The Settlers (Fourth Edition) Review
By Chad Montague |
I'm considering retracting an earlier statement of mine where I nonchalantly said that I always like these cute games with big headed characters. While I do think they're cute, and I actually do generally like them, I haven't really been super impressed with the last couple that I have played. And as you know, the "always" in my statement kind of indicates every time. So even though The Settlers: Fourth Edition does have its merits and undoubtedly will appeal to a sector of the gaming community that likes games that challenge you to build up a community and watch it flourish, it didn't really appeal to me for a couple of reasons. Unfortunate AI and some speed balancing issues cause some problems that had me clenching my teeth and cheeks in frustration. And other than a couple of new features, there really isn't much to differentiate this one from other Settlers titles.
The basics of the game are pretty much the same: build up your settlement in order to build up and army in order to defend yourself and/or help your enemies lose some weight be removing their big fat heads from their tiny little bodies. Unfortunately, you'll find yourself doing the same things over and over again in each scenario, no matter the objective. Build a town in pretty much the same order so that you get the infrastructure going, start producing military units, and kick some butt. Only this time around you'll have the Romans, Vikings, and Mayans to play with and a fourth faction known as the Dark Tribe to play against.
There are campaigns for each tribe consisting of three scenarios each and another large campaign against the Dark Tribe where you'll play all of the tribes as you try to get the Darks off of the planet. In order to defeat the various tribes, you'll have to destroy their defense towers, which will in turn destroy any buildings under its watchfull eye. The Dark Tribe only has mushroom farms however and you'll have to destroy those with the use of a new unit known as the gardener that replants these infected areas.
The biggest challenge for me while playing this game was just this; there were a lot of good things that went into Settlers IV, as you would expect from a series that has had such a strong showing over the years, but when it came down to it, I didn't really have a whole hell of a lot of fun playing it. Why? That's a pretty good question and one that I'll try to answer as well as I can. I actually usually really dig games where you are charged with building up a city and making it flourish. I also like that there are military aspects in the games. And the great personality that usually ends up in games such as these with the large variety of animations and characters adds to the fun and interest of the game. Settlers IV is no exception.
But even though Settlers IV did have plenty of each of these things, there just wasn't a lot new here, and the old stuff still seems to be bogged down with some of the exact problems from the last iteration of the series. One of the problems I seem to have a lot with this game (and others like it) is that the various people comprising your settlement walk too damn slow. I think the building times are just about right, but walk faster! Damn your chubby little legs! It's just plain annoying to sit there and wait for your dumb little guy to walk across the screen with one last block of stone for your building that you desperately need. It is possible to skip ahead in time in the game, but then you'll miss out on watching your community and you may find yourself jumping ahead only to wind up halfway into a battle that already cost you territory because you couldn't respond to it. Luckily they've realized the error of their ways a little and have finally added different game speeds with the latest patch.
AI in the game is also lacking on a few fronts, most notably in the carrier pathfinding and destination AI. One of the levels in the game starts your settlement out on the west side of a fairly large lake. As there isn't a whole lot of room over there, you'll need to expand your territory. I eventually had half of the lake covered and had two wood chopping sectors up and running. Much to my dismay and frustration, when the carriers started transporting wood, they usually decided to take the uncut wood to the sawmill on the other side of the lake. What the hell? So instead of the half-a-second walk it would have taken the carriers to bring the wood to a mill right next to their freaking stupid big heads, they decide to go all the way around the lake to deliver it to their pal Joe "the other carpenter." And there is really nothing you can do about this unfortunate turn except watch them walk back and forth, or start your game over and do things a little differently. Some sort of decision-making AI would have been helpful here. It's not like the sawmills were full of raw lumber either; they were both only about two deep out of a possible eight. Argh.
And the rest of the settlement aspect of the game is still wound around a huge degree of micro-management. Sliders for this, sliders for that, transportation priorities, smith priorities, food priorities...you get the picture. For people who really like the micro-management without being able to touch your actual citizens, this is probably just fine and dandy. But the hands-off approach has always kind of bugged me. I wish I could assign a certain number of guys to carry for each building instead of relying on the computer to pick someone to do it for you, which just happens to be someone all the way across the map every now and again.
They had originally said that they were going to lighten up on the military actions in the game because gamers had been harassing them about too much of that from Settlers III. But I still think that there was too much emphasis on the military if you aren't going to give players more control over their armies. This is especially a problem with the AI that just tends to be less than average about picking its fights. Too often did a small group of my troops take on a large enemy group even though I was telling them to retreat towards the larger portion of my army. They just ignore my commands and fight the good fight against ridiculous odds. And one of the main problems with this is that it takes a long time to train troops. First you have to have the idle civilians around to train. Then you have to have the coal, iron, and gold mines running and the food going to the mines so they function. Then you have to still have to have plenty of idle workers to function as carriers for the raw materials, food, and the smelted bars of iron and gold. Then you have to have the weaponsmith up and running as well. Then finally you'll have some troops. So it's no easy task to have a good supply of troops on the back burner just in case your army gets decimated.
And the chances of your army getting decimated aren't really all that bad. Battles generally consist of troops bunching together and whacking the hell out of each other. There are little to no tactical decisions to make while fighting a battle against an opposing force. It really is going to depend on how much gold you pour into your fighting forces and the value of your village. The greater the value, dependent on your resources and new things called eyecatchers (statues and the like), the stronger your troops are going to be. Most of the units are exactly the same for each side, with the exceptions of a few specialty units that help out a bit. Romans get medics that heal your troops as they fight, Mayans get blowgun warriors that can paralyze enemy troops for a couple of seconds, and the Vikings get axe warriors that are pretty much just really strong warriors with crappy defense.
It's just too bad that Blue Byte hasn't managed to find some new ideas that might keep the series from becoming the serious pool of stagnant gaming that it is quickly becoming. Even with the improved graphics and the addition of some new units and the Dark Tribe, the game just boils down into a repetitive jumble of micro-management that didn't have any really interesting catches or scenarios to keep me hooked. If you're really looking for a new city building game, go for Impressions' Zeus, you'll have a lot more fun with much less of the frustration.
-- Dan Adams
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