Settlers is a rare breed of video game series that has enjoyed regular updates after beginning life on the Amiga
If all-conquering internet phenomenon FarmVille is the natural evolution of anything, it is Settlers. Settlers, as any PC gamer with a penchant for chopping down virtual trees and sheering digital sheep knows, kicked off our love-affair with computerised harvesting. The pedestrian village sim, which began life aeons ago in 1993, proved a refreshing tonic to the murder and chaos found in most other games. What would German developer Blue Byte Software have said had they been told then that in 2010 more people than live in Germany would play a game that was, essentially, Settlers, except more basic? Well, they'd probably have said, "Danke schön! We'll use that idea!".
Settlers will never enjoy FarmVille's gargantuan popularity, of course. Why? Because it's complicated. Complicated in a proper, mega, epic way. Settlers was complicated back on the Amiga, and it's complicated now on the modern day PC, with its seventh incarnation. Actually, it's probably more complicated now than it's ever been.
Settlers 7 is a real-time strategy game, but unlike no other. This is not Starcraft II, or Dawn of War II, or Supreme Commander II. In those games, you defeat your opponent by killing them. In Settlers, war is only one way of achieving victory.
In Settlers you build and manage an early Renaissance era kingdom in real-time. Everything from making sure your citizens have enough food to providing fancy clothes for traders to wear has to be taken care of. This is your responsibility: the godlike being with a mouse and a scroll wheel. To win, you need to score a certain number of victory points, gained from walking down one of three different development paths: Military, Science, or Trade. Each is valid. Each is very, very different.
Whatever decision you make, and whether you're playing the tutorial-focused campaign or a multiplayer match against a real-life opponent, all Settlers 7 comes down to is smart economy management. And when we say economy management, we're not just talking about GSCE level stuff here. Settlers 7's economy is so, well, economic, that it's guaranteed to give economists a great big hard on.
Construction costs cash, as well as the required raw materials. That's fine; that makes sense. The thing is no building in Settlers 7 is designed to sit there and look pretty. Everything does something. Everything has a purpose. Some buildings even have multiple purposes. The Lodge, for example, requires three planks and one settler to construct. It's best placed near some trees or water, because it produces the basic resources required to get your kingdom going. The Lodge has three slots, used to construct huts, if you will, and dedicated to harvesting a specific resource. If your Lodge is next to a river or lake, a Fisher will... you guessed it, fish. If it's next to some trees, a Woodcutter will chop them down. A Sawmill will take that wood and turn it into planks, used to construct more buildings. If there are deer running about, a Hunter will gather in hunter gatherer fashion and produce meat.
That's four sub-buildings from one building. And the Lodge is just one of many buildings available in Settlers 7. There are Mountain Shelters, Farms, Churches, Export Offices and more. All need to be used as and when, linked by roads, and maintained and managed with the resources they require to do their jobs. Efficiency is everything. Gathered resources need to be transported from storehouses - smart placement of which is key - to other parts of your kingdom. The bigger your kingdom, the more settlers you need. The more settlers you have, the more food you need to produce. The more settlers you have, the more residences and noble residences, both of which raise the population cap as well as produce goods of their own, you need to build. Then there are prestige buildings - required to produce Clerics, which research new technologies, a technology tree, which upgrades your units, a separate upgrade system, and probably loads more we can't possibly list here for fear of turning this review into a FAQ.