Release Date: February 22, 2005
Buy 'SETTLERS: Heritage of Kings': PC
Settlers: Heritage of Kings is set in a medieval world where the clash of armored knights mixes with the thuds of hoof beats, the whiz of arrows flying through the air, and the roar of cannons blasting your enemies to bits. This is, of course, the setting that most gamers will find quite familiar, if not downright homey. This familiarity is the first sign of what you can expect in Settlers.
The story is that of a young heir to the throne, battling the forces of evil to reclaim the glory of his father's lost reign. Along the road, five other heroes will be encountered, including a noble knight and childhood friend; a rogue thief turned ally; and an axe-wielding, dwarf-like master of explosives. These heroes represent the key to winning the various scenarios. For example, the thief can camouflage herself to sneak through the enemy camp and explosives allow new mines to be opened, thereby increasing productivity.
Of course, battle is only part of the game because, as with nearly all RTS titles, you must build your city. To do so, you will need several types of resources: lumber, clay, stone, iron, and sulfur. To gather resources, you need serfs, and while most missions will start with several, more can be purchased at the fortress. You will send your serfs out to harvest lumber or dig resources from the ground, and you will want to quickly build a few mines to accelerate the gathering of clay and stone.
As soon as you have built your mines, your town center will automatically spawn several miners, who will almost immediately start to demand housing and farms. Next up, you will need a university to research new technologies. You will also want to build support structures such as a lumber mill, brickyard, etc., in addition to the mines and upgrade them as soon as you can to accelerate resource production.
Once your city is a thriving enterprise, you can build and train your army, preparing them for battle. To buy these units, you need thalers as well as other resources, depending on the units (wood is required for spearmen, iron for swordsmen, etc.). Thalers are the monetary unit for the game and are gained largely invisibly through taxes. Once literacy has been researched in the college, you can change tax rates, which affects the happiness of your units. Beware of high taxes, as these will cause your workers to become discontent and lazy.
You will soon find that you are unable to build a barracks to produce fighting units until the appropriate technology has been researched. Units are groups that follow the lead of a captain. Captains gain experience in battle and, once experienced, can return to where they learned their profession (the barracks for sword and spearmen, for example) to replace lost minions or add troops, if they have gained sufficient experience. After your army has been built, you can direct them into battle as you wish.
If most of this is sounding familiar to veterans of RTS games, you are correct. Aside from mission layout, there is very little original to Settlers: Heritage of Kings. This does not necessarily mean the game is without merit, for derivative works have long been an accepted means of producing entertainment. Even the great hero of English teachers everywhere, the god of literature (if you believed your ninth grade teachers) Shakespeare made his fortune and his immortal name by copying long-told stories in his own way. Settlers sends you on missions that have several sequential steps, such as rebuilding a trader's marketplace or eliminating your enemy. Weather also plays a part in the game, affecting your units' effectiveness as well and, in the case of freezing rivers, allowing your units to cross to places they previously could not reach. Beware the spring thaw though, as your units will drown!
Graphically, the game looks quite nice, units are well rendered and animated, and they behave with random actions to avoid looking idle. The world through which they travel is very nicely engineered, with trees swaying in the wind, and rivers and lakes rippling with waves. Once you upgrade your town's farms, the windmills will creak as they turn, blending with the sounds of chopping and chipping as your workers harvest lumber and mine resources. I must admit, while the music starts out good, it grows repetitive very quickly, leading me to turn it down to mute.
A major flaw of the game is the in-game dialog used to instruct the player about what needs done in the mission. This is filled with long-winded blathering while the camera pans over units or terrain. Some may find the lengthy speeches to be valuable in weaving an engrossing story for the game, but for most, they will likely be a boring counterpoint to the actual game. Almost as if realizing this and thinking it was good, the cut scenes are incredibly bad, being pans over medieval style paintings while more longwinded speeches are made. Additionally, the interface outside of the actual game is clumsy: upon completing a level, you must click on "Quit Game" to move to the next level.
Overall, the game is passable, though there is not enough new to it to really recommend it, and its flaws stand out like a sore thumb. There is a very narrow range of units, and micromanagement of your city and serfs is more annoying than fun. Having said that, however, there are sure to be many who will enjoy it.