Resource micro management are the order of the day in this latest installment in the Settlers series.
The Settlers series of PC games have always had a special place in my heart. Although the last two outings in the series maybe lost their way slightly, putting too much aggression into this relatively peaceful game, Settlers 7 returns to the formula that made it so endearing to me. There is, however, an huge, bug-eyed beast that threatens to ruin my Settlers experience. But more about that later. Let’s just bask in the glory of Settlers 7 for a while first.
Settlers 7 gives the player a god like control over an entire kingdom, placing the player in the role of the ruler. From here, the player must manage to achieve various victory conditions by juggling the various different resources available. Unlike most games of this type, the emphasis on combat is minimal, whilst the collection of the huge number of different resources is of utmost importance.
Everything in this game will cost something. The player will need a woodcutter to cut down trees, for logs, and then a sawmill to make these logs into planks. They will need mines to gather stone, gold, lead and coal. Gold will need a coinsmith to create coins. Basic food can come from fishing or farming, along with a windmill to make flour and a baker to make bread. Fancy food requires hunting or pig farming and a butcher. The list goes on and makes for some very complex organising of resources.
All resources gathered are kept in storehouses. The proximity of these structures dictates how long it can take for your little workers to transport the required goods to their destination. This can often be a bottleneck in the production queue and needs to be carefully managed.
There are relatively few basic buildings that the player has to deal with. Most buildings come with three workyards slots that can be attached, if there is enough room. For example, building a house will not only provide a boost to the population, but also allow for the addition of a bakers workyard.
Gaining prestige points allows the player to unlock upgrades to various buildings or unlock new buildings altogether. These points can be obtained by conquering neutral settlements, or by sprucing up your kingdom with some well placed ornamental pieces.
Although the emphasis on combat is minimal, it still plays an important part in the game. Players can hire soldiers for their general from the Inn to start with, or the Stronghold later in the game. Soldiers are pricey to hire, but thankfully not many are needed for the most part. It is all about the numbers game in Settlers 7, rather than any form of tactical genius. Just make sure that you have more soldiers than your adversary and you are likely to succeed.
Although the capturing of neutral settlements is not reliant on military might anymore. Build a church and get some religious types to enter the settlement and convince them to join your cause. These clerics are not only used in this respect, they are also capable of researching new technologies that can give the player a bonus in various aspects of the gameplay. Rather humorously, Clerics need to be hired from the Church in exchange for Beer.
Winning a game may not rely on simply wiping out the enemy. Now victory points can be gathered from completing side missions or by simply reaching certain conditions in the game. This takes a lot of pressure off the military side of things and can allow for the more resource friendly player to achiettlersve victory.
The Settlers 7 interface is laid out simply and allows the player to access the information that they need with ease. Finding out how much of a certain resource you have, going into combat or even spending those hard earned prestige points is as simple as clicking on the correct icon. Targets and advice appear on the left hand side of the screen. The whole thing is very polished and works really well.
As do the games visuals. the player is able to zoom in and get up close with their little workers, which look great in a slightly comedic way. The maps are well designed and offer plenty to look at. In fact, I have rarely seen such detailed playing areas in a game of this style. One thing that struck me was the games draw distance. The maps can occasionally be quite small and, if you zoom in close to the ground, it is possible to see your adversaries castle in the distance, along with the movement of his peasants. Overall, it looks very impressive.
There is plenty to do within the game aswell. Work your way through the extensive campaign mode, play through a skirmish. Take the game online and compete in various different multi-player ladders, or use the editor to create your own scenarios. The built in chat client will allow the player to link up with other gamers and get advice, mentor a newcomer, or even arrange a game.
With some of the campaign missions taking well over an hour to complete, it is worth pointing out that saving the game as regular as possible is of utmost importance. There is nothing worse than realising your mistake after nearly two hours of gameplay and then having to start all over again. And there are plenty of mistakes to be made. As the game progresses, the resource micro management becomes incredibly hard, especially as your mines become empty. So small mistakes early on can really magnify in the later points of the game.
Now, back to the bug-eyed beast. We shall call it DRM. In an attempt to stave off the software pirates, Ubisoft have, in their infinite wisdom, decided that the game must always be connected to their servers. This applies to single player aswell as multiplayer. What this means simply, is that no one can play this game whilst away from an internet connection. You want to play on your laptop whilst on long journeys, sorry. Gaming PC in another room with no net connection, sorry. However, this does not affect me, as my PC is constantly connected. What does affect me, however, is when the server goes down and I cannot play my game. It has even caused my entire computer to freeze, forcing a reboot, upon completing a mission and being unable to connect.
I can understand the need to protect against pirates, but this method is affecting players who have bought the game, along with putting off many who want to play the game (my little brother is one who has no Internet connection, but is an avid fan of the Settlers series). For preventing me from playing my game when I want, I am forced to deduct 1.5 points from my final score.
With good looks, sound and gameplay, Settlers 7 is pretty close to being a perfect game. The difficulty of managing all of the resources can be a bit offputting and may well find some players being totally overwhelmed. But if you have played this type of game before, either in the form of older Settlers games or any other kingdom building game, then it should come fairly easily. The vast amount of content will keep the player coming back for more. If it were not for the DRM problem, then I would score this game 9.5/10.
This game is available from GamersGate