Sunday, May 16, 2010

Review: The Settlers 7

Ok, Ok, I know. How comedic is it that immediately after ending a review with "starting next week, I'll start reviewing new games" I immediately disappear for umpteen weeks? I don't know why you people continue to put up with me.

Ok, enough of that. Here's what I got goin' now-

Settlers 7. My first thought upon seeing this title was "There were SIX more of these?" I remember hearing of "The Settlers," and maybe Settlers 3 I think at one point, but holy under-the-radar, Batman! Let's start off, though, with that boxart. I guess Ubisoft thought Americans would be put off by the game if the box art actually conveyed an accurate portrayal of the game. For that accurate portrayal, we turn to the UK box art -

Kind of makes the US box art look a little.. disingenuous? Perhaps even fraudulent?

It's a little hard to classify S7. To me, it sort of seems to be the sheltered child of an RTS and an Economics Sim that heavily favors its mother. "Heavy on resource management" doesn't even begin to describe what's going on here, though thankfully a great amount of it can be automated. This is good, because otherwise managing said resources would be a real nightmare and not give you time for anything else.

The basic premise of the game is that you, benevolent monarch that you are, want to conquer your neighbors so their people can experience your enlightened leadership. Now, to do so, you don't actually have to go kill the rival monarch. In fact, I've never actually completely eradicated one of the opponent characters by obliteration. Victory conditions are usually defined by having a combination of largest population, most territory, most money, biggest army, most combat kills, most trade routes, most prestige, most research done, and so on and so forth. Whoever gets 5 out of 7 or so of these conditions met is simply declared the winner.

So how you go about this sort of thing is rather convoluted. You need territory, obviously, because everything you do takes a building (or two, or three) and buildings take space. So you need an army to conquer neighboring provinces (or lots of priestly types to proselytize them), and to raise an army takes resources. You can just recruit men at your local tavern, but that costs a lot of gold and food. It'd be more economical to train them from scratch, but to do that you have to build a stronghold, which requires a prestige upgrade be claimed, and it requires weapons, which have to be made at a blacksmith, which requires coal and iron, which has to be smelted at a smelter, which requires iron ore, which has to be mined (along with the coal from earlier in the chain), and all this stuff has to be carried from the mine to the smelter back to your blacksmith to your stronghold, all of which might actually be miles apart. Oh, and the blacksmith needs wood, too, for the weapon handles I guess, so you better have somebody cutting down some of that, too.

It should also go without saying that the computer can usually do this faster than you. So it's lucky that if you set up things well, it will usually happen semi-automatically.

So you're building armies and conquering lands, all while trying to keep your populace fed, and keeping trade goods being manufactured so you can make money or get resources you're short on via trading with distant lands, and also trying to research technologies to gain the upper hand in production and war. I find it slightly ironic that the sole vehicle of technological advancement in S7 is basically the Catholic church... and that researching these technologies somehow actually physically consumes the clergymen involved. Oh, and the primary resource for training up more priests? Beer. (Which is made in a brewery you have to build from grain and water, which you have to grow at a farm and build a well to get respectively, etc).

I mean, really.. does it REALLY take the ritual sacrifice of four priests to teach your people the ability to chop down a tree if it is in the way of something you want built?

Combat also is incredibly mundane. Because there's no strategy or tactics involved, it pretty much 99% of the time comes down to who's got the most guys, and the most "advanced" guys. And considering there's a whopping 4 different types of units in the game, there's not a whole lot of advancement to do.

And don't even get me started on the whole "plain food/fancy food" dichotomy. Many of the tasks that can be performed in the game for no food cost double in output if you have it consume plain food, and QUADRUPLE if you let it consume fancy food. Explain to me exactly how it is that eating sausage makes a given artisan produce twice as much beer, cloth, whatever from the SAME raw materials as he did when he was only eating fish?

Anyway, once you get your mind wrapped around the bizarre rules of the economy, you then have to learn to contend with the "gotchas." I hate "gotchas." Gotchas are surprises (usually intentional) that developers put in to force you to replay a given section of game multiple times. For example, in one level of the single player campaign, when invading a given territory I was forced to fight double the number of static defense emplacements as was present in EVERY SINGLE OTHER part of the game. It looked like it might could have been accidental due to poor pathing, but there it was.. because there were twice as many cannons to go through, my army got annihilated and the CPU stomped all over me. And this was already over an hour into that level... so I was forced to replay the whole level from the beginning.

So you learn how bizarro-economy works, and you start to expect the "gotchas," and it's about this time that the game crashes. Yes, the game has some serious technical problems. The fairly regular game crashes are somewhat mitigated by the autosave feature at least, but the problem with the autosave feature is that when autosaving, the game locks up for about 45 seconds. And to top it all off, this is a ubisoft game, which means (you guessed it) "Go go gadget super-tattle DRM!" Sickening. And speaking of revolting game components that connect to online servers, the game asks if I want to post my latest achievement to my facebook status practically every time one of my settlers sneezes. Ugh! Of all the horrible things game developers have done to us over the years, I'm putting facebook integration right there at the top of the list of "most abhorrent."

Well, despite all that, it was a bit engrossing for a few days. But I don't feel the need to play it any more.

Grade: C-.

And speaking of disingenuous promotional media... I can't believe they seriously expected this audio to match this video.

And that's the word from Bandit Camp...


DimentoGraven said...

My faith in your ability to correctly review a game and report on it has been eternally shaken.

By far S7 is the GREATEST of all RTS games! BETTER THAN MINE SWEEPER!!!

Anonymous said...

Good review. Period.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you should buy the game instead of trying to review a pirate copy. Pausing is an issue that the pirate copies have, not retail. Additionally you didn't even go into the multiplayer that even Bruce Shelley from Age of Empires played a part in the design of.

This was one of the worst reviews I've read in years. Your facts weren't even straight, such as declaring 4x production from fancy food when the cap is 3x on residences and 2x on noble houses.

Please find a new hobby because you truly fail at reviews.

Gas Bandit said...

Nothing I love better than to piss off a frothing fanboy who can't see the flaws in his favorite game. The locking during autosaves was an acknowledged issue *by Ubisoft.* In all fairness, I should say that there is now a patch that purports to fix that, but it's the sort of thing that should have been caught by quality control before it even got out the door.

You also completely miss the point of my comments about the production increases. Insert the figures you put in, and the incredulousness of the claim is unaltered.

In short, continue enjoying your crappy Fisher Price's "My first Civ game," kiddo, because I know no review is going to stimulate that nerve stem you call a brain into changing your mind.

Hugs and gigggles,
Gas Bandit
PS: I'm your real dad.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, the freezing you're speaking of in detail is from the PIRATE copy you're running. That's the reality here. You didn't even dispute you were running a bogus pirate copy.

The funniest thing of all is that your claim that a patch claims to fix the issue, but the game automatically patches when you load it with a retail copy. You don't have to go out and download patches.

Great job once again reviewing a bogus copy of the game that has issues that retail owners don't even begin to see. Oh, and again you missed out on the multiplayer which in my opinion is the best part of the game.

I'm not a fanboy, I play just about all TBS and RTS games out there. I'm just blown away by how shitty this review was.

In regards to economy, Settlers has always had some degree of the economic system that you complain about. Boosts in production are not meant to make any more sense than the economies of most other games. It really comes down to this: Learn to play!

Production boosts come at a significant cost, as noble houses require plain food to operate at all, and fancy food to double. Depending on the path you choose and your reliance on the tavern, you may also need the food to recruit military units, or members of the church. Again, it's a learn to play scenario if you can't grasp the design. As stated, even Bruce Shelley was involved in the changes, and he was one of the heads of Ensemble and the AOE series.

DimentoGraven said...

The ironic part of all this is my starting it by jokingly posting that it was "the GREATEST of all RTS games..." I figured people would have figured out it was a joke when I compared it to Mine Sweeper...

Take it from someone who has played every real time and turn based strategy game ever created for PC, this game was NOT good.

My GameStop purchased copy not only had significantly bad pauses during autosave, as I continue to build my 'zerg force' the game was more and more prone to random lockups.

My system is no longer the 'latest greatest' there is, but it's no slouch. A Dell XPS 410, 2GB RAM, and NVIDIA GeForce 7950 GX2. SURELY that's more than enough to run this game, and unfortunately the game ran like crap.

This is just the stability we're talking about. All the other issues with the "extremely detailed" resource management issue, made the game unfun from the get go.

GB is right, this game is down right NOT GOOD.

Alan2525 said...

Whats a good RTS game to play? I've tried settlers 7 demo and it looks fairly pretty but the technology line lacks depth and the combat system is very limited.

Gas Bandit said...

Alan - By far the best RTS currently in existence is Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance (it's a "stand alone expansion," I think you can play it without the original Supreme Commander, but I could be wrong. If not, the original SupCom was also excellent).

Other very good RTS titles include Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War: Dark Crusade (I know for a fact that one IS a standalone expansion), and Company of Heroes. Also, if you're looking for something a little smaller scale but still with excellent replayability and multiplayer, consider Demigod.

Happy strategizing!