It’s been quiet for a long time about The Settlers, the latest installment of the long-running building and strategy game. But now there is a sign of life again and we are allowed to experience the game. It remains to be seen if this is reassuring.
The Settlers is an old series as per game terms. The first came out in 1993 on the Amiga. This means that players have been building houses and occupying countries in this German strategy series for nearly thirty years. So there are quite a few fans waiting for this latest release. It was originally supposed to be released in 2020, but the game has been delayed until 2022. Now we have a chance to see what happened to all that extra time.
Let’s start with a compliment: This new Settlers look great. The game world is not based on reality, so the people you can choose are not real. The design feels more like a fairytale, so much so that sometimes it looks like you’re driving a person gnome. The somewhat plump figure of dolls, cute houses, and several red hats enhance this. Although this may not sound attractive, the whole looks well put together. In particular, everything looks very solid and tangible.
The objective of the game is to build a settlement with a well-functioning economy and proper road network, while exploring the environment and ultimately killing the opponent. So the settlers are associated with the Age of Empires, although purists would say the latter of course looked primarily at the settlers.
Practical training is still very limited. While the full game has a story mode and three playable people, in our version we can only choose two people in Skirmish mode. Skirmishing means being dropped on a map in two directions or one versus one. Both modes can be played on the computer, which means that you can play with a friend against two computer races or alone against one computer. Since there were no other players in this early version, we had to pick a one-on-one PC player.
The hands-on provides a short tutorial that teaches us how to construct buildings, cut wood, and collect rocks. All this is very well known to those who have played a strategy game in recent years. But this tutorial is incomplete, which will reach us soon.
The search for your soldiers and specialists quickly turns into a kind of “Where’s Waldo” mission picture.
We dive into the first skirmish and faithfully establish the first production lines. To do this, you first need to determine the place, for example, where the logging camp should be, and where the sawmill should be located. In the sequels, the special characters (the Specialists) work to build that for you. Specialists will work for you themselves, but you can also manage them carefully if you want to. You also need to build roads so that the timber is transported to the sawmill and the planks to your workplace. The same goes for other resources like coal, iron and gold.
Professionals are the only citizens you can directly control. All other residents automatically go to work (if any) and start cutting wood, managing your farms, etc. So the screen is full of busy characters, but only a part of them (specialists and of course your fighters) can be clicked.
This does not make it more clear. The search for your soldiers and specialists quickly turns into a kind of “Where’s Waldo” mission picture. Especially if you are still looking for that soldier to get all your fighters together.
They are small inconveniences, not comparable to a problem that we hope will only apply to hands-on practice. As the tutorial is incomplete, the game does not give us all the information we need to play. Soon we hit a rather strange barrier: the frontier of our settlement.
You are initially assigned a plot of land that is framed by boundary columns. You can only build within your limits. This is a rather strange choice anyway, because the whole idea of the game is that you have to build a virgin land. Why would you say to yourself as a people on a new and largely uninhabited island: We are building here and not anymore! As a player, you get frustrated with the resources that are out of reach and need to expand. But no, the game is adamant: the rules are the rules. Border posts are sacred in this world.
This by itself would have happened if it was clear how you would expand your territory. And this, dear reader, is Not completely clear. After several pots, it is still not clear to us how we can grow our land. This means that we don’t have iron to train soldiers, which means we can’t fight a war, we can’t win. In their current state, The Settlers are an unintended re-creation of the production line crisis affecting the world thanks to Corona for two years now: we want to make everything, we see the things we need, but we can’t reach them. Maybe we should join our Telegram group for updates when we can get our iron somewhere?
Then there is artificial intelligence. During a match, our village was suddenly attacked by a computer-controlled opponent. Since you start with a few soldiers, you can fend off the attack. Thus we sent the rest of the soldiers towards the fleeing enemy, which led us to the enemy’s settlement. Since the opponent apparently had barely an army on his feet, it was then possible to set fire to the enemy headquarters with dozens of soldiers and win the match in fifteen minutes. This is not the best advertisement for the tactical acumen of computer people.
It might just be that players with 30 years of experience as a settler are already rushing into comments in frustration to tell us what we’ve done wrong and that you just have to *fill in* to expand your limits. But this new settlers hardly keep that knowledge a secret, so that during the skirmish we were irrevocably stuck, unable to grow, unable to expand our economy and make a better army. If the game doesn’t explain it to us, and we can’t figure it out ourselves through experience, that’s a problem.
Thus this problem, undoubtedly due to the limitations of hands-on, gives a very incomplete picture of the direction the game is heading. It also makes you think that if this early release is the best that has been produced in many years (with a two-year delay), the question is how The Settlers “finished” when it comes out later this year.
The Settlers will be released for PC on March 17th. A closed beta will be held from January 20 to 24.
“Professional web ninja. Certified gamer. Avid zombie geek. Hipster-friendly baconaholic.”