At a glance...

Previewer Platform Publisher Developer Players Release Date
Richard Pilot PC/Mac Ubisoft Blue Byte Late 2014

The Settlers: Kingdoms of Anteria preview

You'll probably know from previous articles on this site that I'm a big fan of strategy games. One of the great strategy series I have found memories for is The Settlers. A couple of years ago, Ubisoft released The Settlers Online, and this worrying change in direction led me to think that the series had abandoned its roots as a single player PC strategy experience. At Gamescom last week, I got sit with Guido Schmidt, Lead Game Designer at Blue Byte to talk about a new Settlers games, The Settlers: Kingdoms of Anteria.

The game, like its predecessor, takes a different approach from the franchise's roots. Players control a persistent single city over the course of the entire game, and when heroes return from their adventures, they bring back gold and other resources that they can use to improve their city. This change in approach is not one the team went into lightly, they undertook plenty of research to find out what players liked from the game. They discovered the core problems with earlier games was that players disliked rebuilding their city in every level and that once their city was attacked and buildings and production lines were destroyed, it was very difficult to come back to a victory. By separating out the city building from the combat, they believe they're addressing these concerns.

Sometime it feels more like traditional Settlers

Sometime it feels more like traditional Settlers

In the game, the player has been sent to the untamed lands by the High King and it's their job to bring order to the land. Starting off with a basic city, the player sends out heroes into the wild to take on the local bandits and then bring back rare resources which they can use to upgrade and expand the city. The city itself starts off as a small castle on a mountain top and a single region below, but once the player unlocks "The King's Permission", they will be able to unlock new areas and there are up to 30 regions to acquire. This ability along with others are available from a huge tech tree that will follow the player across the game. There are six chapters in the game and whilst, early on, this path is fairly linear, it will start to branch about half way through the game. These abilities are unlocked by spending Renown, which represent fame or glory and how much the King favours you. It can be earned by performing famous deeds in the wilderness or by making your city run as efficiently as possible.

While the land on which your city resides is fixed, it doesn't mean that the resource management system has been dumbed down. The system is still as intricate as it has ever been and at its heart is an A-to-B-to-C-style flow through construction. What this means is that when you decide that you need object A, you might be blocked by lacking resource B, which in turn needs resource C, and the key to a great city is the administering of these production chains. Items can be purchased that improve chains such as the humorously named "Hot Coffee" that forces workers of a single part of the chain to work through the night, increasing its efficiency. There are other gameplay improvements too; whereas before resources were isolated buildings that were connected to the resource areas like forests, there are now links between every part of the chain, and at a single click they can be connected and disconnected at will. This gives the player full control of the production chains as well as being able to see the chains across the city at a glance. We were shown an example of one of the larger chains that is possible in the game, the production of enchanted items from the master blacksmith whose chain includes over 90 buildings.

And other times it is a very different game.

And other times it is a very different game.

When you finally decide to go out into the wilds, you will need some heroes. You can recruit your heroes into your city and once you do they'll be able to help fight. In addition to heroes you also have regular units that you can summon into battle. The game also supports co-op play and when playing in this mode, you get four slots that you can divvy up between you. The demo we saw took place in the Windy Woodlands, one of many areas you will adventure in and it seems to play like any other dungeon crawler.

This new approach to The Settlers seems interesting; the developers are saying the right things and the demo we saw certainly indicates they know what they're doing in the empire building business. However, at this stage, it's hard to tell how engaging the adventure side of the game be. Personally I have always enjoyed the city building aspects of The Settlers games, and whilst it certainly seems to be well thought out, both phases of the game need to be engaging in order to form a cohesive whole. The upcoming closed beta which starts on the 16th September may be the perfect opportunity to find out, and in the meantime this is a game I'll be keeping an eye on.

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