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.
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...