Railway Empire 2 Preview
Since the first steam-powered locomotive debuted in 1804, trains have fascinated people. Putting aside their use as the transportation workhorses of manufacturing and the supply chain, whole cottage industries cater to our love of the railway. Generations of children and adults have spent their allowances and time on building basement model train layouts. They still do, but in recent decades that love of building thriving railroads has moved to the digital realm. There is no shortage of train sims, but they tend to fill a specific niche. Railway Empire 2, like its 2018 predecessor, focuses on the golden age of steam. No bullet trains or monorails here.
I’ve Been Working on the Railroad
Railroad Empire 2 is about tying together towns, goods, and services via railroad lines. But while putting down stations, tracks and signals is definitely part of the process, those activities are just part of a much larger picture. Railway Empire 2 is a strategy game and a city builder, too. Anyone just looking to spend some time toying with digital model trains might look elsewhere.
Nothing if not ambitious, Railway Empire 2’s map includes the entire continental United States and all of Europe. You play as one of a handful of characters, each with different levels of business acumen, wealth, or ambition. Those stats are important as they will influence your relationships with suppliers, industrialists, and other competitors.
Boiled down to its essence, building rail lines is always in service of something else. Moving goods and moving people are the primary tasks. Sometimes, though, you need to build or upgrade a town first, before it can produce a crop or raw materials needed somewhere else. And of course, you want your trains to run as smoothly as possible, to get to their destination quickly, and undercut the competition at every crossing.
All the Livelong Day
After watching developers demonstrate the game’s systems, and spending a bit of hands-on time with a demo build, I came away impressed with Railway Empire 2’s depth. There are tech and research trees for the railways, factories, farms, and towns. There are timetables and the constant pressure of supply and demand. Dealings with other rail barons, the details of construction, and economic systems must be attended to. That’s even before you get to detailing and customizing your actual trains.
If it sounds a bit intimidating, well, it is. But for many sim fans and city builder devotees, complexity, details, and data are where the fun is hiding. Railway Empire 2 has tutorials and several game types that make it possible to ease into the deep end.
Just to Pass the Time Away
Because it focuses on the age when steam-powered trains were powerful and cutting edge, the game’s sprawling map reflects a 19th-century version of the world. There is nothing but open land to develop, primed for someone with the pioneer spirit and endless coal engines belching black smoke. Cities and towns start as humble collections of buildings but can end up as much larger centers of commerce.
Like a 19th-century version of Google Earth and street view, the game’s camera can move seamlessly from the strategic map to ground level. The busy citizens of the towns and farms go about their Age of Industry business. You can walk through the trains in first-person mode and see passengers and crews enjoying the ride, all without too much of a framerate hit on a middling PC. Everything looks sharp and the natural environments, 19th-century architecture, and lighting all give off a nostalgic vibe.
While we didn’t see it in the preview, the developers said that there were seasons and weather systems in the game, though they are just cosmetic. Thanks to Railway Empire 2 coming to Game Pass, PS5, and eventually, Switch, controllers are supported. They work reasonably well, given the number of moving parts.
Rise Up So Early in the Morn
Both the developer demo and my hands-on time cemented my impression that Railway Empire 2 will make many would-be rail barons happy. Strategy and simulation fans will love the level of detail and depth. Digital trainspotters into steam trains will appreciate the dozens of authentic locomotives and rolling stock. Folks who played and enjoyed the first game will appreciate the changes and improvements in the sequel. Railway Empire 2 is an impressive new entry into a popular, if slightly niche, genre.