Tristan Kalogeropoulos
28 Oct, 2007

Settlers: Rise of an Empire Review

PC Review | The empire goes on.
There’s a guy or girl in every workplace, or organization, who’s been there since around the time that the Mongol Empire was at its height. They’ve seen peers and management come and go like the tides, old policies and marketing catchphrases go out the door only to reappear with new vocabularies, and the way in which they’re directed to undertake their job has been altered multiple times. However within this swirling mess of change they manage to plod along, continuing to go about things in their own way, seemingly without a care for what those around them think of their idiosyncrasies. Developer Blue Byte appears to be the game developer’s equivalent of this employee. It seems that they’ve found a vocation, not simply a job to pay for their weekend hedonism, and nobody’s going to drag that away from them. This vocation is the Settlers series.

When the games first hit our monitors in the mid 90’s they held some reasonably innovative gameplay for the time. However since then its new peers, a procession of strategy titles, have flowed on by, some sticking around, some bringing with them new features and some reworking old features giving them new names, just like the changing policies and buzzwords of that long-term employee’s world. The newest Settlers title, Rise of an Empire, nudges the franchise a little further along but for the most part continues along the same path.

Rise of an Empire follows the rebuilding of the Darion Empire, a reference to the featured kingdom in the last Settlers game. The player is tasked with expanding your territories while at the same time emancipating the various groups scattered across multiple landmasses that are currently being ruled over by the malevolent Red Prince.

Levels begin with the establishment of a settlement in the territory that is the subject of your quest. Woodcutter’s huts must be built to harvest timber for building and game hunter’s or fishermen’s abodes need to be put in place in order to feed your settlers. There’s not really a lot new here. From small settlement to bustling city; the focus of this series is still its buildings and resources.

Settlements slowly progress from mere huts to thriving metropolises.

Settlements slowly progress from mere huts to thriving metropolises.
The interface implemented in Settlers: Rise of an Empire is fairly easy to navigate. Icons clearly depict what their buttons do and when hovered over, explicitly state their purpose. Popups spring up throughout the levels informing you of your current objective and any other useful information, making for an experience that is reasonably accessible. The most complicated things get is holding down a key on the keyboard and scrolling the mouse wheel in order to rotate buildings, so there’s very little to scare those not into twitch gaming off.

Blue Byte have decided to implement territory based maps in Rise of an Empire. All resources within the territories are solely available to whomever has an outpost built within its boundaries (although you are able to trade resources with your neighbours and allies). This greatly modifies the way in which battles are fought, distancing them from the wars of attrition of old. In order to seize a territory all that is required is the raising of your enemy’s outpost within the area. Although this is a less messy option that the previous back and forth that other Settlers titles contained, it does sometimes feel a little unrewarding to simply have to fire some burning arrows into a structure to take over what can often be a large chunk of the map.

In order to attack the enemy, soldiers and bowmen can be built. Taking these troops into battle is a remarkably unrewarding experience and further highlights the fact that this is not a game for those that love combat. However they are necessary in many missions, slaying troublesome wildlife, bandits, and along with battering rams, are required for laying siege to cities.

One of the issues with some of the previous titles in the Settlers series was the barrier to entry to newcomers thrown up by the lack of succinct goals with immediate timelines. Rise of an Empire holds your hand quite a bit more firmly in guiding you through its campaigns, a little too firmly in fact. At time it feels as though you’re just following order from the various other tribes and cities that surround your settlement. Along with this some of the joy found in the older Settlers titles stemmed from observing your diminutive citizens going about their business and, although the goals are generally simple, with no break in between one and the next your settlement is reduced to a mere resource farming section of the map.

Weather plays a role in how each level plays out too, fleshing out the world and giving your campaign a firm sense of place. The further you venture north the colder the climate, and as a result of this your settlers needs and productivity will change. As icy winters begin to stretch over lengthier periods crops yields suffer and in the south, as the sun blazes above, punishing your territories, crops will suffer from the arid conditions.

No I don't want my windscreen cleaned!

No I don't want my windscreen cleaned!
Hero units have been included previously in Settlers and they’re back here. As the player progresses through the earlier levels they unlock the selectable hero units. Each has their own strengths such as being able to get more gold from church offerings to reducing the costs associated with upgrading structures. Unfortunately there are only a couple within this gallant bunch whose skills are absolutely useful within the levels.

Heroes go through rank changes within the levels and these are achieved by producing certain amounts of product, say soap and brooms or having enough citizens under their control. It’s essentially a way of upgrading what you can build as a new rank comes complete with new buildings options.

The art aids in setting the mood for what this laid back style of gameplay brings. The last couple of titles in the series began to move the game’s visuals towards a more realistic imagining of the Settler’s world. Whilst Rise of an Empire maintains some of the feeling of holding a real diminutive land within it, it also manages to incorporate a great deal of cute cartooniness which imbues the game with a definite visual charm. The members of your communities all look a little like cute bobbleheads and have a style which is not over the top. The lands in which they are placed also look impressive especially when your settlement’s grow and become bustling hives of activity.

What Rise of an Empire does it does well, offering up a reasonably user friendly, entry level title for those not usually into strategy titles. It does have the slight feeling of ‘been there, done that’ for those familiar with the series and hardcore RTS and Strategy fans will most likely feel incredibly restrained and unenthused by its handholding style. However, as far as this genre goes, Settlers: Rise of an Empire delivers some easygoing, lightweight, yet enjoyable, city building fun.
The Score
Settlers: Rise of an Empire is a lightweight, yet fun, title which should appeal to those who are new to the Strategy genre, or those that want a more relaxing experience. Its only major drawback is that its more of a sidestep than a revolution of the series.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Content

The Settlers Review
19 Aug, 2007 The tiny Romans get tinier.
The Settlers: Rise of an Empire Preview
26 May, 2007 Settle down and check out what we saw.
The Settlers: Rise of an Empire announced
26 Apr, 2007 It's a Settler's life for me.
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