LEIPZIG, Germany--The Settlers is big around Germany, judging by the huge ads for "Die Siedler" that are located around this city. Then again, The Settlers is a longtime German franchise, and the series' roots go back as far as 1993. No wonder Ubisoft showcased The Settlers: Rise of an Empire, the latest game in the series, at this year's Games Convention.
With gameplay that's a blend of mostly city-building with some light real-time strategy, The Settlers will appeal to those that like to construct rather than destroy. You'll play as a hardworking feudal lord looking to build up a series of cities, but there's a bit more to it than that, as skullduggery and intrigue abound; a rival prince will look to sabotage your efforts along the way.
Like many city-building games, you have to establish the infrastructure and economy, following the idea that if you build it, they will come--"they" being the settlers in the game, your loyal subjects. Life in a medieval town revolved around its market, and a market depended on a fresh infusion of goods, services, and food. The most basic goods include building materials, so put down some woodcutters' huts, link them by road to a warehouse, and then watch as woodcutters move in and begin supplying that vital resource. Hunting posts and farms provide food, though to make it fit for human consumption you'll need a butcher to cut up the meat and a bakery to turn flour into bread. A pig farm will also provide meat, as well as raw material for a tanner to turn to leather, and so on. This is just a sample of the type of interconnected relationships required for modern medieval life. As a middle class develops, you'll need to supply more exotic and luxurious goods for your subjects.
There will be 16 missions in the campaign, challenging you to build cities over a wide variety of terrain. The climate ranges from the frozen lands of the north to the dry desert heat of the south. The Settlers actually models seasons, and this has an impact on both visuals and gameplay. In winter, lakes will freeze over, making them navigable by land units. Also, food doesn't grow in the winter, which means that you'll have to make sure to stock up before winter sets in.
You'll be able to recruit up to six different heroes to serve you. These are actually unlocked during the campaign, and you'll receive missions that require you to choose a hero to pursue it. Each hero has his or her own special ability, so the choice is up to you. Battles occur mainly in the form of sieges, and you'll get to be on both sides of a siege. When on offense, you can use siege towers to help scale enemy walls. If on the defense, it's vitally important not to let enemy troops breach your wall, as that will send morale plummeting.
It's good to know that The Settlers will have a story that drives the overall campaign. Otherwise, it'd be far too easy to get lost in the game's visuals. This is probably the prettiest picture of medieval life ever in a game. Sure, it's highly romanticized, but that's a big part of its charm. The game is pretty much done, and it's shipping in September.