Full Steam Ahead For Hit Sim Sequel
The original Railway Empire was something of a hit, connecting with both simulation gamers and hobbyists. It’s not surprising, as it fulfilled familiar needs for both groups. It has now gained equal footing with other Kalypso-published titles, like Tropico, which has resulted in a demand for more Railway Empire content since its release in 2018. The developer, Gaming Mind Studios, has returned with a bigger and potentially better sequel. We tested a preview build to see if Railway Empire 2 is on the right track.
As before, Railway Empire 2 sees the player don the topcoat and tails of a wannabe rail tycoon in the golden age of rail. A set of characters are available to choose from that are based on historical figures in the legacy of railway, and each holds its own strengths and weaknesses that may or may not suit your own playstyle. Rivals will race to be at the forefront of a transport revolution, so you’ll need all your planning and cunning to keep on top as the year’s roll by. This is a mix of historical strategy and economic simulation and the aim is to be the name above all others in both aspects.
Maps are larger in Railway Empire 2. You can build rail empires from coast to coast of North America or all across Europe. But if that is to happen, then it’s crucial that you understand what goes into a successful rail network.
Towns start small, but building a rail network through them will help them grow. This is all handled by the mystical algorithms that pull the game together. You just put the station down and the town will readjust its layout accordingly. The only areas you can’t lay a station down are the established industry buildings.
Each town has an industry it excels in, and this will be its export to offer other towns and cities along the line. There needs to be a variety among your towns so you can help each one thrive and remain relevant. Fulfill the needs of citizens and the local area will grow.
Obviously, some will be better positioned than others, and there’s no harm in a secondary source of something, but it’s a tricky balance that Railway Empire does its best to explain during a series of seven tutorials that ease you into the intimidating experience.
I can’t say I’m a big fan of railways, but the strategy/sim space has long taught me that I can get into anything if it’s well-made and has a compelling hook. Railway Empire 2 certainly has that. I like the trial and error of aligning towns and cities in terms of trade whilst also having to keep an eye on what rivals are up to. That Civilisation bug of getting a bit too invested in beating A.I. rivals is oh so easily caught in Railway Empire 2.
I especially enjoy that you can mess with them in a variety of ways. Hire a saboteur to screw up their operations, then buy shares in them and eventually buy them out completely. Of course, this can happen to you as well, so there are consequences for being a bit of a greedy megalomaniacal git.
It’s easier to get invested in this side of Railway Empire 2 with a simplified city-to-city connection system. You simply drag tracks from one city or town to the next and viola. It’s built. With a click of a button, signals and switches are automatically deployed to cut out the busywork and prevent unnecessary delays. Spent too much money on a line because it crosses bodies of water or goes through hills and mountains? You can edit the path to avoid those obstacles and bring costs down. The granular stuff in Railway Empire 2 being more automated is a smart move now the scope of things is significantly larger.
There are still complexities to tinker with though. Picking the right trains for industries and needs can be the difference between profit and loss. No point wasting time and cash on two trains for two jobs when a particular train can handle both comfortably.
You can also set parameters for workers to ensure they don’t get pushed too hard. The game is keen to remind you that people are a big part of the journey and while the objective is to become a rich tycoon of rail, it should come with a side of humility. Results may vary of course.
The preview build only contained the opening chapter of the campaign, plus the handy tutorial and a scenario selected from the 14 that will feature in the final game. Yet it was more than enough to get a grip on where Railway Empire 2 is taking this fledgling franchise.
What the preview does well offers a hint of the levels it could hit, and beyond the intricate systems, there’s something much simpler that appealed to me.
You can follow your trains on their journey and witness the progress you’ve made as it crosses the countries/states. I recently discovered the joy of seeing your city at street level in Cities VR, and anything like that in sim games is an engrossing niche interest of mine. I used to ride the rails of Los Santos in GTA V just to drink in the scenery and Railway Empire 2 holds some of that magic in a more basic way.
I’m genuinely intrigued by Railway Empire 2. You can see how it has arrived at the crossroads of pandering to its niches and becoming more accessible. The job from there is finding a balance that doesn’t rub the established fans the wrong way, but lures in some more casual sim fans. It’ll be heading to Game Pass for console and PC, so if it continues to keep that balance going then it may well be successful beyond the realms of the first game.
Most Anticipated Feature: Travelling along on your train, soaking up the view