The Settlers: New Allies review – Blown off course

RTS games and city builders have always had similarities, the micromanagement, and the building being a few. Typically, city builders offer you a plethora of structures to perfect and manage your city. Structures in RTS games on the other hand typically provide a more strategic advantage, whether that be production or defense. The idea of combining the two genres has always been exciting to me. Building up your base in a meaningful way while expanding and enhancing your army seems inherently rewarding. The Settlers: New Allies is a combination of RTS and city builder that delivers neither in any particularly special way.

However, there is one aspect that stands out before anything else when you play, the visuals. The imagery in this game is absolutely breathtaking. From glistening waterfalls and oceans, to well-crafted structures brimming with character, this game will treat your eyes to a feast of fine detail. When you put houses next to each other, they connect in interesting ways. Maybe a flower-covered pergola will form, or a long, artisanal archway. You can even zoom in on the houses and get a glimpse inside the doorways.

Your settlement is bright and vibrant, with constant chatter amongst your settlers. A lot of their voice lines are relevant to the area they’re in. For example, I heard a girl in a wheat field exclaim “be careful with that scythe” as another settler chopped away wheat around her. The splendor of your village is accompanied by pleasant and calming background music, perfect for observing your settlers toiling away or reveling. The audio is also excellent in this game; the creaking of the boats in the harbor, the gentle ebb and flow of the waves, it’s all really relaxing. This game is just so quaint, I could feel my blood pressure going down just playing this game. It’s quite sad, the game is brimming with life, but none of that vibrancy translates to the gameplay.

New Allies sucked me in with its masterfully charming aesthetics, but soon enough, I realized that its beauty is only skin deep. The campaign can be described as “wide as an ocean, deep as a puddle.” In the campaign, you play as the Envoys for the Elari, a peaceful agricultural people who are getting absolutely bodied by their own military in a coup. Your only choice is to flee your land and begin again as refugees. It’s genuinely brutal to hear the slow, stark music at the beginning of the game and watch as your lands are pillaged. You have to fight your way onto the docks with the city’s guild master and the cartographer, the two characters who represent the Elari in cutscenes.

The lines in cutscenes can be rather janky, and the plot can feel nonsensical. It genuinely seems like it was written by an AI, and there’s a certain dissonance between what I’m seeing while playing and what happens in the cutscenes. For example, while in a rush, fleeing to the dock at the beginning of the game, there’s a point of contention about abandoning the remaining civilians so the rest can escape. They speak as if they’re outnumbered and surrounded, but it only sends a trickle of enemies at you, and there are plenty of troops left to defend with, but you leave anyway.

There was another time when there’s supposed to be a little mystery as to how a building got sacked, but I had already explored enough of the map to know it was bandits, but the game still “revealed” it was bandits. I had to send one of my settlers to their death for that “reveal” to progress the mission. The whole situation felt very on rails. Another odd situation arose when the cartographer and the guild master were talking, and out of nowhere, the bandit queen entered for the first time, and talked as if they’d spoken before. The guild master refuses to arrest her because he “respects diplomacy” despite the fact that she threatened the cartographer. The bandit queen immediately starts waging war on innocent settlers. It’s like watching a fever dream unfold in real-time.

The gameplay simply isn’t deep enough to make playing through the bizarre campaign worth it. I described the campaign as “wide as an ocean, deep as a puddle” but the multiplayer is more “wide as a puddle deep as a puddle.” On its surface, the gameplay seems fine — the warehouse is the cornerstone of your settlement, and as its name would suggest, it’s where all of the goods are stored. You need roads to connect every resource to the warehouse. This is where engineers come in, they’re the vanguard of your settlement, claiming land, building structures, and surveying mining areas. Your roads reach out like tendrils, avariciously grabbing at any resources you can find, because your village is HUNGRY, and even in optimal conditions, production takes time. God forbid a kink forms in your supply chain. There are two tiers of road, dirt and stone (you want stone). On top of that, you can’t change the game speed. All you can do is improve the roads to the best of your ability. In addition, you can have donkey carts, which carry more goods than typical carriers.

What good is a massive settlement if it’s unprotected? Naturally, you can build an army. Your choices here are severely limited, as you only have three troops to choose from, plus one faction-based bonus unit. They’re very generic; a defender who has more health than damage, an attacker who has more damage than health, and an archer who has lower of both, but can fight at range. There are also two types of mages, but they’re just archers who do more damage to buildings, and there’s also a healer. Overall, there’s not a lot to play around with. Compare that to an RTS like Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance, a game that came out in 2007, which has dozens of units, and every faction has a unique variant and gameplay style. The lack of units in The Settlers: New Allies leads to a distinct lack of strategy, it almost always comes down to whose numbers are bigger. Defense isn’t all about having an army, you can also build a few defensive structures. There are two towers, one that attacks in an AOE, and one that heals your troops. On top of that, there are also fake soldiers who taunt enemies, thus rendering them useless for a short period. That concludes the list of defensive options, three total. Despite the small number of options, they’re all you need, given how maps often have choke points, you can turtle hard in this game. There’s also a research tree, but a good deal of the perks just increase stat numbers.

So you have engineers and an army, but where do they come from? Well, both have to be trained from carriers in your population. Anyone who isn’t either a soldier or an engineer will carry goods to and from warehouses, construction sites, and resource buildings. If you run low on carriers, then your supply chain slows to a crawl, so there’s a balance to be struck. It’s always wise to maintain a good population surplus, so keep building residences.

Many buildings can have their production boosted with select products from other buildings. For example, you can give the blacksmiths meat to make them produce goods faster, but that means fewer donkeys to carry the goods around your settlement. This can provide a semblance of strategy to skirmish encounters. What do you want to target, and how will it destabilize your enemy’s resource economy?

Landmarks are another way to secure strategic resources for your settlement. There are random structures that dot the map. Completing a mission for them grants you rewards, but you have to send engineers off to collect them. You might have to fight some bandits, or you might have to provide them with specific resources. They offer you an edge over your opponents, given that you can secure it. They offer a nice bit of risk vs reward. Well, building production bonuses and landmarks would provide a nice bit of strategy, if the AI weren’t so dense. I went through the whole game without encountering the AI until I got to their base and attacked them. I wasn’t expecting Halo Wars on legendary difficulty, but I was expecting some resistance on the way to their base.

There’s one difficulty level, and it’s underwhelming. The only fights I had on the way to their base were with the neutrals, which the game has in strategic positions to prevent rushing, but given how far into the game we were, I was expecting them to have expanded much more than they had. Finally, after I stirred the hornet’s nest, they rushed at me in great numbers, but were easily beaten down by my army under our defensive towers. In another match, I prepared to rush the enemy, ready for a big final clash, only for my scouts to discover that my opponent had hard locked themselves out of progressing because they ran out of wood, and never bothered to set up more logging camps. I have legitimately never witnessed AI that was so incompetent. At least the map was beautiful.

On the note of maps, there are 13 of them, but you can’t just pick them out in the lobby. There’s an overly complex system to choose your map. You have to go into the settings, and manually turn off every map that you don’t want. Speaking of menus, you get to enjoy having Amazon Prime promotions on your main menu, for a game you likely paid $60 for.

I ran into a fair number of bugs that affected my gameplay. For a while, the campaign refused to let me save my game. When the game finally did let me save, it started freezing in the save menu. Other times the announcer would say that enemies were attacking my residences, when no such attack was unfolding. In the same game, my warehouses said they weren’t connected to… other warehouses? That alert disappeared after a while, but it baffled me nonetheless. Another time, one of my units refused to move. At one point, when I was feeling worn down by the gameplay and bugs, I went to quit the game, only to find that the quit button wasn’t letting me leave.

Overall, if you’re looking for an RTS / City Builder game with deep, complex gameplay and a healthy variety of units to control, then The Settlers: New Allies is not for you. However, if you want a simple, low-effort game with beautiful graphics and a calming atmosphere, then this is the game for you. Although, I would still recommend getting it on sale, as the amount of content offered is still rather dismal.

Jackson loves to play and write about video games. Rogue-lites, FPS, and RPG games are his favorite. He's a big fan of the Battlefield series and Warhammer 40K.


Below Average

The Settlers: New Allies

Review Guidelines

The Settlers: New Allies is a game with great presentation and poor execution, It’s $60, but I would struggle to recommend it at even half that price given how lacking in content it is. The gameplay is lagging heavily. Although tightly woven together, it doesn't really matter when there's so little to play with. It’s like being in a sandbox with no toys or tools.

Jackson Lustberg

Unless otherwise stated, the product in this article was provided for review purposes.

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