Settlers II: Gold Edition
After fighting a losing battle with the raging sea, a brave people find themselves stranded on an apparently uninhabited island, their ship destroyed. With only the tools and supplies they were able to salvage from the wreckage, this brave band faces the ultimate test -- survival. Under your direction, your subjects build farms, raise animals, harvest timber, dig quarries and mines and use these raw materials to found a new civilization. They build ships to conquer the seas and soon your growing empire meets others. Watch out for churlish Vikings, hot-headed Nubians and technologically advanced Asiatics. Slog through the dense jungles of South America, fight for survival in the icy tundra of Siberia, and wage epic battles in the scorching deserts of Africa. Build your empire carefully and defend it swiftly. Your guidance will mean the difference between failure and world domination.
Settlers II is an enjoyable strategy game that mixes a little economics, some simple combat, and a lot of cute animations. The gameplay is best described as SimCity with combat. Starting with a command post and a limited stock of supplies and people, you must build farms, smelters, mills, shipyards and barracks, then connect them with roadways to transport goods and men. But constructing an infrastructure that will support an empire is more than just positioning buildings -- they must be placed so that the economy can function. The raw materials provided by the laborers are used to develop more complex items that the settlers need, such as tools, weaponry and food. The interdependencies can become very complex -- farmers grow wheat, which must go to the pig breeder, whose pigs are sent to the butcher for slaughter. The meat then goes to the miners, who provide coal and ore to the smelters and smiths, which is used to create weapons for the soldiers in the barracks. Sorting out what resources are being allocated to production facilities can get pretty confusing; a well-run empire will require a great deal of patience and advanced planning.
Settlers II: Gold has over fifty scenarios divided into a Roman campaign, a world campaign, and a free-play mode that allows you to select one of four races. The game also includes a map editor that you can use to create your own scenarios, providing unlimited play options. The game does included limited support for two-player games, but it requires both players to use the same machine and is very awkward to set up. With most other games in the strategy genre providing support for four or more players and Internet play, the limited multiplayer support in Settlers II is disappointing.
Settlers II has other failings that keep it from living up to its full potential. The combat system in particular is poorly done. Conquest is a fairly large part of the game, but successfully attacking the enemy requires mostly luck -- you have very little control over what troops are sent, and the actual battles take place between just one unit from each side. Taking control of the enemy forts and barracks does not help expand your empire's infrastructure -- any other buildings the enemy had in the area are automatically destroyed, rather than occupied by your forces. Usually there is very little reason to continue expanding the economic development of your country once you've started attacking -- most of your resources will need to be allotted for creating more soldiers and weapons and cannot be spared.
The graphics in Settlers II are fantastic. The gameplay takes place on an overhead view of the land, with resolutions up to 1024x768. In addition to terrain features such as different types of trees and ruins, there are lots of entertaining animations to watch while building your empire. Woodcutters wander around chopping down trees, farmers plant wheat or feed pigs, the miller naps in front of the mill, and countless men stroll around the screen hitting things with various implements of destruction. Each tribe has its own style -- buildings from each tribe look different, adding to the variety. The map can be zoomed to focus on a particular area, or you can display a separate zoom window that will keep track of individual citizens as they move around. Overhead map views showing the surrounding terrain and tribal boundaries are also available.
Settlers II has a stunning array of sound effects -- each profession has its own sounds, from woodcutters chopping down trees to the braying of donkeys on the farms. The audio cues to what is happening on and off screen are invaluable and make playing more fun. Unfortunately, the soundtrack does not live up to the effects. The music is well done and includes both MIDI and CD Audio versions, but the game constantly repeats one track over and over. You have to manually change the music to get the different tunes. It did not take long for the repetition to become annoying enough that I turned it off.
The manual for Settlers II is poorly written and organized. It provides some good information and background for the game and covers basic gameplay and options, but it ignores many features completely. Most annoying are the cross-references in the manual. For example, the sections on building up your military touch briefly on the need for gold coins to train soldiers, then refer you to another section that does not contain any information on the military at all. The only really useful sections are those on the buildings and resources in the game.
System Requirements and Comments
Required: MS DOS 5.0 (or higher) or Windows 95, 486DX/2 66, 8 MB RAM, 30 MB hard disk space, SVGA graphics, 2X CD-ROM drive, sound card, mouse (two mice are required for two-player mode)
Recommended: Pentium 75 or faster, 16 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM drive
Settlers II is hard not to like, at least for a little while. Players who enjoy strategy games that require linear thinking and problem solving will find hours of engrossing play, but those who are looking for a more open-ended game on par with Civilization will find the lesser number of construction options and simple combat system in Settlers II boring. I enjoyed playing, but found the game's flaws and limitations distracting.