The Settlers: Heritage of Kings
How Times change. Three years ago when Heritage Of Kings' predecessor Settlers IV scuttled into our offices, it was all about complexity, micromanagement and the kind of cutesy graphics that Germans find adorable, but most Brits find nauseating. Well, forget all that, because the fifth instalment in this community building RTS series has taken a major leap away from its predecessors' ethics and opted instead for a far more conventional RTS approach.
Right, let's start with the graphics, which are unrecognisable from previous Settlers games. Good start then. Unless you're called Schultz, in which case you're probably crying salty tears right now. Pull yourself together man.
Powered by Criterion's impressive RenderWare technology, a freeform, fully zoomable camera allows you to get up close and personal with your 3D units, revealing a far more serious and lifelike level of detail.
While we were taking the game for a spin, we were impressed to note an excellent new weather system, which saw a nearby lake freeze over in the winter, allowing our enemies to cross over and attack our village. Ambient flora and fauna, static building animations and some impressive fire effects that spread and crackled like a pyromaniac's wet dream, also greatly added to the game's new sense of realism.
Fear not though, Settlers fans, you haven't been completely forgotten, because community building and exploration are still integral parts of the game. Communities will be interdependent, which, thanks to my GCSE Economics teacher Mr Walsh - you were right sir, GCSE Economics wasn't a complete waste of time - means that everyone is dependent on everyone else's skills. You'll have to carefully plan which units to build to help your community prosper and conquer the game's 20 levels and seven enemy kingdoms. With over 70 unit types available - each with their own set of unique skills - and the ability to barter goods, there'll still be a fair amount of micromanagement too, but not nearly so much that newbies should feel scared off.
Spoiling For A Fight
Combat is also receiving a major overhaul, as it was more of an afterthought than a major gameplay element in the Settlers series. Heritage Of Kings is introducing more units and tactical subtleties than all of the previous games combined - cavalry units make their debut, and you'll now be able to train every soldier into a rabid killing machine. An RPG system will allow you to furbish veteran troops with new abilities and weapons, and you'll even be able to research new battlefield technology.
Going by what we've played, Settlers: Heritage Of Kings could well be the first Settlers game to break into the mainstream and truly succeed here in the UK. Its more traditional RTS approach might draw many newcomers to its banner, but conversely, could also put off die-hard fans. For now though, it's looking like being a lot of fun, and after the heavy going of previous Settlers games, we'll happily settle for that.
Download The Settlers: Heritage of Kings
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
The Settlers games always seemed to occupy their own little corner of the strategy world - one in which characters who looked like fat toddlers that'd been rushed through puberty reigned supreme. But from the looks of The Settlers: Heritage Of Kings (the fifth title in the series), said characters have clearly been on the Atkins diet, as they've shucked off their chubby cartoonish forms and are about to enter a new era of Medieval carnage.
"The previous Settlers games were quite hard for people to get into, as they were quite complex with a steep learning curve, explains the game's producer Benedikt Grindel. You had a lot to do, juggling both the needs of the settlers and the resources, so this time we've tried to make things easier by focusing more on the settlers themselves and their place in the world." Visually, Settlers: HOK is a complete departure from the rest of the series and it really does look all the better for it. Gone are the irritatingly colourful and cartoonish 2D graphics (which often looked like they'd been put together at the Ray Charles School of Design), and in their place is a new 3D medieval world, somewhat reminiscent of Stronghold 2. Benedikt, who's understandably kinder about the previous games than I, puts it a little more gently. People who saw the previous Settlers games thought they looked like kids' games played by adults. Because of this, we've tried to make the series grow up a bit and look like the game it really is."
Holding Out For A Hero
One of the ways in which Blue Byte has tried to refocus the gameplay is by introducing heroes. In a similar way to Age Of Mythology, these are the characters which drive the game's singleplayer storyline. However, unlike that game, these heroes actually come with their own benefits and unique skills.
Dario is the main guy, son of the old king and your typical Prince Charmingtype, who was raised in secrecy in a small village after the kingdom was split up by wars. Now it's his job to unite the seven fragments of the old empire under the banner of his awesome blonde nobleness. But out to thwart him, and there's always a thwarter on the loose, is the Black Knight (who looks suspiciously like Dario in a big helmet) and his ruthless and fiendish cohorts.
Bigger Is Better
Luckily, Dario will meet a few comrades of his own along the way. These include Pilgrim, a burly adventurer with an axe, who's an expert in explosives and proves very handy when you want to blow shit up. Not to mention Ari, the busty she-warrior and mistress of the longbow. Other heroes have their own unique abilities like being able to construct certain special units, heal troops and go undercover. Dario himself has a very useful hawk that he can send out to scout out hidden territory.
However, Benedikt is keen to emphasise that the game is still about attention to detail and building big settlements. Key to this process are the serfs, who do all the drudge work like constructing buildings and collecting wood and stone. Once they've built a building, you automatically get workers seeking employment in your settlement. In exchange for their hard labour, you have to show that you're a beneficent Lord and make sure they've got somewhere nearby to get a hot meal and have a If you don't provide this, they let you know pretty quickly and although you can't actively control them, you can click on every one of the settlers and find out what they need from you.
Kick Back And Relax
Each little building has its own upgrades and little animations which lend a lot of life to your settlement, not to mention the fact the environment is full of deer, wolves and rabbits who gambol around as if they're auditioning for a Disney movie. It's nice to just sit back and watch your stonemasons tapping away at the stone blocks, little logs trundling through the sawmill and the general hustle and bustle of medieval business as usual.
The Settlers: Heritage Of Kings marks a very interesting move away from the traditional Settlers style, which admittedly was rather convoluted for a lot of players (and let's face it, very Germanic). Accessibility is the watchword here, which shouldn't be confused with dumbing down, because Blue Byte has retained the attention to detail and gameplay depth that the series has enjoyed all along. This should keep the old fans of the series happy and hopefully make a few new ones. We'll be settling down with the finished version in the next couple of months, so look out for a full review soon.
It Was Supposed to be the game that brought micro-management to the mainstream, the game that was to break The Settlers' niche and introduce non-German gamers to the joys of building up settlements and looking after little people. It failed. Miserably.
The main problem with Heritage Of Kings is that in attempting to lure in a new audience while keeping the old one happy, it's single-handedly managed to ostracise both.
Watered-down management and a move to a more serious visual style - which kills the smidgeon of humour that was still left in this once amusing series - makes it by far the blandest and uninteresting Settlers game ever made. Add to this a painfully hackneyed storyline that unashamedly steals from Tolkien and you're left with a totally unimaginative bore of a game that fails to excel in any department.
The saddest thing is there's nothing seriously wrong with HOK's mix of resource gathering, man-management, warfare and task-based missions. It's just that it's all so bland, it's easy to lose consciousness just talking about i...ZZZZ