Settlers: Drudgery of an Empire

I got an email from GameSpot telling me about their Settlers: Rise of an Empire Open Beta. I love the first two Settlers games, liked the third, and played the fourth.

Since it’s an Open Beta, I don’t want to flay the thing alive, but being an Open Beta also seems to denote a certain degree of progress down the development pipeline.

Firstly, its very pretty and the multiplayer maps play pretty smoothly. The tutorial insisted on chugging horribly for me no-matter what I did, so I’m guessing there’s a shed-load of debug there – or the AI is unoptimized.

I found Settlers IV to be claustrophobic and more limited than the “Colonization” game that first introduced me to computers back in 1980.

Rise of an Empire’s beta maps all have the same tiny feel that IV had, and the tech tree seems incredibly tiny. The focus here seems to be on having at your opponents, perhaps as a reaction to the usual mass&zerg strategy. In the beta maps, you have a ceiling of 250 settlers (or is it 300) and your single city center is placed for you.

The maps are about the size of – if not smaller than – the original Age of Empires maps and the zoning is static rather than based on the boundaries of your settlement. To occupy a new zone, you build an “outpost” which is basically a big building that does nothing I could tell aside from take up precious space.

I came away with the feel of an attempt to create a 90s-console portable version. I reported about a dozen bugs, mostly pathing stuff, and old staples of the Settlers series have been cut for no gains from Civ/Age Of/Patrician/etc.

For instance – Settlers “Storehouse”s (you only get the one you are given in RoaE) had workers and you could specify that certain goods were to be exported. The workers would then endeavor to take these to places that were short of them. Not so in RoaE. While play-testing, I regularly ran into deadlock situations where their long trek to the storehouse had allowed their “need” for something available directly opposite their home had reached “critical” while they were walking to/from the storehouse.

Example: I had a baker and a tanner opposite each other. They both wanted what the other sold and had available for sale. When they returned home, instead of noticing the item, they marched out to the city center to “strike”, protesting their lack of food or clothing. This creates a cascade effect because other settlers don’t seem able to help themselves to these supplies while the owner is striking. So you end up with rolling blackouts.

While it does add a notch to the difficulty and keep you on your toes, the duration of these blackouts is just a pain in the butt – particularly the fact that you can do sod all about it.

I’ll definitely want to play a demo of the release product before I’ll consider buying this one. However – if the release is like the beta and you found the earlier Settler games had too much Settling in the way of attacking your enemies, this game has certainly winnowed away what you might consider “chaff”.

12 Comments

From the FAQ

GSUK: The game is focussed around building cities. Can you build more than one?

BG: Basically on one mission, you can build one city. It really revolves around the marketplace and storage, and that’s important for us because that’s how cities were built. We’re really trying to look at realism as much as we can, and cities in the Middle Ages were built around places where people were able to trade, to get stuff, to be protected. This game is not like a mission where you build one city, then build another, and so on.

Yes, there are other cities and villages which you support, but you don’t have control over them.

So no – I’m going to pass on this one. I was going to rate it 3/5. Now that I know it’s not just the beta but actually the game design, 1/5.

Civ IV wannabe? BTW, I’m still SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO into Civ IV. Rickb’s fault……

Civ and Settlers were two different fish. Settlers was more personal than Civ and just had a more intimate flow to it. Settlers RoaE has totally thrown away all the stuff that made it unique from other games and has latched onto something new to be unique with – crapness. It will make an excellent Windows Games title.

All you can is build villages, and they reckon the maps will take about an hour to finish. Bleah. I remember spending days or weeks mastering Settlers 2 and 3 maps.

There are between 2-4 resource points of interest in each S:RoaE zone – and the whole “single storehouse” thing bugs me no end because they made it a “drop-shop” rather than a marketplace. You *can* trade with another player if you move your hero within spitting distance of their storehouse, but you can’t manage your own storehouse.

Villages didn’t evolve into city’s and empires that way. Instead they did it through re-distribution of trade — once you had enough fishmongers, you built a fish market, as an intermediate between vendors. Village -> City is all about successful introduction of middle-services — which the old settlers games had.

To be honest – I bet they already know this, that’s why the maps are so small – without re-distribution centers or capabilities, the current [small] maps are already arguably at the limits of what the game can support.

Incase you can’t tell – I’m really dissapointed :( I played my share of Civ3 and Civ.Net, Civ4 didn’t really do it for me it was too “meta”, Age of Empires was too battle-oriented… Caesar, Patrician, Settlers, those were up my street – Settlers my favorite.

Hell, make your own. Make it what it should be. You got the background…

Settlers AI was always lacking, Always getting lost. You always had to keep the buildings that needed each others products close. Kinda disturbing that you have two next to each other who can’t see the others goods.

I had settlers 3 played great, bought a new vid card. Nothing. I’ve tried several times over the years to re-live the game. Nothing. Just hangs on the start up.

Ultima III was my first addiction. Good thing I was in High School at the time and it was summer. Good ‘ole, RGB. The treasure box mazes, simple 3d dungeons.

Sad the hear they are taking a step back, instead of enhancing the game elements that made me want to play.

KFS,

Have you ever considered starting a consulting business (perhaps when you move on from WW20), where you evaluate other people’s games? You get gaming, your a good an insightful communicator, and y ou always seem to be able to imagine a better way of doing things.

If you could manage a bunch of junior wankers to do the drudge work, and have a partner to handle the “biz”, you might do quite well.

Trout

I would need a name. Hmm. I could call myself “Lum”? :)

Honestly, I think my tastes are too niche. We’re talking about a guy who gave Puzzle Pirates 4/5 and who is evaluating 360 games on a 37in tv that has a hard time with regular, low-def TV.

If I was any good, Microsoft would have given me a 42in LCD by now!

Thanks for the vote of confidence, tho, Trout :)

You could just forgo sleep and start right now.

I always liked the Caesar series. In fact I’m still playing Caesar IV from time to time.

I’ve got to agree with your comments on Age of Empires. The 2nd one was a nice game but in the end it was all about the battles.

I like a good mix of city building, trade & a littel bit of combat, and Caesar fits that very well.

Hmm, I think I still have the T shirt Blue Byte gave me as one of the top 100 beta testers for Settlers III. ;)

I tried the demo for IV and was not impressed. I didn’t even know that there was another one out.

I sure wish I knew what happened to my Settlers III disk. :(

I almost posted a comment like this: “Well now you have to buy the release and revisit this review, in case any of your criticisms have been addressed. This being an Open Beta, that’s only fair.”

But screw me.

Ya have to wonder what purpose an Open Beta serves.

If they’re not ready to release a demo – to demonstrate what the game is really, really like – then releasing a demo is their own fault.

Regardless what you call it, you just gotta know it’ll be received as a demo, and therefore will be a demo; even if it’s called the ‘This is Not a Demo’-version.

They’d even like that, if the reviews are positive.

I always think someone has confused this world with Marketing Fantasy Land: where Open Beta is only considered a demo if the game is good, but otherwise accepted as an excuse.

No one ever pops-in to comment on glowing reviews of Open Beta releases to attach that clarification: WAIT A MINUTE! REMEMBER THIS IS JUST OPEN BETA. THE FINAL RELEASE MAY STILL SUCK.

Is that the purpose Open Beta serves? A gutless demo at best? A ruse

So to heck with that.

I’m gonna tell myself off something fierce.

Lol, Jeff :) I should have put the FAQ stuff in the original post and not a comment. I started off by assuming my gripes with the game were beta-limitations. But then I read their GameSpot interview where they preached those aspects of the game as distinguishing features, etc.

So I went back to my gamespot email and followed the discussion forum link, only to find that gamespot had closed the discussion forum for the game one imagines because of negative feedback.

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