The Settlers 7: Paths to a Kingdom
The Settlers series really is something different. Usually RTS games are characterised by a long slow base-building and army mustering session followed by an intense finger-twitching tank rush - resulting in the target base being razed to the ground.
The Settlers series tends to shy away from the fast moving elements of RTS games in favour of a more sedate and stately pace. Settlers 7: Paths to a Kingdom sticks very closely to its roots whilst still providing a bit of action to keep the MTV generation (yes that's still us) engaged long enough to play a mission or two.
Paths to a Kingdom, despite being an RTS, operates on a strictly hands-off policy, preferring you just to sit back and give orders and watch your kingdom flourish rather than requiring you to micro-manage every single settler's actions. This is quite a relief as Blue Byte has managed to squeeze a whole host of the little guys into the game world.
As has always been the case with the series, Settlers 7 invites you to conquer regions by settling the area, cultivating crops, hunting and fishing for food and collecting natural resources. You decide what strategy to adopt and your happy little settlers go about their business with relish.
There never was very much combat to speak of in the series but with Settlers 7 one of your main ways to expand your colonisation is through military might. Each region is occupied by a small military camp, which must be captured in order for you to be able to build in the region and harvest its resources. Of course these regions can be conquered using diplomacy and the strength of trade if you become wise enough in the ways of the game.
The game is set in the early Renaissance period in the fictional conflict between the two realms of Tandria and Kuron. In the campaign mode you assume the role of Princess Zoe of Kuron, dispatched by her father to conquer the realm of Tandria, a country in political turmoil. The king of Tandria has been deposed and supplanted by an evil lord who rules the nation with an iron fist. The Princess must work her way across Tandria using trade, diplomacy and force where necessary to eventually place herself on the Tandrian throne.
The campaign mode allows you to learn all the intricacies of the Settlers 7 gameplay system before you can unleash yourself into the sandbox and multiplayer modes. In fact, there is a surprising amount to learn about Settlers 7 before you begin to play skirmishes and multiplayer games and so it is very wise to play through the campaign thoroughly before embarking on any other type of game.
Success in Settlers 7 very much depends on you building a strong infrastructure of resource gathering and processing structures in order to furnish your realm with the resources it need to expand territory. All of the units that you will need to recruit in order to expand your empire requires a specific set of resources which you have to gather and process. Musketeers, your basic ranged military unit, necessary for destroying enemy defences need to be fed on fancy meat. Fancy meats are produced hunting for wild meat and then sending the spoils of the hunt down to the butchers for turning into fancy meats like sausages. Fancy meat then allows you to recruit Musketeers to your armies through the local tavern.
Novice clerics required for researching new technologies are recruited at a church. Churches can only be built if you have enough Prestige so you need to build Prestige items like fountains and statues around your realm in order to increase your level of prestige. Once you have enough Prestige you can build a church but in order to recruit clerics you need to brew beer. To do that you need to build a farm with a grain barn and sink a well for water in order to have the necessary resources to brew the beer. It does get quite complicated and thankfully the campaign introduces each concept slowly and carefully so you don't get overly confused.
The building construction can be the most confusing of all actually as the menu only shows 18 different buildings - six standard buildings, six special buildings and six prestige buildings. Once each of the standard and special buildings are constructed most of them have options to build a number of secondary buildings depending on the structure. Standard buildings have three slots, which allow additional structures depending on the initial building. Residences - as well as increasing your maximum population - can add things like bakeries and breweries to help produce food and drinks for your settlers. Lodges are placed near to woodland and water and can add fishermen, hunters, woodsmen and sawmills.
The multiplayer mode, which accommodates up to four players on one map is very comfortable, with the very sedate pace translating very well to multiplayer as long as you are prepared to spend a long time on one game. There is a chat function built into the game so you can get together with friends and chat whilst plotting their downfalls.
The game engine is a pleasant surprise indeed. Even running the game at 1080p it was all very smooth and engaging. The zoom function on the game map is amazing and you can move from the overview map to a street view just by rolling the mouse wheel, allowing you to have a look at what each and every settler is doing and each has his or her own detailed animations making for a very enjoyable distraction.
One of my great misgivings about the game is the digital rights management system that Ubisoft has imposed on all their new PC titles. To be quite honest, despite the early stability issues (and there were many) Settlers 7 seems to have found its feet in that respect and is now very stable. Just don't expect to be able to play it if your internet goes down.
Settlers 7: Path to a Kingdom is a quintessential PC game. It offers immense depth and great graphical prowess that cannot be equalled on any of the consoles. As usual, despite Blue Byte's best efforts to make the game's mechanics much more accessible, it does fall foul of classic PC strategy genre problems, and that is that its sedate pacing will not attract the more twitchy among us. Nevertheless it remains one of Ubisoft's more admirable PC offerings of recent times.
Settlers 7, may not be to everyone's taste but it does offer a great opportunity to settle down, kick back and enjoy a more cerebral and regally-paced gaming experience.