The Settlers: Heritage of Kings Review
By Chad Montague |
There was a reason that I held some little soft spot in my otherwise steely heart for The Settlers games in the past. That soft spot contained a certain charm and likeability sat in those cartoony bodies. The games might not have been the best strategy series ever, but at least it had its style to set it apart from the crowd. Not only did they change the style of the art, which was a mistake as far as I'm concerned, but also tried to "Americanize" the game by making it more combat oriented. Sadly, the combat added does nothing to promote the genre, even going so far as to be reminiscent of so many cookie cutter RTSs that cluttered our lives 3-5 years ago. The Settlers: Heritage of Kings is... bland. That's the word. Bland. I have a feeling I would forget about it immediately after writing the review if the music wasn't scratching through my head like a broken record.
The thing is, Heritage of Kings isn't a horrible game. I don't know that I would even truly call it bad. It's just... well, it's just there with no nutritional value. Take Dario (a name that inspires respect and awe in Medieval Times restaurants everywhere) the main character. He's the son of a king that was whisked away to safety by his mother, the queen, only to find out because of an amulet that he was the "rightful" heir to the throne. So far so average, right? Well, along the way, he meets up with old friends that join forces with him. A mountain ranging dwarf that blows things up, a soldier friend from home that can whoop armies all by his lonesome, a misunderstood thief girl, a wise old uncle... you get the picture. They'll help him take back his country one territory at a time, gathering folks grateful for his help and leadership, some of whom will actually hand their towns over to him.
But the story is told with so little detail, character, or panache that I just don't care. I don't know who Dario is. He doesn't seem to have a personality at all. All the other heroes act pretty much the same. They have different voices and accents, but they're all just as mysteriously boring. Not even their special abilities are special looking. It's almost easy to forget to use them (and hard to know they've been used in some cases) because there's no visual reward. For a game that lasts so bloody long, you would figure that these characters would have had the chance to develop some sort of individuality. They just kind of get lost in the midst of the game and environment (sometimes literally). Having lost the art style and personality of the cartoony charm, story and character should have been a bigger issue.
The strange thing is, the graphic quality of the art is actually very good from a technical standpoint. Animations are very decent, especially with the moving parts on the buildings (the cannon factory is my personal favorite), and add a good level of detail. All of the textures, whether they're on the buildings or character models are technically lovely as is the world in general. You can tell that these guys are proud of their achievement, especially the waterfalls, as there are a couple of moments in the game where they literally say "Hey, stop and check out the waterfall, it's beautiful." The problem isn't the quality of detail or execution, but little missing details and the generic nature of the art. Details like real-time lighting and shadows can make art like this sing, even without style, but it was missing. So instead we're left with art that looks like a crisper version of art we've seen a thousand times before.
Same goes with sound. There's some good, if repetitive, music to listen to and some good ambient sounds, but the voice-overs are so boringly lifeless that it's really hard to give a crap about what anyone is saying. They're trying to be fun, but just plain aren't. Unit acknowledgements are my real problem. While they sometimes say some clever things when you click to much or select them, all of the military units have the same voice work. The sword men sound the same as the spearmen who sound the same as the archers who sound the same as the cannons.
The gameplay that's supposed to outshine both the story and the visuals doesn't exactly help either. The Settlers series has never been known for a ton of action packed moments or even particularly good gameplay and in this respect Heritage of Kings stays true to its roots. Yes, the game is a lot about economic build up and challenge, but it takes for freaking ever to get a really viable base going in the single player campaign. Resources trickle in as you try to build an army, research, and build up a town. It's a challenge to juggle the resources and decide what part of the town or army is most important, but there's not usually a huge sense of urgency about any of it. Occasionally there will be something that requires you to perform a task in a certain amount of time, such as using a weather machine to thaw out a lake, but those moments are few, far between, and don't really inspire a sense of need that they should.