Settlers 7 Paths To A Kingdom Review
It’s an odd place to start a review, but when it comes to Settlers 7 it’s probably best to kick things off by dismissing some of the misinformation that’s been spread around the game and which becomes especially evident if you compare the US and European box art for the game.
So, let’s be blunt. US readers, if you’re interested in The Settlers 7 because the box art makes it look like a bad-ass, epic-level wartime strategy game then you should know that you’ve been deceived. You’ve been tricked. The Settlers 7 is in no way a violent or battle-focused RTS. In fact, fights are small and resolved without player input. Settlers 7 has about as much bloodshed as a Disney film about pillow-fighting marshmallows. Go and play Total War instead.
What Settlers 7 does have though is a tremendous amount of city planning and a resource web that’s more complicated than trying to make jerked chicken without burning your hand and having to spend the rest of the week typing with one finger. Ahem. You’re going to spend far more time planning how many windmills you can squeeze into your territory than you are organising troops into phalanx formations. In fact, beyond recruiting soldiers you have very little control of the military; it’s all a bit hands-off when you start getting down to details in terms of combat. Sorry to disappoint.
Don’t be totally put off though as, although Settlers 7 lacks the combat complexity of Total War or StarCraft, it still manages to pack in a comparable amount of difficulty. This is a very hard game, it’s just that the challenge stems from plotting growth to the last gold piece rather than wielding military might.
The singleplayer campaign kicks things off quickly by casting you as a princess in the fantasy world of Tandria and sending you off on a mission to bring unity to the land. Ostensibly there are three main routes to overall victory, hence the unwieldy subtitle. War, Wealth and Wisdom are the dishes of the day and you’d do well to choose a specialty early on in any given mission thanks to the way that Settlers 7 draws difficulty primarily from limited space and finite resources.
This game needs a Dungeon Keeper-style hand to slap workers with...
Don’t be deceived by the cartoony graphics either; Settlers 7 is an incredibly complex and hard game. We even managed to fail one of the tutorial levels, which is an impressive feat in itself.
Tandria’s basic resources come in a few different forms. Coal, gold, land, fish, wood, stone and meat are the most important, each with a number of different interactions that make things a bit trickier than just collecting as much of each as you can. Fertile land, for example, is used to grow grain through farms. Grain is used to make bread. Bread is used to attract workers and grow your population. But your population then requires housing, which uses up land and means there’s less for farming. Hmm. Grain is also used to make beer, which attracts (dubiously qualified) scholars, who lead you towards a Wisdom victory.
None of this would be much of a problem in a normal strategy game where levels are vast and you can build farms anywhere, but Blue Byte have obviously spent a lot of time honing the balance of Settlers 7. Maps are rarely a single pixel larger than your kingdom will require, which means the placement of a single storehouse can often be the difference between victory and defeat. It’s really a rather brilliant way of injecting tension into something that other games treat as a shallow decision.
Resources get even better and more complex the closer you look at them too, with there being more than a few cases where your long-term strategy will end up being decided solely by how aggressively you pursue certain things.
Wood and Meat, for example, are both pretty essential materials to your settlement. Meat is harvested by hunters and processed by butchers to create ‘fancy food’ that attracts higher level units, such as musketeers. It’s an endangered resource though, so if you plough too many hunters into an meat-rich area then you’ll quickly run it dry. You can’t have Bambi and eat her.
There’s nothing too complex in that once you learn how to strike the balance, but you have to bear in mind that Meat can only be found in forests. So, you’ll often have to decide which is more important to you – the forest as a whole or just the wood. Even one lumberjack on his own will eventually fell the entire copse, leaving no habitat for the deer.
Aw, Bambi. Where's my musket?
One of Settlers 7’s masterstrokes though is to make sure that all this information is presented intuitively and simply. There are menus and graphs stacked up to the parapet if you want to wade through them for the details, but by far the quickest and best way to survey the state of your state is just to look. Forests will visibly shrink as your lumberjacks get to work and lakes once teeming with fish will grow still if overworked.
The result of this is an occasionally harrowing and powerful look at how civilisation can devastate an area, especially in levels where you expand through a series of regions in quick succession. If, like me, you’re ever focused on growing you frontline town then looking back at your older settlements can be quite a shock. What was, at the start of the mission, filled with greenery and wildlife will have degraded into a barren wasteland of stumps and stagnation with your castle standing in the centre.
Unfortunately, the main problem with Settlers 7’s ecological economy is that it’s almost impossible to take back your mistakes in any meaningful way and you can suddenly get more stuck than an earthworm in treacle. Supplies that don’t respawn at all, like Gold, can be squandered with no chance of regaining them and there’s no way to seed a forest if you mis-spend all the wood in a level, so you can fail a level if you build too much too fast.
City planning is key to avoiding deforestation
That’s not an overstatement either, it’s an accurate example. One hired soldier can literally be the difference between reaching the next level in a few minutes or staring at the screen for an hour wondering what’s wrong. It’s something that only becomes more of a problem when you delve further into the singleplayer, when levels get smaller and your towns get bigger. It’s here that the mentor system, which lets you chat to better players, can be handy.
Still, even a broken economy has some appeal, if only from an aesthetic point of view. Settlers 7 is an undeniably pretty game and it caused more than a few jaws to drop as people sauntered past our gaming rig. In contrast to most modern strategy games which use a painfully zoomed in camera angle, Settlers 7 lets you view your city from any angle you want, zooming in or out to extremes. You rarely need to zoom all that far out admittedly – the levels look big, but it’s mostly just aesthetic fluff, not actual play space – but it’s nice to have the option.
Zooming in and angling the camera so you can walk through your own city is similarly useless, but it's something we found ourselves much enamoured with regardless. It’s brilliant and oddly calming to take a peek inside forests and see wild deer roaming around… or it is until you start chopping down the trees and massacring the wildlife anyway.
Unfortunately, while Settlers 7 practically oozes complexity once you immerse yourself in its entangled resource web it does have to be said that the game is just rather dull on the whole.
As we mentioned before, experienced players will be able to extract an awful amount of tension from Settlers 7’s structure – but we should probably clarify that it’s a tension which builds slowly and that the majority of Settlers 7 is a waiting game, rather than a doing game. It’s possible to spend minutes at a time with nothing to do but watch your plans unfold.
It’s a problem which arises from the fact that you don’t really have any available units in Settlers 7. You can mark down an area where you want a farm to be built, but you can’t actually tell anyone to go and work on it. Your minions will do that themselves, collecting goods from a storehouse and then setting to work. You can't easily set specific buildings to be a higher priority, though you can prioritise building types - military, research, production, etc.
All princesses take advice from innkeepers
On the one hand, this does eliminate a lot of micromanagement and it helps keep Settlers 7 close to what the Settlers games have always been about. On the other hand though, it means that the opening sections of each map end up either monotonous or empty; you either go through the same old routine or sitting there waiting for all your buildings to get completed.
It’s worth mentioning that Settlers 7 is littered with other features/problems too – though which viewpoint you take will depend on how jaded you are. Settlers 7 is fully integrated with Facebook, for example, so you can post progress to your Wall and liaise with pals there. Great for some, a tiresome pain for others.
Some of these additions are genuinely cool and noteworthy, such as the castle creator which lets you customise the centrepiece of your settlement. Others are less well received and reek of unabashed commercialism, like sticking Ubisoft’s online store on the main menu and using it to try and flog decorative items. It all feels a bit crass to be honest and it combines with the box-art issue to suggest that Ubi isn’t sure who exactly the game is intended for. Settlers 7 appears at once a casual and hardcore title and while the aim might have been for universal appeal the result is that it occasionally feels a bit confused.
We could spend ages just designing our castle - and we did!
Then there’s the DRM. It’s something I personally don’t like to comment on in game reviews because I think it’s more important to judge the actual experience of playing more than the circumstances and politics surrounding a title. With Ubisoft’s new system though it’s hard to draw a line; the always-online DRM is more likely than not to affect your game experience.
If your internet goes down while you’re playing then you’ll lose your save progress, even in singleplayer, until it reconnects; that’s a problem from any angle and it’s something you should be aware of. Settlers 7 is good, but it’s far from unique and it’s not necessarily good enough to warrant putting up with the DRM over unless you’re a Settlers fanatic.
And that’s really about where things end up for Settlers 7. It’s a good game overall and it has a lot going for it between the luxurious visuals and inventive use of resources to direct players, but it fails to rise to greatness thanks to a restrictive DRM system, a litter of minor niggles that grate the more you play and an indirect gameplay model that means it feels flat overall.
Author: Joe Martin
Published: 30th March 2010
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Re: Settlers 7 Paths To A Kingdom Review
I was very disappointed to read that you required an internet connection to play the game.
So far Settlers 4 has been my favourite, Settlers 2 and 3 were pretty cool as well.
Hopefully more games won't adopt this policy in their titles...
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