It's not often that playing a game results in a revelation. Usually the thought processes that occur while sat at a computer go little further than “there's no way that guy shot me!” or “why the hell can't I build any more tanks?” and let's not forget the classic “ooh, that was a pretty explosion!”. But playing The Settlers 7 made me realise something that is all too often ignored in our modern world of immediacy and convenience. Put simply, bread is a real bitch to make.
To start with, you need space, a large amount of empty space on which to build a farm. Then you need grain fields, because it's no good having fields full of grass. You can't make bread out of grass, at least, none you would want to eat. Next you need a windmill... Wait, sorry I missed a step. Next you need workers for your grain fields, which means building some houses for them to live in, which in turn means you need a quarry and a woodcutter's lodge to provide building materials. Oh yeah, and a sawmill to turn your wood-cuttings into planks. In fact, it might be an idea if you build all of those things first, because a farm made out of sticks and dandelions probably won't last long. Once you've done all that, then you can build a windmill. Finally, unless you enjoy the taste of unprocessed flour, you need a baker to turn all that hard work into that most basic of foodstuffs. Told you it wasn't easy.
Confused? Disoriented? Worried that Strategy Informer has undergone a hostile takeover by Hovis and is now Baking Informer? Well don't fret; all will become clear soon enough. What I just did was explain the very first build process you need to learn in order to stand any chance of succeeding in The Settlers 7.
Contrary to the game's highly misleading marketing, forging a strong kingdom isn't down to military might. Battles are actually small, infrequent, and indirectly controlled. Instead, creating a booming economy is key to victory, the secret to which lies in ensuring your build-processes are running smoothly.
Basically, every important unit, building, and resource in the game requires a mixture of other units, buildings and resources, which combine to form a build-process, to support it before it becomes functional in your economy. Tools, for example, need iron, coal, iron miners, coal miners, mountain shelters, iron smelters and tool makers before they become available. Miss out on any one of these and your settlement will be unable to create tools. Consequently, all other work in your settlement grinds to a complete halt, with your Settlers exasperatedly shouting “do you expect us to work with our bare hands?”
On paper, this sounds both enormously complex and enormously boring. On the contrary, constructing your settlement and economy is surprisingly fun. You're never at a loss for anything to do. Even when all your build-processes are running smoothly, things can be improved by using a forester to replant overworked woodland, or getting your clerics to research new technologies and your traders exploring new potential trade routes.
The complexity of the game is more of an issue, but only if you're brazen enough to leap straight into a multiplayer game without first taking on the single player campaign, which charts the young and ambitious Princess Zoe's rise to power. The campaign introduces you very gradually to all of the game's various features, starting with your six basic structures and a few of the work-areas which can be attached to them. It's not perfect, tool building isn't introduced until quite late on, so it comes as quite a shock when you realise they're not unlimited in supply, but the learning curve is very well thought out and makes the game accessible even to complete newcomers to the franchise.
There are a couple of notable problems, particularly with the much-touted military side of the game. Compared to everything else, warmongering is incredibly basic. The only control you have of your army is in building it, assigning generals and then commanding them to attack. The actual battle is entirely computer controlled, and tactical combat involves creating a bigger army than your enemy and ensuring you have the right units to destroy any fortifications your opponents might have.
The other major issue is, of course, Ubisoft's infamous DRM measures. This is a rather difficult subject for me to tackle with regard to this game, as once I had gone through the annoying rigmarole of signing up, I didn't actually encounter any problems. Yet given all the nightmarish stories regarding The Settlers 7 and its DRM, with some people allegedly unable to so much as start the game, there is no guarantee that my relatively painless experience will be shared by all.
It's a shame that Ubisoft have burdened The Settler's 7 with such an unreliable anti-piracy measure, as it is likely to put a lot of people off purchasing what is a pleasurable, complex and involving strategy game. If you've got a solid Internet connection and some spare cash you might want to consider braving the DRM, or you can hope that Ubisoft will stop being so bloody stubborn, realise the error of their ways and scale down the DRM so that everybody can enjoy the impressive game Blue Byte have so lovingly created.
Top Game Moment:
THE SETTLERS 7: PATHS TO A KINGDOM VERDICT
It’s a shame that Ubisoft have burdened The Settler’s 7 with such an unreliable anti-piracy measure, as it is likely to put a lot of people off purchasing what is a pleasurable, complex and involving strategy game. If you’ve got a solid Internet connection and some spare cash you might want to consider braving the DRM, or you can hope that Ubisoft will stop being so bloody stubborn, realise the error of their ways and scale down the DRM so that everybody can enjoy the impressive game Blue Byte have so lovingly created.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Getting your build-processes just right and watching your settlement blossom.