them testing the game they are not releasing the game for you to play like it was finished the only reason is for you to test the game to help them develop it so the game will be far from finished.

    Yet all reviews are the game sucks it´s broken and unfinished well NO SHIT idiots the game is in alpha of curse it´s not finished it´s far from finished.

    Early access should be banned it destroys games before it´s even finished because today’s pc gamer´s are more stupid than a jar with pickles. Im ashamed to call my self a pc gamer.

    Shame on you all.

    • Shaun239 says:

      And yet you can’t read. Specifically the part where he highlights the devs claim to be in the final polishing phase.

      Idiot.

      • Zerpherion says:

        “final polishing phase”?

        Not with alot of issues on the bug tracker imho.

      • ThePeon26 says:

        Yet if you even bother to read at all they said them self “Note that the development of the game isn’t complete and we are working hard to not only optimize and fix concerns you have mentioned, but will add to the game over the course of the Early Access development.”

        Also think if the games release date is Q2 2018 is not final polishing phase. They may have said so and then thanks to early access seen they need more time.<

        So bitching about the game being broken and so on when it´s not done is like complaining next months dinner is not ready today. Grow up.

        • Someoldguy says:

          The developer of NMS is almost universally held to account and lambasted for making statements about the game and failing to live up to them. The developer of this game is making the statement that they are “nearing completion and balancing/polishing the game” so they are being held up to the standard expected based on their own words.

          If they want to go back, withdraw that statement and expand on what is going to change – which needs to be a very long list – then people may revise expectations. Right now this seems like a fair evaluation. You could even say Fraser went easy on the game by not trying any of the crafting professions and explaining just how dysfunctional that key area is at present.

    • Michael Anson says:

      So you are complaining about “alpha” state complaints, but didn’t read the entire article you complained about. Physician, heal thyself.

    • shocked says:

      Well, when you think that everybody else is an idiot, there’s a good chance that you are the one with a misconception of how things work.

      You can’t release a turd in alpha and expect people to not criticize it, because “Duh, early access!”

      Successful EA games need a recognizable working game and expand on that iteratively. Factorio, Prison Architect, Rimworld, Divinity:OS, lots and lots of other games use(d) early access very successful, because they released with a functional, interesting core of a game that is playable and makes sense.

      When an EA game is a disconnected mess of mechanics and ideas (like this one), it’s absolutely fair to point that out, because there’s a good chance the devs have no clear idea of what they’re doing, and therefore it’s just not worth the money.

  10. Zerpherion says:

    Hey guys,

    I’ve been testing the game out and finding bugs (as well as beta testing other games currently).

    But the main point is to make sure you let the developers know.

    And the best way to do that is via here:
    link to redmine.thqnordic.com

    People like ThePeon26, has no clue what Early Access is.

    And should read “Early Access”, not “Final Version”.

    I am a beginner developer, and a game tester, I also dable in Web development.

    So I know what Developers go though when they start a project.

    I see so many people make mistakes, or whinge and complain about early access, but then don’t help the game developer improve the situation.

    People like ThePeon26, gives the gaming community a bad name, and such want games for “entitlement”, like it’s their right.

    There is currently 1200 issues on the bug tracker, the game developer has to go through each one and see if it’s an actual issue and if it does, find a solution and apply a fix.

    So once again, the next time you see someone offering you a chance to “play” an early version of the game, try a different approach.

    The gaming community is already rife with issues in the community, I hate to see early access is one of those issues.

    thanks.

    -Zerph (Gamer/Developer/Coder).

    • syndrome says:

      Dude, this game, as a segment in a franchised line of products, shows INCOMPETENCE or mismanagement at best, not signs of early development.

      It has nothing to do with Early Access per se, though it’s clear many people would like to jump to such conclusion due to the contraversial nature of this business model.

      As a developer/coder/designer that has been working with computers for 33 years, I urge you to learn the difference between a gem-that’s-just-around-the-corner and a charcoal-right-in-front-of-you as soon as possible.

      Many of the explained bugs ring in my ears as unfixable. In other words, whatever management introduced them, disregarded the long-run maintenance of this product, long before anything else occured to them. Whether that’s simply inexperience or something else, I cannot tell, but if that’s not incompetence in this line of duty, I don’t know what is.

      The planet is in the state of chaos because incompetent people get to do things some other competent people can only dream about.

      And it’s your fault, for having unrealistic, false hopes, and for nurturing a terribly wrong mental image of how world truly operates.

      Now wave to Trump administration and say HI.

    • ThePuzzler says:

      As far as I can tell, ThePeon26 is the only person here who is arguing on the same side as you. (Albeit in an incoherent “Early access has been ruined by entitled gamers who don’t understand what early access is therefore it should be banned!” kind of a way, mixed in with ambiguous sarcasm.)

  11. Tigris says:

    The problem with Early Access is, that everyone uses it differently.
    Some companies go into it with a finished base game, others with just a bare skeleton.
    This game just released in Early access, so it had not much time to change.

    And even if the developers planned to “only polish it” they still may change the game a lot more if they get enough feedback.

    The problem is a lot of people just complain instead of giving constructive feedback.

    There is practical 0 feedback on the steam forum!

    I am not sure if the writer has given feedback on their discord, but if not that should be done! (or in the steam forum).

    Sure this article is feedback, but having to search for feedback all over the internet is a bit annoying…

  12. Captain Narol says:

    Quite disappointing…

    Thank you Fraser for playing this mess, so that we don’t have to.

  13. Zaxwerks says:

    The fact that this is being developed by GolemLabs who seem to have only created two previous games the last one in 2004 is a little concerning. As is the fact that their website news section seems to have last been updated in 2014.

  14. Rince says:

    I stopped caring about this game when I realized that the community of the game is horrendous. At least the ones lurking in the Steam discussion forums.
    Now I see that was for the better.

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