Less micromanagement makes this game more fun, fresh, and engaging than the average sim
The Settlers series of simulations has been around for a long, long time. Some speculate as far back as the Middle Ages. Or perhaps it just seems that long since the series is so realistic. Developers Blue Byte have long been a popular name in Europe. Their games, which typically depict life in the Middle Ages, are renowned for their charm, accuracy, and detail.
These details, for better or worse, can better be translated into the term micromanagement; a word that either causes gamers to shiver or drool, depending on what they want from a game. Blue Byte have sensed that the North American market may open a little wider if they reduced some of the micromanagement, at least what many consider to be the tedious stuff. The result is a game that’s fresh and fun, that still provides a challenge to gamers of all levels.
The Settlers: Rise of an Empire, establishes itself once again as taking place in the Middle Ages. The single-player campaign is more economic sim, while the online mode allows for more combat and real time strategy. These two diverse gameplay elements help widen the appeal of this game. It’s almost like having two games for the price of one, but there are some technical shortcomings that make me feel as though I would rather have one fully functioning mode than two slightly damaged ones. Despite all recent patches up to the time of this review, I still experienced choppy framerate, glitches, freezing, and crashes. Hopefully, by the time you read this some of these issues will be addressed with patches, especially the crashes. I can live with some of the minor glitches.
Saddled with the task of creating an empire in the single-player mode, you will begin modestly enough by securing some land and populating it. Starting with some huts for your people to live in, you will soon have to find the resources to clothe and feed them. Resource gathering plays a huge role in the gameplay, but it’s the way that it’s assimilated into the big picture that makes it compelling and convenient.
Resource gathering is done logically. You delegate these tasks to various inhabitants. Whether you need wood, metal, wool, food, or special herbs, all you have to do is construct a simple building close to that specific resource, and it will be harvested. Distribution networks are set up so that all the resources get to the various areas in need. For instance, once your population begins to swell, you will want to protect them from invading hordes such as the Vikings. To do this, you will have to build a wall out of wood. The wood, once harvested from the forested area, will be shipped to the various regions where construction is taking place. You will also want to build a castle to protect the ruler. This will require stonemasons to extract the material from a quarry and have it transported to the castle construction site. This is all done on the map interface, which is relatively easy to access and navigate.
Things work in this sim much like they would in real life with the various people looking after their respective industry. Once resources are harvested and delivered to the appropriate locations, they are further refined and processed for consumers. Wool can be turned into clothing. Herbs can be made into medicine. Animals will be processed into meat. I like the structure of this system. It allows you to oversee the entire operation of your empire without the annoying distractions of tedious micromanagement. You still have to pay attention and make sure that the machine is well lubricated, but it’s more realistic to delegate and have others carry out your order. After all, you have more important things to worry about.
There isn’t much in the way of combat in the single-player mode. You will take defensive, precautionary measures to ensure that your inhabitants are well protected by building a wall, castle, fortresses, and fortifying your army to act as a deterrent. Much of your correspondence with other empires will be diplomatic. A trusted knight will be able to turn even the most hostile of enemies into an ally. You will trade goods with other territories in an effort to obtain money which you can use to build more structures or procure more army units. You can also obtain resources that are rare in your territory. Of course, there is also the possibility of just taking some of these resources by force. You don’t have to play fair all of the time. If you have the army, the strategy, and the need, then go and invade another faction’s territory.
Knights are playable characters that give a face to your empire. They act on your behalf, but impart some of their own personality. They aren’t just mere figureheads. There are six knights in all, each with some different qualities which will affect a particular mission. Some of these attributes could be more accurately defined as revenue generators. One knight is able to recruit soldiers at a bargain, while another is able to squeeze more coin out of churchgoers by entertaining them. Another of the knights is able to heal, while another can feed the hungry. Frankly, none of these knights will help make or break each campaign; they just add a little flair and flavor to the mix, something which many such sims overlook.
I experienced some problems with the online mode. Just getting into a game was a chore. Once in, I found that the maps were huge. Maybe that’s part of the problem. You will experience some lag, framerate problems, and error messages. If you know the single-player mode well enough you should be able to guess your way through the online mode. The focus is more on real time strategy than city building, although the core concept is the same. It’s here that you’ll really appreciate the streamlined micromanagement. Decisions that you make will have immediate results. Fortunately, most of those decisions will be on the battlefield.
The Settlers: Rise of an Empire has a rather lighthearted look and feel to it. The graphics are a combination of art and cartoon. There’s lots of detail on the map and in the buildings. The characters look like caricatures. The voiceovers are also playful, although things can get pretty intense at times. Even the soundtrack is fitting. It’s lighthearted, haunting, soothing, and frenetic. It’s too bad that this game is plagued by poor mechanics. The production values are there, but they just can’t seem to rise above the glitches. The good news is that this is a PC game and there is hope for it yet. Hopefully some new patches will surface to make this game more playable.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
Excellent blend of art and cartoon-style. Environments are huge. 2.2 Control
Interface and map are easy to use. Glitches conspire to make game unplayable at times. 4.4 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Voiceovers and soundtrack alternate between lighthearted and serious. 3.2 Play Value
Lots of replay potential. Hopefully patches will make game more playable in the future. 3.1 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.