Resources get even better and more complex the closer you look at them too, with there being more than a few cases where your long-term strategy will end up being decided solely by how aggressively you pursue certain things.
Wood and Meat, for example, are both pretty essential materials to your settlement. Meat is harvested by hunters and processed by butchers to create ‘fancy food’ that attracts higher level units, such as musketeers. It’s an endangered resource though, so if you plough too many hunters into an meat-rich area then you’ll quickly run it dry. You can’t have Bambi and eat her.
There’s nothing too complex in that once you learn how to strike the balance, but you have to bear in mind that Meat can only be found in forests. So, you’ll often have to decide which is more important to you – the forest as a whole or just the wood. Even one lumberjack on his own will eventually fell the entire copse, leaving no habitat for the deer.
Aw, Bambi. Where's my musket?
One of Settlers 7
’s masterstrokes though is to make sure that all this information is presented intuitively and simply. There are menus and graphs stacked up to the parapet if you want to wade through them for the details, but by far the quickest and best way to survey the state of your state is just to look. Forests will visibly shrink as your lumberjacks get to work and lakes once teeming with fish will grow still if overworked.
The result of this is an occasionally harrowing and powerful look at how civilisation can devastate an area, especially in levels where you expand through a series of regions in quick succession. If, like me, you’re ever focused on growing you frontline town then looking back at your older settlements can be quite a shock. What was, at the start of the mission, filled with greenery and wildlife will have degraded into a barren wasteland of stumps and stagnation with your castle standing in the centre.
Unfortunately, the main problem with Settlers 7
’s ecological economy is that it’s almost impossible to take back your mistakes in any meaningful way and you can suddenly get more stuck than an earthworm in treacle. Supplies that don’t respawn at all, like Gold, can be squandered with no chance of regaining them and there’s no way to seed a forest if you mis-spend all the wood in a level, so you can fail a level if you build too much too fast.
City planning is key to avoiding deforestation
That’s not an overstatement either, it’s an accurate example. One hired soldier can literally be the difference between reaching the next level in a few minutes or staring at the screen for an hour wondering what’s wrong. It’s something that only becomes more of a problem when you delve further into the singleplayer, when levels get smaller and your towns get bigger. It’s here that the mentor system, which lets you chat to better players, can be handy.
Still, even a broken economy has some appeal, if only from an aesthetic point of view. Settlers 7
is an undeniably pretty game and it caused more than a few jaws to drop as people sauntered past our gaming rig. In contrast to most modern strategy games which use a painfully zoomed in camera angle, Settlers 7
lets you view your city from any angle you want, zooming in or out to extremes. You rarely need to zoom all that far out admittedly – the levels look big, but it’s mostly just aesthetic fluff, not actual play space – but it’s nice to have the option.
Zooming in and angling the camera so you can walk through your own city is similarly useless, but it's something we found ourselves much enamoured with regardless. It’s brilliant and oddly calming to take a peek inside forests and see wild deer roaming around… or it is until you start chopping down the trees and massacring the wildlife anyway.