Tradewinds Odyssey, the newest quest-based adventure from Sandlot Games, shows the publisher listens closely to its fans. Back to the ocean, with stories based on familiar characters from Greek mythology, Odyssey plays like Tradewinds “lite” compared to 2008’s Tradewinds Caravans.
A few players who like to get elbowdeep in complex strategy will be disappointed, but those who preferred the simpler gameplay of Tradewinds 2 will find this fun and engaging. And with six different stories involving pirates, princes, and mythical beasts, you can easily take more than a week before you even get out of story mode!
In each story you have one long Main Quest, whether it’s finding a missing heir, retaking a lost Kingdom, or even finding a cure for mysteriously ill family members. As you complete the main quest, you explore cities, sell tradegoods to earn money, and occasionally fend off pirates or other bad guys. You can also accept optional quests for even more adventures.
The Tradewinds series helped to introduce quest-based adventures to downloadable games a few years ago, and the combination of great stories, quirky humour, and simplified battle gameplay that didn’t require ultrafast reflexes proved an instant hit. True, the graphics were more Spongebob Squarepants than Worlds of Warcraft, but the games proved that adventure games didn’t have to have gritty realism to be entertaining.
If you’ve never played a quest-based adventure, they’re like Tycoon games except battle sequences often involve real-time decisions. The story is critical, and you have to read dialogue carefully to get clues. Fortunately, Odyssey, like previous Tradewinds stories, is funny, clever, and surprising, and provides a twist to familiar tales that keeps you interested in finding out what happens next.
After Tradewinds 1, the series offered increasingly complex and historically rich gameplay right up through 2008’s Tradewinds Caravans. That was a critics’ favorite, but some fans of the series found it too complex for casual play, and the less familiar history and new land-based battles were a big change. With Tradewinds Odyssey, Sandlot Games has returned to what made Tradwinds such a big hit to begin with. You still get great stories, but characters like Hercules, Zeus, and Socrates, who will be familiar to most players, make both jokes and quests easier to understand.
Just as important, the gameplay has been significantly simplified. You still get to buy ships, weapons, and magical items and decide what tradegoods to buy and sell. But now you can see the entire worldmap on one screen, and the number of tradegoods is down to about six, making merchant decisions much easier. Armies in Odyssey are just a few different kinds of ships, and weapons are limited to a choice between standard and premium short and long range, also simplifying military strategy.
In my favorite improvement, you can hover your cursor over each city on the map and see what services and goods it offers. This makes trip planning easier and more satisfying.
Finally, the problem of fighting unexpected battles and ending up too far from medical services has been eliminated, since you can buy reasonably-priced magical items to heal your navy mid-battle. Odyssey‘s battles are all at sea, with large graphics that make it simple to tell how much damage is occurring.
Not all the changes are good, though. I really liked the graphics in earlier Tradewinds titles. Every city was different, with lots of detail. In Odyssey, it looks like they cut costs by going with concept sketches for the cities instead of fully-detailed drawings. Every city looks the same. Individual characters are still well-drawn, and battle scenes have lots of helpful detail. But whoever decided they could get away with cookiecutter city designs should be told that the longer the game, the more players enjoy having interesting things to look at!
Also, the music is grating, and it doesn’t sound Greek. This is the first Tradewinds game where I turned the music off.
On the plus side, one unlockable character has a customizable look. Since that’s the sixth story you’ll play, it was a fun time to add in personalization. Everytime I saw my character onscreen I smiled, which I’m sure was the point!
Finally, Easy Mode is very well-designed. Players who want a full adventure experience should leave Easy Mode off and explore on their own, but if you’d prefer to play through the main quest directly, Easy Mode will mark the next city/building you should visit with a large orange "?". You still have to come up with your own merchant and military strategy, but you should never feel like you’re stuck not knowing where to go next.
So the good news is if you preferred the gameplay of earlier Tradewinds titles to last year’s Caravans, you’ll probably really like Tradewinds Odyssey. If you liked Caravans a lot, you’ll still enjoy Odyssey too — just be prepared for a simpler experience. And if you’re new to the series, but you’re up for some quest-based voyaging through Ancient Greece, hop on board! I just wish the city graphics lived up to the quality of the character drawings.