The mercenary fort. Taste my steel!

Zarbranthor Von Plankenstein was a fairly happy Transylvanian. Through a combination of hard work and commitment to his own personal development he'd seen the small forge he'd built grow into a dagger-producing powerhouse, sending so many weapons to market that even the street urchins were armed to the teeth. Having risen through the social ranks to the heady heights of Citizen Without Full Rights, he had felt able to ask the gorgeous Ludmilla to be his wife. They were married just outside the local graveyard, and shortly afterwards she had given birth to their first son, Steve. Now, she was planning to open her own Catholic church and the forge was ready to expand its operations as well. Life was good.

And then, one morning, they all failed to wake up. Was it the black death? No. A wampyr, then? This was 15th-century Transylvania after all. Nope, not that either.

It was a run-time error.

So I'm new to this whole "The Guild" thing. I'd seen a friend play the original game many years back, watching with interest as he grappled with the ins and outs of Hanseatic politics while maintaining his businesses and personal life. I was intrigued back then, and burning with curiosity when "The Guild 2 - Renaissance" arrived.

So it's... what is it, a RTS? But you just control one guy, so more like an RPG then, really? Except you create buildings and earn money, so more like a trading game then. But you don't have to be a trader, you can be a stonecutter, or a innkeeper, or a mercenary, or whatever you like. Hmm. I must confess, I wasn't really sure what to expect. Suffice to say, I simply clung to my usual maxim when I installed a new game and ventured into the unknown - turtle just long enough to tech medium tanks, then rush your nearest neighbour.

But no! No tanks to be seen. Not even the medieval Transylvanian equivalent - which would be armoured Nosferatu on horseback, I suppose. Just choose a class, build a character, build a shop, and go to work. Day in, day out, manufacturing or providing whatever service it is you do. It's still hard to pigeonhole, and if I had to liken it to anything it'd be a combination of Republic: The Revolution, The Sims, and Settlers, with a little Railroad Tycoon thrown in there as well. Obviously, without the Railroads.

‘The Guild 2: Renaissance' is a stand-alone add-on for the Guild 2. It's actually the combination of two mods built by the gaming community, and for that I really do applaud them. This is incredible work for a modding team, and brings a tear to my eye. There's a definite assumption that you've played the Guild 2 beforehand though - there's no tutorial, no guide, no helpfiles, no tooltips... You're going to have to figure it all out as you go along. And it takes time if you're a newbie. A little patience pays off, though, as more and more of the game's complexity opens up to you as you go. Each ‘career' is a little different to the others (although in many cases it just consists of hiring a bunch of lackeys to turn a particular raw material into a finished article that's worth a bit more), and family life and politics add further dimensions once you get far enough in. The early game is grind-tastic, and seeing as how THE GAME CRASHES WITH SISYPHEAN INEVITABILITY every couple of turns (or whenever you try to save it), I saw a great deal of the early game and not an awful lot more.

You know, I'm really disappointed. There's obviously so much potential here. It's already been patched once - and seeing as how it only came out a couple of weeks ago, that suggests to me that it was put out too early. Still, I suppose it also suggests there may be more patches to come. Seeing as the parent game came out years ago, you'd imagine they'd ironed out the problems by now, but no.

Of course, seeing as how I could only get so far in before the inevitable save-crash, I've got to mark it down. Which is a crying shame because the Guild 2 offers an imaginative setting and a fun, sandboxy environment. There are new maps in this add-on that are proudly touted as ‘four times the size of the maps from the original Guild 2'. What it doesn't tell you is that despite the Guild 2: Renaissance system requirements being very low, the large maps stuttered on my machine.

The new career classes are interesting and add a new dimension to the game over those of the original. I built a mercenary fort, and hired some local scallywags to stand on the highways and strongarm ‘tolls' out of passing handcarts - actually to keep the roads clear of other brigands - as well as one guy who just stood around close to the marketplace listening in, and then demanding hush money to forget about what he'd overheard. After that game crashed I tried my hand at running a pub (distinct in the game from a public house, as it's far less reputable) where I hired a group of young ladies to act as hostesses and entertainers.

I think you know what I'm talking about.

I'm talking about hookers.

That was one of the two games that didn't crash. That time I entered a drinking contest and got too hammered to do anything, and meanwhile the lack of visitors caused the pub to steadily decline. With no help files, I didn't really know what I was supposed to be doing anyway. The other game that didn't crash I actually won - by not really doing anything. The other dynasty, my supposed enemies, just died out without me ever really noticing them. This was apparently a big problem in earlier versions of the game, and one the website proudly announces has been fixed. Well, it hasn't.

I hope they can patch out the constant, infuriating crashes, because there's a solid and innovative game lurking in here. The further you get into it, the more there is to do and the busier and more absorbed you become. It's obvious that there's insight, innovation and real love coming from the modders who put this work together, and apart from the crashes they should be proud. The lack of tutorial and the often arcane way in which you need to perform some actions take a bit of getting used to and can leave you holding your hands up in confusion and frustration. But at the end of the day, it's the little stories that tell themselves that make it such an intriguing game.

God bless you, Zarbranthor Von Plankenstein. You will not be forgotten.

The fruit grower. Taste my... lemons!