The last Settlers game I played was Settlers 2 long ago. I remember playing the demo many times just like I did with the more recent, The Settlers 7: The Path to a Kingdom. I thought it was the full game because it lasted for so long!
It seems the series have tried to go through many different routes since the second game. In the sixth, you concentrated more on building a military and it felt very close to an RTS. However, now that we're onto the seventh, it's back to doing just what the series is about - Settling down in new lands and expanding.
The lands of Tandria are divided after the evil Lord Wolvering and his Dark Knight Dracorian drove out the king. Now Princess Zoe who had been wishing to rule over her very own kingdom is sent out by her father to reclaim these lands.
The main idea is simple but very hard to master. There's a large number but limited amount of resources in each map and you must make the most of it by balancing your economy. For example, early on in the game you start off by harnessing lumber and stone to help build better buildings. Then from those buildings you can start building better items for your settlers such as clothing, jewellery, tools and weapons. All resources are linked so the slightest mistake can bring your kingdom down and plague it full of red exclamation marks! This makes it a very challenging game.
As the resources are limited, it means you'll have to expand your territory at some point. This means you can either send soldiers and take land by force or use proselytism and send monks to preach. The former is much harder and you'll find this is no RTS game because it's very costly to produce the kind of units you need to siege enemy fortresses.
However, the "battles" aren't very hard and unlike other RTSes, most of the time you simply need more units than your enemy. The great thing is that all units can be assigned to a single group so you also don't have to spend time micro-managing your units and just concentrate on your economy instead which is the goal of the game.
There's also some trading if you've got plenty of gold but before you can do that, you have to train and send out traders on a world map to find places to trade. The map is like a giant web and you can only move between points next to each other when you have the right kind of traders. And the same applies to researching technology too where you require the right kind of preachers! This means you have to spend a bit of time decision making and helps balance out the game.
In the case of the main campaign mode, you're given a pre-built village and a set of missions to fulfil such as gather so much resources or conquer a sector. I'm not a great fan of forced tutorials - Especially when the demo has everything unlocked so you'll have familiarised yourself with everything with that already but, you spend most of your time learning the basics.
However, after the first few maps you're onto working your way to a set number of Victory Points (VP) such as having a greater population, more territory or managing to research certain technology first. Depending on how you play, the points can switch sides which keep things exciting while playing against the AI or another human player.
On the larger skirmish maps, they can take up to 2 hours to finish! Thanks to the flexible way VPs work, there's so many ways to go about it, there's plenty of replayability. Not to mention that you can create your own maps, collect coins to unlock more goods too!
If there's anything bad about the game (other than the online DRM), it's probably how many skip buttons you have to click to skip the opening movies before each chapter in the campaign. There's probably at least three to click through and it's not simply clicking a button quickly. You have to click then wait for the screen to fade then repeat.
The other point are how worthless the sidequests feel. Many quests offer you a locked VP so once you achieve them, the VP is yours for good. Others give you a resource award or give you some military aid and it's these military aid awards that I feel are worthless. With a name like "ghostly army", one would be expecting a powerful army that might help level one sector of your rival but they aren't impressive looking at all and hardly makes a dent in the enemy!
There's actually a bug in any versions of the game (and demo) that is below v1.01 which seemed to make everything look slightly blurred on my Geforce 9800 card so if you buy the game and find the same thing happening, make sure to get the latest v1.02 patch or higher. That said, it'll force you to download patches before you can play anyway!
Villages look full of life as you see the settlers busily running around your kingdom carrying resources between places. You can very much zoom all the way down to ground level and watch them at work. Textures are rich as far as the animated cartoon-like environments are concerned and there are plenty of ambient effects such as birds flying about. Short pre-rendered videos or cutscenes are played while playing the campaign.
The story itself isn't all that exciting and the script used feels kind of like the old pantomine plays I used to go to back in primary school. Lots of lines to said to make you boo at the villians or cheer the heroes on. In fact, you'll see the characters more interested in their appearance when they're talking such as twirling their hair or looking at their nails which probably shows it's not supposed to be serious or anything epic anyway. However, voice acting is good during the cutscenes although when lines are said in-game, it's odd you have to wait for the animated character's mouths to stop moving before you can play on...
If you want a sim with a bit of RTS then most likely enjoy Settlers 7. There's such a large chain of resources to manage it proves to be a very big challenge. With the Victory Point system, the goals laid out are so flexible there's plenty of replayability whether it's against the AI or going online against random strangers. On the other hand, if you only enjoy RTSes where you can rush your enemy such as in Blizzard's Starcraft or Warcraft games, this is definitely not a game for you.
And on a side note, this is yet another title protected by Ubisoft's dreaded DRM (Digital Rights Management) and means you must be online and connected to their servers to play. If you happen to have a bad internet connection you'll be kicked out of the game or, if their servers are down then you can't play at all unfortunately.
In other words, you're paying for a single player game that you can only play when Ubisoft's servers let you play!
In my case, I initially got an error message that the game failed to store my saved games online but luckily they weren't lost and I can disable the "feature" by clicking the little cog icon on the launcher. A number of times, I couldn't play because I couldn't connect to the server which occurrs very frequently in the weekends I found.
I agree with many others that are choosing to boycott Ubisoft's games that this is an extreme measure but it can't deter from the fact that this still is a good game...
Perhaps they will consider other, more reliable and stable measures in the future that doesn't irritate the honest consumer. Maybe something similar to Pentavision's DJ Max Trilogy where you need to use an encrypted USB key to play?
Time Completed 18 hours
- Economy management is very challenging.
- Highly replayable skirmish and random/friend multiplayer modes.
- Vividly coloured visuals and lively environments.
- Can only play when online and connected to Ubisoft servers due to DRM.
- Initially forced to download large 400MB patch files (and then some more files).
- Forced tutorial missions in campaign.
- Too many skip buttons during movies to get straight to the game.
- Side quests don't feel like they're worth the effort.
- Cumbersome chat and friends list management online.