by Bane Williams
previewed on PC
Putting the 'strategy' back into RTS games.
Too many games that are touted as part of the RTS genre today are all about twitch reflexes, fast build queues, and micromanagement of your troops. It's all about how fast you can crush your enemies into submission, and how quickly you can click 17 buildings, 14 armies and 9 workers in a certain order. The Settlers 7, however, looks to be taking a break from that side of things. The question remains though, can such a game exist in today's fast-paced gaming climate?
RTS for me means a game that is a strategy game, without turn-based elements. Perhaps that is half the reason I do not believe that games like Supreme Commander and even Warcraft III fall into these categories, because these games are more about tactics than strategy. Often the victor of a match is the one who manages his clicks and keyboard shortcuts better than anyone else. That is not strategy. Needless to say, when Blue Byte announced it would be trying to put a lot more emphasis on strategy in the game, I instantly felt the desire to take a look and I wasn't disappointed.
Perhaps the easiest way to describe what removes the game from the rest of the RTS crowd is to simply state that victory is not elimination dependant. That's right, from the get-go you do not need to eradicate players x,y and z from the map in order to win. This is not to say that doing so is impossible and, in fact, in some situations it might be considered the best viable strategy to win.
Ten minutes? How about an hour?
Pace is something that has often been thrown out the window with modern day RTS's. More and more are people enjoying smaller, bite sized chunks of enemy annihilation over a more thought provoking experience. The average skirmish game of Settlers 7 however takes just over 40 minutes to play, sometimes far longer than that. While far gone are the all day sessions that Age of Empires and the like used to throw at you, people like myself who actually like to think before they leap will find this game a greatly rewarding experience.
Victory in the game is gained from the accumulation of Victory Points (VPs). Accumulate enough VPs by the end of the game and you will find yourself reigning supreme. VPs can be gained by increasing your trade capabilities, technological discoveries, military domination, or even just building your city. Many of the VP's can only be gained once in a match, by any player, so this can create a level of tension between you and an opposing player quite early on.
Combat is dealt with in a simplistic and streamlined way, with no micromanagement involved. This allows for you to focus on building your empire without having to constantly worry that your archers aren't standing in JUST the right place, or that your Cavalry units aren't adequately flanking the enemy. Like I said, this game rewards strategy, not tactics.
DRM hinders, not helps.
While slower, more strategic games generally perform very well in European territories, they often have to be marketed correctly in order to be more appealing to American audiences, who are often after a faster game. But this is not the only problem the game faces: The Settlers 7 will be the first game to be launched with Ubisoft's new DRM, a feature that requires continual Internet access in order for your game to work.
While some DRM is fine, many people have commented on the fact that DRM should never be added to a game at the cost of presentation to your consumer base. If inclusion of DRM makes it harder, or more annoying, for your paid customers to access the game, you are annoying the people who are your future paying customers. This creates a downward trend for future games, where it is unlikely that sequels will become more popular than the game before it.
A problem with the DRM that exists at the moment is that if you lose connection to the Internet for any reason at all, the game will not just simply pause, but revert your game back to the last save. It also requires a large amount of bandwith, meaning that for those who do not have unlimited data connections, you will have to be careful about the time you spend with The Settlers 7, or indeed any of Ubisoft's upcoming PC titles (though these problems may be fixed by launch).
Unfortunately, Ubisoft are known for being the rebel publisher who almost never listen to outside influence unless that influence tends to be of several hundreds of thousands of people all at once. Because of this, I really fear for the success of a game that looks to be one of the few RTS's that actually live up to its genre. Maybe at one unspecified time in the future, Ubisoft will stop thinking that they always know best and start listening to their community. Of course, perhaps such things would require them to cease being French.
Look for The Settlers 7 to hit stores mid-march. I know I will, despite its DRM flaws.