It’s more than a decade since a core game in the Settlers series last landed on PC, and during that time, the real-time management landscape has undoubtedly changed a lot. There have been some fantastic construction games that have risen, and even developer Blue Byte (now Ubisoft Dusseldorf)’s own Anno series has placed a strong claim on the city building throne. But this incarnation of The Settlers is not so much about connecting to the series’ past, but about laying the foundation for the future. It has had a somewhat rocky road to launch, having suffered several delays and refunded pre-orders after being postponed indefinitely back in 2020, but at long last this restart of the classic city building Conquer-Me-Do is finally ready to knock our door down. and get started. It’s fully launching on March 17th, and I’ve been hands on with an early version of the upcoming closed beta build running from the 20th-24th. January. So settle down, people. Here you can see how it looks.
First things first. The Settlers raw, beating production heart is very intact. As in the ancient game of The Settlers, if you want your thriving township to eat, you will have to build a farm to produce the wheat, a windmill to grind the wheat into flour, and then a bakery to pound the flour into delicious bread. You will need to do this while making sure you have dirt tracks or gravel roads connecting these buildings with the central warehouse, and enough available workers and housing to staff each location. The same goes for building your army to keep enemies at bay. First you need to extract the right materials, build a furnace to melt the ore into ingots and a blacksmith to hammer these ingots into individual weapon types.
Despite it being a reboot of the series, creative director Christian Hagedorn told me that this new iteration of The Settlers was still very much inspired by The Settlers 3 and 4. A strange choice, perhaps given their rather lukewarm receptions left by the turn of the millennium, but as you can imagine, most of the upgrades come from Office of Improved Visuals. As the new closed beta trailer above does a lot to point out, The Settlers reboot benefits from beautifully detailed character animations as well as realistic settings and lighting effects, not a small part thanks to Ubisoft’s Snowdrop engine – the same engine that was used to create The Division 2 and Ubisoft’s upcoming Avatar game. The settlers themselves are still nicely cartoon-like, but there’s a real sense of bustle under your nose here, and sometimes I just zoomed in on the camera with a flick of the mouse wheel to stare at the little men pushing planks. of wood across perpetually spinning hummingbirds, or follow the grip of the berry pickers foraging for tasty treats in the bushes.
My favorite people to see though are the new engineers. These chaps and chapesses, easily identifiable by their eye-catching blue banners sprouting out of their backpacks, are the only civilians you have direct control over outside your combat armies, and they form the backbone of your community. They build what needs to be built, monitor the outer edges of your city to expand your territory, inspect quarries for seams of valuable minerals, and transport wayward items you can find on the map back to your main camp.
They are busy little bees, especially when you activate the auto construction option, which sends them on to unfulfilled construction projects when they are done with their current ones. Seeing them hurry back and forth, next to a conga row of citizens / donkey carts performing all the necessary materials from the nearest warehouse, brings a warm feeling of satisfaction to this somewhat dilapidated city builder, and to see your settlement taking shape in such glorious, meticulous details is really something. You will miss your engineers when they get out of a rogue bandit while they are also out investigating. They are not cheap as each one needs their own little hammer tool (which requires ore, then ingots and then a separate toolmaker building) before you can train another one.
Assuming you keep a watchful eye on them – and build a wall of arrow-shooting watchtowers to protect your outer edges from unwanted intruders – you can get a handle on The Settlers. It only took a couple of Skirmish battles against AI before I got into the groove of its various production lines. The main game will have a central campaign, a single player challenge mode called Onslaught and up to 4v4 multiplayer matches via the aforementioned Skirmish mode, but the closed beta build I played was limited to only 1v1 and 2v2 Skirmish matches, either against AI or other players.
I also had only two of the three playable factions to choose from – the rustic Elari peasants and the sea-loving Maru. The third faction available throughout the game for March is the tough warrior clan Jorn, who appear to be a little tougher than Elari and Maru with their stricter-looking buildings and darker faction colors. Technically, they all have their own quirks and drawbacks, such as unique warriors and higher or lower construction costs, but from my experience, at least Elari and Maru both felt pretty much the same.
The rhythm of building my cities changed e.g. not much from fight to fight, and the cost of individual buildings is usually so low in the big picture that it was never really made a handful of smaller wood or stone here and there. much of a dent in my overall finances. Due to the nature of its production line structure, these individual costs gradually add up over time, but not to the extent that it took me significantly longer or shorter time to achieve per. match. I’m sure more competitive players will no doubt eradicate some super-high-level strategies when the game launches in full, but for this comparative newcomer, the unique properties of the factions never really showed up.
Not that this detracted from my overall enjoyment, I might add. On the lush green Shire map I was presented with, taming the natural landscape and expanding my boundaries was a challenge enough for me. While the main purpose was to destroy my opponent’s main warehouse – what would normally be your team or town hall in other city builders – there were also various landmarks I could seek out for extra rewards and resources. These are yet another addition to the series along with the engineers and provided some much needed waypoints to help guide my gradual expansion. Some took the form of mysterious ruins or sunken ships on the beaches, while others were hostile bandit camps and stores with stolen goods. In each case, they have seized it, despite obstacles we can scarcely imagine. “
The combat units may not be quite as varied as other conquest-based urban builders out there. You have your standard soldiers, ax boys and archers, plus healers who can rebuild their health bars and give battle fans if you pump enough gems into your research tree. There are also two siege units: torch-throwing soldiers; and torch-throwing mercs sitting on top of what I can only assume is a kind of armored buffalo. They are wildly funny, but it seems like this is as exotic as it will be for this party of fighters, which disappoints the gryphon rider and the giant turtle-loving part of my brain from my early Warcraft 2 days .
Still, I think adding more unit types to the mix would likely send The Settlers’ economy plunging into chaos, as even building a decent number of these basic fighter jets required a pretty forward-looking planning and investment that surprised me. I was lucky in a few fights when I happened upon a deposit of the gems to unlock the all-important healers, but other fights were not so generous. Fortunately, building a port will unlock the opportunity to shop, allowing you to buy in items you would not otherwise have access to – provided you have enough money to pay for them, of course, which you can either get by selling goods through the port or by finding a gold mine and building your own mint.
The fights are quite long. Even once I had mastered its various systems, my fastest Skirmish still took me well over two hours to beat the opposite faction to submission, and I would be interested to see how the campaign emissions perform in comparison. According to game director Nadim Affani, the campaign will see players leave their homes to settle in a new part of the world. It’s centered around Elari, but you will find and meet each of the other factions along the way. Sometimes they will be allies, other times they will be a little more hostile as you pass through the world’s three most important biomes. These are the green Forgotten Plains, the arid desert of the aptly named Cursed Lands and the misty Valed Island, but from the sound of things, time will not necessarily be the most important. You will be able to move at your own pace and take in the world that you find appropriate.
Fortunately, we will not have to wait too long to find out when The Settlers launches in full on March 17th. If you would like to try the upcoming closed beta running from the 20th-24th. January for yourself, sign up for a chance to play over at The Settlers website.
A group of Ubi people are still fighting for management to do more “to stop abuse in Ubisoft and the wider industry.” While the company promised to improve after the many allegations of abuse, harassment and discrimination that emerged in 2020, the group known as ABetterUbisoft feels that they have still not done enough. They laid out their requirements in August 2021 with a open letter signed by 1000 current and former employees, and followed up with a public petition.