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Settlers 7: Paths to a Kingdom [D-RMed]


'The game puts forth a friendly, inviting facade that when pulled back reveals an unforgiving gameplay system meant only for gamers with either a lot of previous experience in the genre or an infinite amount of patience.'

Overall: 6/10 Okay.

~ Neilie Johnson (IGN), Settlers 7: Paths to a Kingdom Review


No Neilie, it's not okay.

It would be okay if Neilie had made a big deal out of the terrible DRM that shipped with the game but it only gets a mention towards the end as the 'final thumbs down' - so the connectivity issues are not the crux of the argument.

So, let's dissect Neilie's criticisms:

Everest-like learning curve.

RTS games are hard. They're meant to be hard. The idea is that in order to succeed everything must be managed - both on a micro and macro level. Where buildings are placed, where units are sent, where roads are built; all of these have significant impacts on the outcome of the game. A player might choose to emphasise one building over another in order to produce a certain unit/item/product that would put them at an advantage over their opponent. Neilie recognises this; 'Real-time strategy games aren't for the mentally lazy. Winning them takes patience, skill, a talent for relating causes and effects, and the ability to recognize the interconnectivity of multiple complex systems,' but it seems like Settlers was just that little to complicated for him.

Of course, this cannot apologise for an 'Everest-like learning curve' but, if you've played a Settlers game - or even just seen it running on a computer - then you've probably got an idea as to how it works. Buildings are connected by roads, roads have storehouse intermittently, carriers transport goods from one storehouse to another - from wheat farm to mill, from mill to bakery. One of the key strategies of the game, then, is road and building placement. From what I can remember this is emphasised in the Single Player campaign and, if you just sit back and watch the game unfold you'd understand the mechanics rather quickly.

It does not have an 'Everest-like learning curve'.

The cards are stacked against you, both in terms of game mechanics and map design.

Whether you like this or not is a matter of opinion, though Neilie makes out in the review that it makes the game unplayable; 'you'll play this mission over and over again, trying to win by using the game's mechanics and in the end you'll give up and win by ignoring them' except that Neilie overlooks one thing - you can't win by ignoring the game mechanics - you can't just transcend the system (unless you cheat, or smash up your computer in anger and that's not really 'winning' now is it?), you have to play by the games rules but those rules are open to interpretation.

So the game says you need gold coins to get soldiers but there's no gold on the map, an RTS player would think 'well, how else do I get gold? Oh wait, isn't there that thing called 'trade'? Yes, 'trade'. 'Trade' sounds like something that might make me some money, so, how do I do that...' Settlers has trade, though a great deal of players seem to forget about that, treating the game like it's Halo Wars or something...

The idea here is that you have to be both flexible and stable - moving to a new region gives you the benefit of additional resources but it also puts you in potential danger. As more and more of the map is taken over by your forces you begin to suffer from over-expansion; the distance between two areas makes it difficult for resources to travel quickly. Armies move slower. The finite nature of the resources adds to the difficulty, forcing you to expand into new territories to get the resources you need.

It's difficult, yes, but this is an RTS game, and this is a clever mechanic. Every move out has to be considered from a strategic perspective - new roads have to be built and previous buildings may have to be destroyed and re-arranged. It gets you thinking, the blood flowing, and injects a real sense of tension into the game.

It's seemingly impossible to control what the people in your society are doing.

This is Settlers. I don't think you have ever had the ability to directly control the people in the game. It's all about roads, production, and building placement.

There's no way to click a worker and make him go.

Go home, Neilie, you are drunk.

Disconnects between box art and game art.

Best. Criticism. Of. A. Game. Ever. 'It doesn't look like the concept art on the front'. Ever played Final Fantasy? The game doesn't even look like the game, which sounds confusing because it is. I'll always remember the first time I started up FFVII, 'wow! Look at the graphics! Wow! Amazing,' but it's a cutscene, and the game started and there I was in a big patch of green hexagons. Great.

Disconnects between graphics and gameplay.

Neilie liked the graphics at least, and I certainly have no complaints, though the disconnect doesn't exist.

Gold reserves accrue at an agonizingly slow pace.[/b]

As previously mentioned there are other ways, you just have to look hard enough.

Simple, right? Not even.

No, it's not simple, but if it were simple it wouldn't be worth playing. If you want to play a simple RTS go play Halo Wars because Settlers is in the Master league of RTS games - it's up there with your Starcraft's and Crusader Kings. If you want to build a big army and push it into the enemy until they're all dead then you're in the wrong place.

But NeoVALIS, Settlers 7: Paths to a Kingdom is an old game now, why bother?

Okay, so I might have added the one above in myself - but it's a question I want to tackle.

When games come out that contain DRM that renders the game virtually unplayable, this makes people angry. That's understandable. You might have had to go outside to buy the game, and we all know that going outside is for losers - you had to reduce yourself to loser status to go to the shop and spend your well earned money on a game that you cannot play. Maybe you think to yourself, 'if only I'd waited a few weeks or so - the game would be patched, the servers would be much quieter and I could play it as much as I'd like,' it would also probably be cheaper: such is the odd economy of videogames.

DRM is a pain. It is unhelpful, it damages the games' fanbase, it restricts the players ability to actually play the game and, ultimately, it punishes the wrong people [DEAR MICROSOFT - IT IS NOT THE WAY TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM OF PIRACY]. So we all go out an troll the game - give it bad reviews on Amazon, on Metacritic - wherever we can. The game is unplayable, we can't play it, it was sold to us today to play, this is unfair (and it is). The critics score of the game slowly gets dragged down by the weight of public dissatisfaction and people begin actively avoiding the game.

Great, cool - but what happens when things actually start working? When suddenly the DRM doesn't affect gameplay? The thing is, you don't notice it. It disappears entirely. If it's done perfectly it works, ish. The things is the game is left with its poor review on Metacritic and Amazon, people don't realise that the game actually works now and everyone's view of it is tarnished. A game that could have gone down in history as one of the finest games in history now has no chance to redeem itself. It has been killed off by a combination of DRM and public reactions. 

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About NeoVALISone of us since 3:30 PM on 06.15.2013

I'm a writer, long time Xbox/Nintendo/PC gamer with a keen interest in the stealth, strategy, indie, psychological horror and RPG genres.

I'm better known by my poetry, creative writing and occasional cultural reviews over at White Coffee Magazine.

When not writing for other places, I blog here.

I have an MA in Creative Writing: Poetry from the UEA, and currently live in Scotland.