Efficency and speed are the name of the game when it comes to your average real time strategy game. Management of your units and the resources they bring in the core of the RTS genre on the PC. Heritage of Kings: The Settlers takes a more stately approach towards these concepts and builds a game that has even pacing, while still maintaining the need to keep an eye on everything and make the best use of your resources. The graphics for this game are actually quite good. There is a lot of detail in the world and on the various people and buildings. The people who inhabit the town you build look like medieval peasants, wearing smocks, tunics, and leggings based on your town’s colors. The buildings are animated and lively, with windows that open and close, or windmills that turn, and pennons flying from the castle walls.
Even better, this engine looks good no matter which zoom level I am using. It is smooth, and I was unable to get the game to stutter or slowdown even with a large town functioning. The interface itself is simple, but still continues the medieval setting by framing it in a wood border. There was only a few times when I had to really lean in and think “What am I looking at?”, and that was limited to issues with the Mini-map that I will discuss later on. Developers are finding new and interesting things for your minions to say to you when they are selected in game, and The Settlers is not an exception. In fact, I don’t think I’ve heard all of the pithy conversations yet from this game. I will click on a serf to get a building going, and get a sound byte like “…and I said that he was daft to be selling me…AHEM. Sorry, sir.” It sounded so natural that it caught me completely off guard. There are several other quotes in there that sound like you have walked up and interrupted your workers in the middle of their day. This is part of the little detail that is worked into this game that makes it a world rather than just icons you order around the screen.
Controls for this game are pretty straightforward RTS controls, utilizing the mouse for most of the input. I had problems with some of the functions I needed to access quickly though. When I had heroes grouped with other units, I had to click on the heroes I needed to be able to use their special abilities. It lack the ability to cycle through your selected units with a hotkey or shortcut key that other current RTS has. Also, I frequently use attack moves to order my groups of warriors around the map. In The Settlers, if I issue an attack move to a group, then try and issue another one, it does not happen. I have to select a unit, then select the group again, or let the group reach their first destination before issuing the next order. This is something that can be easily fixed in a patch, but if you don’t know it is there it can frustrate you.
For those of you looking at this box, expecting the next amazing battlefield RTS, move on. This game is about planning out a town and making use of its resources to fund an army. The model for resources does not just say “You’ve got X farms, you can have X number of soldiers.” Instead, you have to build houses to house your workers and provide them with nearby farms to eat at. Each house and farm can accomidate a certain number of people. If you place them too far from the worker’s place of work, then it won’t get utilized properly and your worker will work only part of the time, wasting the rest of it near a campfire. Each building you build, aside from the military buildings, is staffed by workers that come out of the village center. You do not control these workers directly. Instead you manage them by providing the services they need as the leige of the kingdom. The only low level units you manage directly are your serfs. They are your builders, and basic harvesters until you get mines and refineries put in places. Serfs do not need housing, and are only limited by the overall village population just like your military units.
Depending on the map or mission you are on, you will have various one or more hero units assigned to you. Each unit is unique and has its own special abilities that you can use in and out of combat. For example, Dario, the main campaign hero, has a falcon that he can send out to explore the map for you. He also has a defensive ability that can turn away all enemies in a small area for a time. Once you use these abilites, a timer counts down and you can use them again. Other than their special abilities, the heroes in the game are little more than advanced versions of the various troops that you can earn.
The game provides you with a mini-map that allows you to see the lay of the land. I found it completly useless for determining where attackers were or finding resources on the map. As I played through a skirmish, I found that on the research tree there was ‘Resource Map’ and ‘Tactics’. These research topics made a map with a different set of highlights appear on the minimap, making it easier to find harvestable resources or enemies that need to be slain. This was an interesting gameplay choice and can affect how you research.
The maps in single player are also interesting because they are not the typical “Build Town, crush enemy here” map. If you explore maps fully, more objectives become available for you to complete, usually providing resources or extra units to you in your quests.Being more of a thinking RTS, rather than about pumping out units and crushing the enemy faster, this game has a different value in the multiplayer department. I would spend an hour or more on a single map in skirmish more, and the game has four open skirmish/multiplayer maps right off the bat, with more becoming available as you play through the campaign. There are also multiple ways to win depending on the multiplayer mode you choose. You can play a game of research, or set an economic victory limit and see who can manage a town better. There is also the basic “Destroy all enemies” condition. Definately could be interesting in a 2, 3, or 4 player environment.