The Settlers 7: Paths to a Kingdom PC DVD
Published by Focus Multimedia Limited
Developed by Blue Byte
Every long running game series has its ups and downs but at times The Settlers has had something of an identity crisis. My first introduction to the series was The Settlers 2 Gold Edition. It was quite unlike any other strategy game I had played before and I loved both the challenging nature and the sedate pace of the game. Whilst there have been some good sequels since then, it has to be said that the true spirit of the series has been lost and at times The Settlers has come across as a rather generic RTS rather than something special as was the case with The Settlers 2.
Can The Settlers 7: Paths to a Kingdom capture what I consider to be the true spirit of the series? In truth I don't think it does but it certainly feels more like it than any other game in the series (with the exception of The Settlers 2 10th Anniversary Edition of course). It also has more personality than most games in the series and all things considered it's a fairly enjoyable RTS. There's a heavy emphasis on creating an efficient economy and making sure all of your production chains are running as well as they can. Want some musketeers? You'll need to make sure you have not only the available gold to purchase them (which requires mining for the gold and also setting up a mint) but you also have to provide fancy food by hunting for meat and having a butcher chop it all up in appetising pieces.
The building placement in The Settlers 7 seems a little unusual at first as you build main buildings which come with work yards tied to them and into these work yards you can place appropriate buildings. For instance a farm will have three work yards and in each you can choose to place a grain barn, piggery, shepherd, stable or windmill. Similarly you'll need to attach a butchers in a work yard that's tied to a noble residence. In most cases you have three work yards tied to your main buildings but this can be less if you don't have the required space around your building. Some buildings require prestige points to unlock. One method of acquiring Prestige is to play Prestige Objects. Once acquired you can spend these Prestige Points to unlock the ability to build churches and upgrade them as well as unlocking other buildings and upgrading those you already have.
Of course it should come as no surprise that the resources aren't endless and you'll soon find that resources are at a premium in The Settlers 7. Maps are split into various regions and it soon becomes obvious that the resources in the regions you control are nowhere near enough so you'll want to sort out your military forces and claim the other regions in order to get your hands on the resources in those regions. Building up your economy can be a lot of fun as can keeping your eye on trade routes and the progress of your technology. The interface is generally fine although I would have appreciated support for more hotkeys and a set of filters to have located resources doing away for the need to zoom out fully for the resource icons to appear.
The combat in The Settlers series has never been its strong point and it's no surprise to find that combat in The Setters 7 is very simplistic compared to what you'll find in a lot of RTS games. Essentially you'll assemble your army from musketeers, pikemen, cavaliers, cannon and standard bearers with a general at the head and when you're ready to do battle you'll select them and click on an enemy or enemy structure. Aside from the composition of your army and selecting their target, you have no other control over them. There are no formations to choose from and their behaviour during a battle is out of your control with the exception of being able to make them retreat if the need arises. I suspect most fans of The Settlers play the game for the resource management and not the combat so the simplistic combat on offer here will not be too disappointing.
In The Settlers 7 you can play the single-player campaign, take part in skirmish battles against the AI, and compete in multiplayer or Empire games against online opponents. You'll want to begin with the campaign however as while the storyline isn't really that interesting, it does a good job of introducing you to all of the game's concepts. In fact you could argue that the campaign is one long tutorial although it's to its credit that it never feels tedious. Once you're done with the campaign you'll want to take part in a few skirmish battles against the AI or play ranked and unranked games online. The Settlers 7 is quite an enjoyable multiplayer experience too. It should be mentioned that there's a fair amount of DLC for the game which can extend the experience too should you want it.
The original release of The Settlers 7 didn't get off to a good start. Ubisoft's insistence on requiring an always on Internet connection seemed (and indeed still seems) unreasonable particularly given how many people don't have the luxury of a good Internet connection. This annoyance was compounded by the fact that the Ubisoft servers, which you need to be constantly connected to when playing the game, were out of action for a while meaning that those who had purchased the game couldn't play. Whilst the need to be connected to the Ubisoft servers still remains, thankfully the game’s reliability seems to have been sorted out and I haven't had any problems in connecting to them. However, I wasn't quite so pleased to find that an 800MB update needed to be downloaded before I could play.
With all the graphical settings turned to their maximum, The Settlers 7 is a fine looking game. Of course you'll need a really beefy PC in order to run the game on its maximum settings and still maintain a decent frame rate. Thankfully however, you can tinker with the graphical settings to enable lesser PCs to run the game well and even with some of the settings turned down a little the game is still easy on the eyes. In respects to its visual style, The Settlers 7 retains that almost cartoon quality, in regards to the look of the units and their animations which numerous games in the series have adopted.
The Settlers 7 is subtitled and you'll be able to follow the storyline in the game's campaign mode. The History option on the pause menu allows you to access the cut scene dialogue again should you need to do so. Objectives are shown in text and you'll always be aware of what needs to be done. Tutorial messages are plentiful and are shown in text. The tutorial messages can be recalled should you ever need them from the mission board overlay on the bottom left of the screen or from the History option on the pause menu (under Information). The game makes good use of icons as well as text to convey information and highlight problems. In short the game is fine for deaf gamers.
Over the years various additions to The Settlers series have disappointed and failed to come even close to being as good as The Settlers 2. Whilst the second title in the series still remains my favourite I would say The Settlers 7: Paths to a Kingdom manages to be one of the more enjoyable games in the series. It is shame that Ubisoft saw fit to saddle the game with the rather over-the-top copy protection it has chosen as it's sure to prevent those who don't have a reliable or permanent connection to the Internet playing the game. That said if you are a fan of the series and can overcome the copy protection problem, The Settlers 7 is well worth considering.