As a huge fan of the old Settlers 2 game, I’ve seen the newer games in the series come and turn out to be much worse than the previous ones; the previous few installments of the game actually changed the series so much that it could easily be its own franchise! However, the initial look at the screens and concepts seemed to be decent enough, so I decided to buy Settlers 7 and see what it’s all about…
First impression is that Ubisoft seems to want you to be online while playing it, requiring a login to their site, and locking your key to the site as well… the plus side here is that they’re also kind enough to store your save games online – which actually came in handy as I was testing the game on both my PCs.
Now, the actual game is fairly similar in thought to the the original versions of the game. You construct buildings, manage resources, build tools to expand and all that, but the annoying bits in the first few games seem to have been resolved nicely with generalizing the tools concept, so you don’t need to make a TON of different tools in the event that you would actually want to be prepared to expand further!
The buildings you can construct are also compressed slightly, with the ability to build a generic farm or residence, then attach work shops to them to be able to do production and so on. Building a farm in a decent spot gives you up to three slots available to construct work items such as grain-fields, pig-farms or windmills. Similarly, the residences will let you attach workshops to them for construction of various goods.
In the sense of strategy and overall map functionality, the map is divided into a number of zones in Settlers 7, and you only have access to the nearest zones for interaction, making it easier to focus defenses, and plan ahead when it comes to which zones to go for first, each zone once conquered will then give you the option to build anything in that zone, and typically take advantage of its natural resources. Planning ahead is roughly everything in that game, as if you manage to expand in a direction without certain required raw materials, you can easily find yourself severely limited and need to do a complete reorganization of your assets to be able to recover, meanwhile your enemies keep building…
Each of the zones are typically able to be upgraded with fortifications to slow down and damage opponents who try to invade, and this really seems to be an excellent way of pacing the game properly making sure that you don’t just get rushed crazy by an aggressive player.
One of the goals with Settlers 7 was the idea that you could focus on different paths to victory, and this has been implemented through the use of Victory Points, and giving out these points whenever players manage to satisfy certain conditions.
There are three different main paths to achieve victory, namely Science, Trading and through Military strength, and as opposed to previous games where they’ve tried to balance these different paths out, Settlers 7 actually manages to pull it off! As an example, the skirmishes are usually set up so you need 4-5 points to win, and if you manage to completely focus on your given craft, there’s about 4-5 points to gain from going all out there, provided no one else turns out to be “better” at it than you.
The main concern I had when I thought of this balance was how the science and traders would be able to withstand a military player. Typically the military player will have a bigger and more advanced army than the others, as they’ll be focusing mainly on building up swords and educating higher military troops. However, that might not be enough against the other players… as traders will usually have an insane amount cash flowing around, and the ability to set up trade routes and trade for whichever resources they might lack, and/or just trade for profit – then hire excessive amounts of troops from the tavern without needing specialized tools like the military player. While the science player will be able to research technologies and upgrades, making his troops stronger and even increasing the strength of his fortifications! All in all, the overall balance is a whole lot better than I could’ve hoped for. Then again, once people start coming up with cunning schemes in the next few weeks for multiplayer matches, people might start complaining again…
I think in summary, this is by far my favorite installment of the series since the Settlers 2 edition. I started playing the campaign friday evening, and when I decided I was tired and needed to get some rest, I assumed the time was around midnight… quite shocked to find out that it was actually 05:00 and the birds who were chirping weren’t in-game sounds after all! I’m fairly sure there’s been some sort of scary time-continuum experiment involved in the making of Settlers 7, as I can’t remember the last time I completely lost track of time while playing a game like I have here, and that’s surely a good thing in terms of it being a good game!
Currently the only slight negative with the game is the limitations of the map editor, however I can completely understand why it’s limited like it is, as you need to have some control of the zones and resources to keep it slightly balanced – however, seeing how this is the first and only game I’ve actually *wanted* to use a map editor, this isn’t much of an issue! I’m assuming they’ll release more than enough maps to keep people happy in the time to come…
In short, if you liked one of the previous titles, chances are you’ll love this one, if you like the strategy/city building genre, but not necessarily the titles where you need over 100 actions per minute to be successful, give it a try… it’s good fun!
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