The Settlers: Heritage of Kings
The Cutesy visuals may have been discarded in favour of a more traditional fantasy/medieval style, but this latest Settlers title appears to be anything but ordinary, as Blue Byte strives to take the decade-old RTS series into the third dimension.
Apart from offering characters with near average-sized heads and allowing you to swoop the camera around them to appreciate their new polygon togs, Heritage Of Kings aims to push into new territory by offering a far more evolved combat system than ever before. Traditionally, Settlers' gameplay has been geared more towards resource management and city building, with warmongering often not quite as refined as in similarly themed games. However, with a diverse spread of combat units (including some with 'near-magical' abilities) and plenty of army formations to try out against the enemy, we're hoping that Heritage Of Kings will offer a more varied and exciting experience.
Blue Byte won't be deserting its faithful fans. Underneath the grittier visuals a highly technical economic engine will be beating, but with a streamlined interface centred on the needs of the settlers themselves rather than some wider notion of economy. Each individual will have their own unique skills to unlock should you succeed in fulfilling their needs. To that end, the design bnef may well have been ask not what your settlers can do for you, but what you can do for your settlers.
In a nod to games like SpellForce, Heritage Of Kings will be the first game in the series to offer a full storyline, with you playing as one of six unique hero characters with the ultimate aim to reclaim a throne that is rightfully yours. Obviously it's a storyline that will transfer to the multiplayer game without too much trouble, only instead of one rightful heir, there will be a few more claiming royal lineage.
King For A Day
The list of structures and units is typically exhaustive for a Settlers game with buildings as obvious as farms and as diverse as sulphur mines and weather towers. More mobile are the usual mix of swordsmen, cavalry and bowmen, but back at base you'll have to manage scholars, bricklayers, stonemasons, alchemists, farmers and bankers as you work your way through the branching technology tree to advance your civilisation.
Having been in development for over three years and with a 3D engine that will facilitate vast maps, cities and warring armies, as well a providing a host of new tools with which to build and conquer, Blue Byte might have finally found a delicate balance of gameplay - and one that may well appeal to anyone with a fondness for strategy titles as diverse as Warcraft and Sim City. As such, we remain optimistic that Heritage Of Kings will be a princely RTS - watch out for the exclusive review and playable demo next month.
Ok, We might as well get right into it. My problem with Settlers isn't so much what it is -it's more about what it isn't. What it is is a reasonably competent, solidly efficient resource-management game with vague pretensions at being a strategy game. What it isn't is particularly worthy of note in any area it attempts to engage in. Let me explain...
Heritage Of Kings is actually the fifth Settlers title in a series that stretches right back to 1993. Right from the start, the games were focused on the lives and times of communities of wee little fellas chopping wood, mining pits and building farms until they've amassed enough strength to have a ruck with their neighbours and take over the place. So far, so Age Of Empires, except that The Settlers predated Microsoft's standardsetting series.
This time round, the Settlers have supposedly grown up and thrown off the shackles of their cartoonish past. So now you have a proper' plot about fantasy medieval heroes taking on an evil enemy, you have whizzy 3D graphics, and you have all the resources you could ever hope to manage in one game. Problem is, none of it is any good.
If you want big old historical battles with hundreds of troops, then you need more than a few variations in unit types and basic formation commands. You need Rome: Total War (or Medieval: Total War or Shogun: Total War or, if you prefer a slightly more fantastical approach, The Lord Of The Rings: The Battle For Middleearth). There you'll get all your massive armies from the outset and will have far more in terms of strategic and tactical warfare to play with.
On the flipside, if what you're after is resource management gaming of the highest calibre, you're not really getting anything here that you haven't already encountered (better) in the Age Of Empires series, Rise Of Nations, Civilization and so on. Settlers has a couple of nice ideas, but you need more than that to warrant real attention in a day and age when games are routinely breaking new barriers at every turn.
Take the citizen moral function, for instance (you know the one - a happy worker is a productive worker). Buy Theme Park or Rollercoaster Tycoon or any one of a hundred Sim City-type games and you'll find all the mood management gaming you could hope for. True, you can argue that at least Settlers gives you a bit of all these aspects in the one package but be honest... If you pour the dregs of a dozen different pint glasses into one drink, you're not going to end up with a pint of ice cold Carlsberg. I've followed the Settlers series since the child-friendly cartoon antics of the early '90s. Back then it took the basic resource management concept and ploughed its own furrow -centring on the dynamic relationship between a worker and his needs rather than purely his function. Combined with a quirky sense of humour (attacks would be initiated with a polite introduction and a friendly bout of fisticuffs), it was a winner.
Problem is, it never really changed as the years progressed (except to lose the humour) and other games, most notably the Age Of Empires series, quickly took up the ball and ran so far with it that Settlers would need the Hubble telescope to even see the dust they've been throwing up as they go. Now these games all do the same things that Settlers is boasting about, but they do them better and with more appeal for the casual gamer -which I'm led to understand is where Blue Byte was hoping to pitch this title following the nightmare of micro-management that was Settlers IV.
Well, harsh truth maybe, but it hasn't achieved its goal. Settlers: Heritage Of Kings is just as fiddly and irritating to control as the previous one and, if anything, the new graphical style (more grown-up, less Lemmings-Like) actually serves to remove the one distinction that might have brought outsiders in to the genre. Visually Settlers: HOK resembles any one of a hundred RTS titles that arrive from central Europe every month. It's lost all its character and comes off feeling very bland, tiresome, derivative and unappealing.
Again, viewed from a purely objective basis, as if Settlers: HOK existed in a scientific bubble free from the influence of the wider world, there's nothing wrong with it. It doesn't cause you to throw hammers at your keyboard in frustration at the controls. It doesn't swear to you that it can be played offline only to insist two months later that you have to have an Internet connection running at all times. It doesn't infect your hard drive with a killer virus that eats all your documents and replaces your desktop with undeletable pictures of a penetrated sheep's anus. It's completely inoffensive. And as a result it's of no interest whatsoever.
There's a fall-back joke that often gets used in situations like this. Settlers may be big in Germany, it goes, but so is the music of David Hasselhoff. The problem with that joke is that Hasselhoff's music actually warrants interest due to a certain kitsch appeal for the insipidly awful. Settlers is far from awful, it's just mind-numbingly dull. Which is far, far worse.
Holding Out For A Hero
Meet The Gang 'Cos The Boys Are Here...
The Hero' side of the game is central to Settlers' story. Initially it's the tale of a young man avenging his mother's death, but before long it turns into the standard fantasy fare of toppling a dark menace to the safety of the lands.
Along the way you recruit a band of travelling heroes - the magician, the warrior, the thief, the priest and so on, all with special abilities that set them above the average Settler. Young Dario has a pet hawk, for instance that can scout out terrain for you, while Salim can heal units and set man-traps.
In single-player you get to control each of these as the story progresses, eventually controlling the entire fellowship in the final battle against the evil Mordred (I love originality). In multiplayer games meanwhile, each player can opt to control one hero in games of conquest, technology races or straight point games.
What A Man's Gotta Do
Missions Provide Structure, If Not Interest, To Each Level
Unlike Age Of Empires (for instance), Settlers: HOK provides you with a focused sense of direction on each level. Although primarily each map is bested by simply building the best settlement you can (and it's not as though there's ever much variety to be found in this function), until you create a strong enough army to see off whatever foe is currently pitted against you, these maps are broken down into sub-quests such as making deals with neighbouring towns for support or rescuing kidnapped citizens.
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode