I cannot stress enough how much I love sitting on my backside and watching the hours pass as I build a town, rollercoaster, planet or settlement. If anything, I own my PC just to play strategy games mainly because they are sorely lacking on console. The Settlers is the latest strategy game to come out of Ubisoft and this reboot trims down a lot of the fat to offer a more focused management game. Sure, the beta test I played was missing a lot of features but it gave me enough to chew on to tide me over until the 17 March release date.
In The Settlers, you play as a tribe breaking new ground on a piece of land. You start out with almost nothing and have to slowly pave your way (almost literally) to success. As strategy games go, The Settlers focuses much of its attention on micromanaging a settlement, its people, resources, buildings and much more.
I had to slowly work my way up the resource ladder by building a farm that produced wheat to take to the mill that then produced flour that was then made into bread at the bakery. There’s also a ranch that bred donkeys and pigs for meat and all of this helped keep the settlement happy and flourishing.
I haven’t played The Settlers in quite some time so it was a steep learning curve if there ever was one. The beta included a handful of pretty basic tutorials. I will go out on the limb here and say they were actually rather pathetic. I know this is the beta but you gotta do better than “move your troops here and destroy this building” and “make this building because it makes this stuff”. It barely scraped the surface on the game’s mechanics leaving me in the dark for most of my skirmish matches.
You would think Ubisoft would offer an extensive tutorial in the beta that would teach players almost everything they need to know and get them excited to do it all in the main game? Sadly, that isn’t the case. Thankfully, trial and error made my time with The Settlers a lot more exciting. A lot of the mechanics have been changed in the game but the more I played, the more I realised how much of it is still quite familiar.
For example, expanding your settlement boundary isn’t as easy as in previous games. Instead, you need to slowly build on the outer rim of the border to slowly nudge your “territory” to the next block. Speaking of blocks, the entire game runs on this hexagon system whereas different buildings and structures are built on a number of these blocks. A residence is a single block but a quarry is three. I had to keep this in mind when building because you don’t exactly see these blocks until you’re ready to plonk down your newest structure.
I did miss the freedom that comes with putting anything anywhere but at the same time, my towns felt a lot more structured. They also looked pretty amazing. Ubisoft has also added some cool details into The Settlers. One I could not get enough of was building a bunch of residences next to one another. They would automatically transform into a small village-like design with walkways above an empty block (if I wanted to put a road down) and larger living spaces. These cool-looking combined buildings also granted me a bonus on the number of people it unlocked for my settlement.
Micromanaging the settlements in The Settlers will make all your strategy-thirsty people happy because the systems work and work well. It also feels logical to a point. Want a fisherman’s hut? Get ready to slowly build houses to expand your settlement closer to the beach to build one. I then had to deal with the slow delivery times of my fisherman’s hut due to the distance between the building and my warehouse. People walk slowly, so is life.
I also need to mention that The Settlers, or just the beta I played, isn’t as forgiving as I hoped. While I was taking my good old time building my settlement and expanding it slowly, little did I know that the AI enemy was amassing an army of butchering knights to come and slaughter my entire population. After my first attack, I sat in fear watching every border for another horde of murderers. Please remember that I had no cooking clue how to make swords that are needed to make new fighters because the tutorial didn’t show me. It was a bloodbath of enemy AI fighters against the farmers and builders. You can probably guess who won here.
After I got the knack of things, The Settlers felt a lot better to play. It also helps that once you know what you’re doing, the general flow of the game is much less learning and more practising. I sped through the initial stages of my settlement. Clicked here, dragged this road there, made that structure and commanded my army to head off into battle. These are the moments we all love in strategy games and even though The Settlers made me suffer for a few hours, it was worth it.
Combat is also fun to watch. Seeing a giant troop go at is quite rewarding. Especially due to the sheer amount of work it takes to get that troop trained and ready for combat. The beta included a handful of different types of fighters including a mounted one, archer, swordsman and healer. I need more time with the game to fully experience the combat because in the beta it felt rather simple and clunky. Sure it is easy enough to command five fighters but when you have a few dozen and you’re trying to get the healer to heal some little pipsqueak in the middle of the crowd, things can get frustrating.
The Settlers does offer a way to assign a specific number of troop members to a button on your keyboard. This helps divide the roles so if I pressed “1” I selected the healers and could command them. Number “2” then selected another set. It goes a long way to help keep things in control.
There’s still a lot more to explore in the game and the beta was quite limited in content. This is, of course, expected. I could play a 1v1 or 2v2 skirmish online or offline. The beta also included two of the three factions in the main game.
With all that being said, I enjoyed my time with The Settlers. The game looks and sounds fantastic (even with no graphical options unlocked in the beta at all) and the general experience was fun. I had a few crashes but that was also expected.
I know The Settlers is going to suck a lot of time out of my life when it releases in March and I won’t mind. I am also looking forward to seeing everything there is to do in the game. The series has always taken pride in delivering a strategy game that isn’t too complicated but focuses heavily on the civilisation aspect. This means you literally go from nothing into something wonderful. The process is the best part of the series. I can’t wait to see my little settlement grow into a giant city with hundreds of people all living their lives under my rule.
Ubisoft is kicking off The Settlers closed beta on 20 January. Users who are keen to test the game out should head on over to the official site to sign up.