Fans of the Settlers series have had to wait for quite a while since the last installment of the strategically-minded city-building series. The Settlers 7: Path of Kingdoms was released to solid reviews eleven years ago, but a new game is almost here. We were lucky enough to get a chance to play and experience the game firsthand ahead of the closed beta going live.
The Settlers is a real-time, city-building strategy game where players need to develop their fledging society, fulfill its needs, and keep everything balanced on the path to victory. What has always made The Settlers enjoyable is that what you see is what you get. Everything that the townspeople do on the screen is done for a reason; the actions playing out while you are carrying out your plans all have a purpose.
All this is beautifully brought to life with the new installment through deliciously detailed animations. It is lovely to watch people pick up and put down resources, such as loading tree trunks into a saw to turn them into planks. If these types of strategy games often feel obtuse, then The Settlers has removed the casing, and players are free to watch the cogs ticking over.
While there was no way for me to play the campaign, I was able to play a Skirmish mode against AI and other players. Like similar strategy games, the challenge is to do things as efficiently as possible. You want to explore, gather, mine, and build with a purpose, and to somehow do everything you need to do before the enemy starts to harry your settlement too badly.
The first concern is time management. Rather than having your woodmen run around carrying logs, you can build a warehouse near them, then connect their logging site to the warehouse so they can drop off the logs. The woodworker can then send a unit to the warehouse to get a log when they need one. How you build your settlement matters, as you don’t want people wandering around for too long to get resources.
Victory means destroying your opponent’s warehouse before your own is reduced to cinders, and for this, you will need military units. These come in different shapes and sizes, and anyone who has played this type of strategy title before will be aware of the fun dance that combat is. You probe and test each other’s lines, then strike where you see weakness.
Arguably more important than the resource-gathering units and the militaristic units are the engineers. These are where the real bottleneck can appear in your plans. Engineers are needed to build things and will always act as a natural limit to your progress. Deciding what to build and when and ensuring your valuable engineers have no downtime is the real key to The Settlers. Engineers are also used to explore, find new resources, and perform other essential functions, so managing them becomes a vital part of the game.
Overall, my time with The Settlers revealed a polished experience that manages to remain loyal to the series’s roots while trying to do something new. What remains to be seen is how deep the experience turns out to be. The campaign remains a mystery, and the multiplayer risks being a little too simple in how it plays out to keep people truly invested. Luckily, a beta is about to begin that players can dive into from January 20 if they are lucky enough to get access.
The Settlers will release on PC on March 17.