The Guild 2 - hands-on

The Middle Ages might seem like an odd period to simulate without inserting dragons, but The Guild 2 is shaping up to be an odd game. Politics, economics, and combat collide in a witch's brew of real-time strategy, role-playing, and town-building. Suffice it to say you probably haven't played a game like this before - at least not all at once.

You start off in one of several regions of European countryside - historic Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire, southern Germany - and customize the virtual leader of your family. The four available classes differ in more than just their starting attributes and costumes. Patrons oversee the food production of the colony while Tradesmen tinker with their smithies and tailor shops. Rogues live in the shadows, robbing the innocent and breaking into houses, while Scholars excel at behind-the-scenes machinations and the more esoteric arts of religion and alchemy. Which class you choose to play goes a long way to determining the best approach to acquiring wealth and power.

Every character in the world is blessed with the levels and stats of an RPG - new levels open up new skills, arcane artifacts get uncovered and even buildings can be upgraded - but you won't find a canned story. Instead, the game's a collection of play modes that encourage driving competitors out of business, climbing the social ladder or just open-ended political and economic domination. This isn't the sort of game you win; it's more of an exceedingly complex toy, with your characters serving as sort of Ye Olde Sims.