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”.