The Settlers arrives with a solid RTS that may appeal more to those new to the series

Posted: November 7, 2009 in Action, Strategy

The Settlers is an RTS gaming series that has evolved quite a bit over the past two decades. Long-time fans would argue that those changes haven’t been ideal for a variety of reasons—admittedly, my experience with the series is limited. One thing is for sure, Gameloft’s The Settlers as a standalone game brings a slightly different take on RTS to the iPhone/iPod Touch platform that for the most part delivers especially in the visuals department, while also bringing a few frustrations along the way such as the omission of a freeplay mode. Ultimately, The Settlers is a solid introduction for newcomers to the series.

As with any typical RTS game, the objective is to build a community, establishing a means of income, develop a powerful military, and expand territories. The Settlers is less about tactical micromanagement and more about strategic planning. In many ways, The Settlers is a game focused on urban planning where the placement and construction of buildings play heavily in your success. Unlike many of today’s RTS games on the platform, direct control of individual or groups of units is limited. You literally establish a virtual society where your vision will set it down the path to success or failure. This premise alone makes The Settlers worth considering especially for newcomers to the series.

Gameloft usually does an impressive job with visuals, and The Settlers shows an eye for details. You can zoom in using the Zoom Slider to view the slats on the sides of huts to the tops of towers. Having said that, the buildings and types of settlers are generally the same from tribe to tribe. From the buildings to the motions and actions of individuals, The Settlers provides an enjoyable viewing experience. Even the random fluttering butterfly, foraging forest animals or the crashing waves seem to bring just the right amount of personality. To further the immersive experience, the sound effects are done particularly well from the birds chirping to battle cries. One minor issue is the soundtrack, which is short and noticeably irritating when it loops, although you can play your own music if you choose.

The Settlers consists of 4 tribes—Roman, Viking, Mayan and Dark Tribe—each with a series of mission-based campaigns. With the exception of Dark Tribe, you play against each of the other tribes (e.g. Roman vs. Mayan, Viking vs. Roman etc.). The most extensive is the 12-mission campaign against Dark Tribe where you play as each of the tribes in campaigns to conquer them. Unfortunately, a free play mode isn’t included, although the length of missions can take significant time, and unlocked missions can be replayed at any time. Auto save is also included along with 5 save slots which is a necessity for a game of this length and depth.

Missions

* Roman
The Standard of Fame
The Victorious Raid
The Cities Will Thrive
Threat from the North
The Magic of the South
Breaking the Blockade

* Vikings
The Stone Dwellers
Wolf on the Prowl
Unholy Alliance

* Mayan
Shores of Gold
The Red Beards
Double Trouble

* Dark Tribe
Seeds of Darkness
Stabbed in the Back
Desecration of Rolf’s Horn
A Matter of Time
Trampling the Toadstools
All That Glitters
Helping Hands
The Roman Quest: The Search Is On
The Mayan Quest: Search Continues
The Viking Quest: Breaking the Mirror
Push Comes to Shove
Getting to the Root

The game boasts an intimidating 35-screen help section which is the first indication of the depth in The Settlers. This is categorized into 8 sections: Buildings, Goods Flow, New Colony, Settlers, Warriors, War Machines, Alcohol, and Magic. One of the things that the game does nicely is the tutorial which walks you through the basics. Each mission is introduced with a cut screen providing a story background followed by objectives which are well thought out.

With all that it’s involved in The Settlers, the HUD is adequately laid out even though it may feel cluttered for some. At the bottom left of the screen is the Build icon which accesses the Build Menu. From here, you can select building and structures based on 6 different types from Construction Materials to Military Power with more than four dozen different items to select from. On the bottom right is the Settlers icon which provides functionality for selecting troops to send into battle as well as recruiting certain types of specialists. One particularly helpful function is the Find Settler button which allows you to locate specific class of tribesman which will be necessary as your community grows.

A display at the top of the screen provides an overview of supplies and types of tribesmen. The Envelope icon on the left side provides a quick and easy way to access mission objectives and also displays warnings. The Star icon on the right side provides access to a mini-map that shows current location and can also quickly bring you to a specific location by dragging. A Fast Forward icon is provided at top that will you speed you through the lengthy process of watching tribesmen perform actions.

The gameplay in Settlers is no different in that certain things need to happen in a certain way before being able to do something else. This is what usually makes RTS games as appealing as they are. For example, to tap into resources such as gold, you’ll need to recruit geologists, send them out to survey a site, build a gold mine, a gold smelter to process, and then a weaponsmith to make tools and weapons. In many cases, you’ll need to have tools made such as shovels and pickaxes before the settlers can proceed with their work.
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Building and placing structures is rather simple. Once a structure is selected from the Building menu, a series of dots will appear on the screen. These are the locations on which the new structure can be located. It’s here that you can watch the little tribesmen work, and the animation really makes it interesting to watch. Of course, you can also fast forward through the process if you want to the speed up the game. Once a structure is placed, statistics can be viewed by tapping on it. For example, a gold smelting building will show how much is produced, while a tower will indicate the number of troops.

The Settlers has a different dynamic which you will either love or hate when it comes to the moving settlers since many are not under the player’s control. When a unit is controllable by a player, they can be selected either by tapping, drawing a square using a pinch motion around a group of settlers, or accessing the Find Settler button. Once selected, tapping on a specific location will create a flag which serves as the meeting point, and the selected settlers will move accordingly. One of the small issues is that settlers you control will tend to revert back to what they were doing no matter where you want them to go, so control is a relative term.

Beyond the military, gardener, thief, geologist and pioneer are free-roaming specialists that you can control. On the other hand, carrier, digger and builder automatically perform their tasks and cannot be controlled. For those new to the game, the limited amount of control can be frustrating especially since these settlers can move rather slowly.

Battles can be fun as you recruit and train troops and then watch the ensuing fight. But keep in mind, beyond directing the direction of troop movements, there are no tactical decisions to be made during a battle. As mentioned, settlers are basically the same from tribe to tribe, although there are a few differences.

Mayans—blowgun warriors that stun enemies
Romans—medics that heal troops as they fight
Vikings—axe warriors that are the strongest and most dominant

There’s even a Priest for each of the different tribes who can influence food resources and cast spells to inflict damage to enemies. Of course, the hitch is generating enough mana to unleash the spells.

Besides magic, there are several war machines available based on the tribe. These include Roman catapults, Mayan firespitters, and Viking Warships, which create visually eye catching damage during battles.

After initially not being too high on the gameplay, I found myself enjoying the game more as I progressed. Personally, I prefer the ability to control the movements of the people in my virtual community, and I can see this potentially being an issue for those who fall in the same camp. Because the game is focused on strategic planning and less so on micromanagement, the enjoyment level will vary based on personal preferences since you’ll spend a fair share of time watching rather doing. The game is a mix of fun and frustration, although I think newcomers to the series may actually enjoy this game more than seasoned Settlers’ veterans. Regardless of your previous experience, the game offers a solid experience with beautiful graphics and a good level of depth. The missions and the maps are elaborate enough to offer hours of play, bringing enough to separate itself from other RTS games in the genre.

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (visually impressive game; mission-based campaigns should provide hours of play; depth when it comes to the number of structures and settlers; effectively laid-out interface although plan to study the tutorial and use the Help function; limited control of settlers’ actions may turn off some especially those new to the series)

Check out my review at http://toucharcade.com/2009/11/11/the-settlers-real-time-strategic-planning/

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