It’s an odd place to start a review, but when it comes to Settlers 7 it’s probably best to kick things off by dismissing some of the misinformation that’s been spread around the game –and which becomes especially evident if you compare the US and European box art for the game.
So, let’s be blunt. US readers, if you’re interested in The Settlers 7 because the box art makes it look like a bad-ass, epic-level wartime strategy game then you should know that you’ve been deceived. You’ve been tricked. The Settlers 7 is in no way a violent or battle-focused RTS. In fact, fights are small and resolved without player input. Settlers 7 has about as much bloodshed as a Disney film about pillow-fighting marshmallows. Go and play Total War instead.
It's not much, but it's home
What Settlers 7 does have though is a tremendous amount of city planning and a resource web that’s more complicated than trying to make jerked chicken without burning your hand and having to spend the rest of the week typing with one finger. Ahem. You’re going to spend far more time planning how many windmills you can squeeze into your territory than you are organising troops into phalanx formations. In fact, beyond recruiting soldiers you have very little control of the military; it’s all a bit hands-off when you start getting down to details in terms of combat. Sorry to disappoint.
Don’t be totally put off though as, although Settlers 7 lacks the combat complexity of Total War or StarCraft, it still manages to pack in a comparable amount of difficulty. This is a very hard game, it’s just that the challenge stems from plotting growth to the last gold piece rather than wielding military might.
The singleplayer campaign kicks things off quickly by casting you as a princess in the fantasy world of Tandria and sending you off on a mission to bring unity to the land. Ostensibly there are three main routes to overall victory, hence the unwieldy subtitle. War, Wealth and Wisdom are the dishes of the day and you’d do well to choose a specialty early on in any given mission thanks to the way that Settlers 7 draws difficulty primarily from limited space and finite resources.
This game needs a Dungeon Keeper-style hand to slap workers with...
Don’t be deceived by the cartoony graphics either; Settlers 7 is an incredibly complex and hard game. We even managed to fail one of the tutorial levels, which is an impressive feat in itself.
Tandria’s basic resources come in a few different forms. Coal, gold, land, fish, wood, stone and meat are the most important, each with a number of different interactions that make things a bit trickier than just collecting as much of each as you can. Fertile land, for example, is used to grow grain through farms. Grain is used to make bread. Bread is used to attract workers and grow your population. But your population then requires housing, which uses up land and means there’s less for farming. Hmm. Grain is also used to make beer, which attracts (dubiously qualified) scholars, who lead you towards a Wisdom victory.
None of this would be much of a problem in a normal strategy game where levels are vast and you can build farms anywhere, but Blue Byte have obviously spent a lot of time honing the balance of Settlers 7. Maps are rarely a single pixel larger than your kingdom will require, which means the placement of a single storehouse can often be the difference between victory and defeat. It’s really a rather brilliant way of injecting tension into something that other games treat as a shallow decision.