Are visual updates and tweaks enough to keep a series going for seven installments? Somehow, Blue Byte continues to make it work. The first Settlers game was released in 1993, and the Düsseldorf based company, which is now owned by Ubisoft, has been fairly consistent when it comes to new editions. The Settlers 7 is focused three paths to victory: Military, Science, and Trade. Winning comes in the from of obtaining the map’s victory point requirement, which seems to work quite well and prevents each scenario from consuming too much time.
The Dreaded DRM Fiasco
First, though, a word on the game’s DRM. Many people have ripped this game to shreds due to Ubisoft’s new dogmatic anti-piracy technology known as the “Online Services Platform.” The most notable “feature” of their new DRM is the permanent internet connection requirement. If your ISP or router has sudden issues, you’ll be dropped out of the game, single or multiplayer mode, and won’t be able to play… fun! To be perfectly honest, I’ve never been a fan of Ubisoft, because they’ve always seemed arrogant and only really give the largest press outlets any attention. I think their DRM is dreadful, and if it stops you from buying their new games, I understand. I read about the issues in Australia with this title, with some gamers not being able to play for weeks, which is just ridiculous. That being said, I find it difficult to punish Blue Byte, because I believe they’ve created a great game and probably don’t have much of a say when it comes to larger corporate items such as this; I’m not going to take much out of the overall score because of it. I never experienced an issue with the DRM personally, but I completely understand the frustration. I’m partial to Valve and Blizzard’s stance on DRM.
Back to Business
"…the majority of the rest of the game plays like an intense real-time strategy game."
If you weren’t familiar with this game or the series, starting it up for the first time might give the impression that The Settlers 7 is targeted at a younger audience. You play as a “warrior” princess, named Zoe, and the cut scenes are very lighthearted, giving off a cartoonish feel. Make no mistake, though, after you play through the first couple of tutorial maps, the majority of the rest of the game plays like an intense real-time strategy game. There were stalling points here and there, but if you fail to continuously monitor the camp’s resources, an easy slip up can completely cripple your economy and quickly put you in a losing position. The game would probably serve as a great basic model of supply chain management and general economics. For example, if you’re low on money and run out of tools for some reason, which are required by all the work yards, almost everything is brought to a standstill, and you’re basically out of luck until you are able to produce more. This can easily happen if you run out of iron ore or coal, which produces an entire web of issues. You’ll quickly learn what resources are vital and that trading is almost always essential unless resources are very plentiful.
For the most part, difficulty increases as you move through the game. Some maps in the single-player campaign seemed very difficult, and there were a few occasions where it took many attempts before I was finally able to overcome certain scenarios at the normal difficulty setting (6+). Some of it would just be experimentation with different strategies, but it should be noted that there were points where I felt frustrated with the difficulty. The entire “three paths to victory” concept seemed somewhat true, but I always seemed to dabble a bit in each of the paths, so I’m not sure that you could really focus on one uniquely. I found some very interesting strategic set-ups listed in the official forums that were helpful and definitely worth looking into, especially if you’re having trouble winning. While difficult at times, I’d say that the overall difficulty seemed fair enough and put up a great challenge. A couple of the maps probably should have been a bit more forgiving though.
"Zooming in this installment brings you all the way down to mushrooms and butterflies."
The Settlers 7 includes a new graphics engine, so everything looked fantastic. The maps seemed very diverse, with flat grasslands perfect for farming, mountains and hills rich with mining resources, and rivers to help with the food supply. As with previous Settlers games, there is something completely satisfying when you zoom all the way in on an individual worker and watch him complete his task. Zooming in this installment brings you all the way down to mushrooms and butterflies; it’s amazing to see that level of detail on such a large map. Workers and soldiers still have a cartoon-like appearance, similar to previous installments. In my opinion, everything looked great.
Sound, music, and voice acting all seemed adequate and normal; no complaints there. Music eventually repeats, but it really never got old. Zooming in on workers reveals more sounds based on what they’re doing. Of course, you can also hear all of the noise coming from each map’s environment.
The game’s multiplayer seemed fun, though it was somewhat difficult to find other people online. I had a limited online experience and didn’t get much out of it. Due to the time that is required to finish a scenario, players would drop after a while. I guess it’s just a matter of finding a server and people to play with. It would be perfect if you had some friends to play with in a private (online LAN) match.
Besides the DRM, I only have a few other complaints:
Missing fast-forward button: There were definitely times where I felt that a fast forward button would have cut down on the gameplay time. Some maps played for several hours, and it would have been nice to play one scenario in a single sitting, which wasn’t always possible. It would have really come in useful during the final hour or so of each campaign scenario, once the economy was running smoothly.
Worker anticipation: Another thing that I didn’t like was that workers didn’t anticipate the completion of processed resources. For example, when a blacksmith finishes a weapon and brings it to the nearest storehouse, another worker doesn’t go to the storehouse to bring it to the barracks until it reaches the storehouse. Some kind of anticipation system would probably cut down time quite a bit for those extra lengthy maps.
Space: The final issue that I’d like to add to the list is the map size. It seemed like I never had ample room to really feel comfortable. You can of course build new buildings on conquered land but to keep everything as efficient as possible, it is important to keep buildings relatively centered around your main castle.
Rotate camera button: The rotate view function is mapped to the middle mouse button and you can’t change it. It rarely worked with my Microsoft wireless mouse. Not a game breaker but it was certainly an annoyance.
If you’re a fan of the series and are able to swallow Ubisoft’s fulsome addition to Blue Byte’s game, I’d definitely recommend The Settlers 7. It can become extremely addicting, and it’s really a fun game to play, not only because of the challenge but also because of the general lighthearted atmosphere. You may not get much value out of the multiplayer mode, due to a lack of players, but the amount of hours you can sink into the single-player and skirmish modes makes up for it. It’s a solid installment in the series.