Review: The Settlers 7: Paths to a Kingdom
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There’s funny sort of gap between RTSes and city builders. Games like Age of Empires charge you with building a settlement for the express purpose of churning out an army to play with, whereas SimCity or Tropico have you building metropolises for peaceful purposes. Settlers fits neatly into this gap as a game that lets you build a sprawling, thriving kingdom that happens to produce conquest alongside quality goods. It’s a weird mix of strategy and simulation that takes some of the best of both worlds.
If you’ve played an Anno game, the production-based gameplay of Settlers will seem immediately familiar. Within your kingdom you build farms and lodges and residences in appropriate areas, then expand them with workyards to produce or refine a wide range of goods. These goods are used by other workyards to produce more complex goods, consumed to build structures or raise armies, or traded away for coins and other services. Location and ease of access is of utmost importance to your production chains, all connected by a network of storehouses and runners. One key difference from Anno is that you actually have several different options for producing the same goods. Food can be farmed or fished, coal can be mined or coked, wood can be chopped or cultivated, and so on. There are even extensive trade routes to bring in hard-to-come-by goods for the right prices.
Once you’ve fostered a humming economy, the conquest can begin. Your goods can purchase soldiers that will conquer neighboring regions for you, expanding your reach and resource options. Combat takes virtually no input from the player, simulating battles as simple comparisons of numbers but animating them as eventful engagements between your cartoony troops. You need only tell your generals where to go and ensure they have enough men to get it done. Military conquest isn’t your only option either, as you can send priests to convert territory or traders to bribe officials, depending on the strengths of your economy. There are also two whole upgrade systems that support both your production and military that I won’t go into, but rest assured they provide even more options for expanding and optimizing your kingdom.
The ultimate goal of most maps, whether they be campaign missions or random skirmishes, is to reach the Victory Point goal before your opponent. This can mean amassing the most money, controlling the most territory, having the most settlers, fielding the biggest army, or fulfilling map-specific goals like aiding NPCs or holding special regions. With target totals of 5 or 6 points and nearly a dozen ways to earn them, each battle is wide open in how you approach it. I’ve won maps with literally no armies and zero direct conflict with my opponents, instead opting for cash-heavy production chains that let me buy my way to victory peacefully.
The campaign in Settlers follows Princess Zoe in her quest to conquer and unite the fractured kingdom of Tandria. Early missions train you in the many aspects of designing production chains and building an economy, with carefully-scripted events and scenes. The campaign soon turns you loose to pursue victory through avenues of your choosing once all the basics have been practiced. There’s a Skirmish mode for random matches, a second campaign for more experienced players, and multiplayer modes that probably see very little use these days. On top of that there’s a map editor for making your own matches and a castle editor that lets you create your very own home base using a robust snap-to editor and a huge amount of pieces.
Settlers is presented in a bright, slightly-exaggerated style similar to the Warcraft games, with big thatched-roof barns and speeding minecarts and bustling breweries. The characters are heavily detailed and stylized, looking almost like they popped right from a feature film. Along with the charming soundtrack, Settlers revels in its artistry and presents you with landscapes and cities that could rival any builder game in beauty. There’s a lot of content here, a lot of ways to explore it, and a lot to love about it. Fans of city builders and RTSes alike should take note, because you don’t often see quality like this among either.