The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
As SimCity’s success demonstrated years ago, tuning a system to
create efficient outcomes is its own reward. The Settlers 7 taps into
this basic well of entertainment with its economy simulation, but that’s
nothing we haven’t seen before. This game goes the extra mile with an
impressive diversity of map types and victory conditions, board
game-like competition with other rulers, and multiple vectors for
expanding your power and influence.
The simplest production chain
sees woodcutters chopping trees into logs, which are refined into planks
at a sawmill and finally used by constructors to put up buildings.
Dozens of parallel and criss-crossing tracks exist – gold turns into
coins and jewelry, while grain is milled into flour and baked into
bread. As you construct each production building, you have to make
several continual decisions, like where your wood goes when you need it
for paper, planks, and charcoal. Optimal efficiency requires tailoring
your building placement to the contours of the map, ensuring that your
blacksmith doesn’t have to waste time walking to hell and back to get
the iron bars he needs. Managing this simple yet interesting economy is
the bulk of the game, as it has to support your overall strategy and
survive shifting conditions like forests being depleted or mines running
All those materials need to be put to good use in order to
secure victory. Conquest (or defense) demands blacksmiths, mints, and
wheelwrights to equip your military. Clerics can research technology and
proselytize neutral sectors into joining your empire, and require beer,
books, and jewelry. Traders can open new off-map trade routes that can
turn surplus goods into needed supplies or money, and demand fine
jackets and jewelry to work for you. Planning and executing your grand
strategy using some combination of these three elements is great fun,
and victory generally goes to the player who best tailors his or her
plan to the situation. Agility is important as well – being able to
switch your focus and cover a stone deficit through traders when your
neighbor rudely conquers your quarries, for instance, is key.
map has its own flavor. One may have dense forest cover, but little in
the way of mines. Farmable land might be in short supply on another,
while fish and game are plentiful. The lay of the land determines how
effective various sectors of your economy are likely to be, but quests
and victory conditions are more explicitly unique to each map. Winning
is based on victory points rather than wiping out your enemies. These
are awarded for excellence in each aspect of the game, where a point
belongs to the player with the most money, the most workers, the most
soldiers, etc. Special conditions like completing a quest for an NPC or
researching a specific expensive technology can grant points as well.
The first player to a set limit wins. It’s a great system that smartly
emphasizes the wide spread of gameplay in Settlers 7, and generally
rewards the most well-rounded player.
Settlers’ few problems are
irritating, but hardly deal-breakers. A lack of feedback in the
interface makes it hard to manage large, multi-province production
chains. It’s easy to not notice that there’s a problem with your iron
smelters until you suddenly run out of swords and have to frantically
search your empire for the broken link. Getting that industry back on
track can take a lot of time, and missing a small detail can easily
derail your entire strategy. Also, the story in the single-player
campaign is execrable, but a healthy skirmish mode and good online
support make up for it.
Ubisoft has built in community tools to
keep the game healthy in the long term if enough people get on the
Settlers 7 wagon, with a map editor and seamless online matchmaking. I’m
hoping that people get into it, because I plan on keeping this one in
my regular rotation for some time.