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Settlers Online Review

Settlers Online Review


Free to play browser MMO reviewed

Also known as Castle Empire

Publisher: Ubisoft

Released: 2011

The Settlers Online
"Great game within MMORTS genre"" reviewed by Mat Growcott, Written on

Rating: 4 stars

The Settlers Online : Castle Empire, an online spin-off from Ubisoft’s The Settlers series (and formerly named after that series), is a real-time strategy MMO in which you must build an empire and “take on the world.” There words, not mine. As we’ve discovered while taking a close look at other MMOTRS's in recent weeks, the genre tends to be an excuse for long waiting times, dull quests, static graphics and, did I mention long waiting times? They’re designed to be played in lunch breaks and on Facebook and, while that isn’t a fault in itself, generally that means that they don’t capture the imagination in a way that an MMORPG manages to do. Does the Settlers Online fall at the same hurdle? Let's see it in our The Settlers Online review


settlers online map

Based on The Settlers

In that regard, The Settlers Online previously known as Castle Empire has something fairly major going against it. The Settlers is an absolutely huge series for PC gamers, in terms of both the amount of titles on the market and in terms of popularity. It is also definitely what you would call a core game and some people weren’t happy with the direction that this MMO took the series. There’s a good chance that was part of why the name changed, but it’s important to remember while playing that this is a spin-off and it has taken a far more casual route. If you go in expecting an experience just like in the main titles, you’re going to be disappointed. The important thing is to look how the game manages on its own merits, and we’ll take a look at that right now.

The Settlers Online review The Settlers Online screenshot

The Settlers Online offers a number of ways to start playing. Being browser-based, you don’t need to download anything and chances are you’ll already have an account, either through Facebook or uPlay. If you don’t want to sign up using an existing account, you can sign up using a new account but I had trouble using the same email address I’d already registered through uPlay. If you’ve ever played an Assassin’s Creed game (since 2) or any other recent Ubisoft titles, you’re probably good to go. Some MMOs can be cumbersome to get into, The Settlers Online doesn’t suffer from that problem. The first glance you get of the game is actually not short of breath-taking; so much colour, the exact opposite of something like Thirst of Night.

Browser based game impresses with its graphics

Graphically it’s impressive, very impressive, especially considering how quickly it all loads in-browser. Within seconds you’ll see quite a nice detailed map, complete with detail, and be granted with the ability to place buildings wherever you like. This is a pretty big deal, as you usually have to put buildings in pre-set places and this limits you to building slight variations on what everybody else has already done. In The Settlers Online, you get the opportunity to actually build on quite a vast map (once you’ve explored) and to make it into something you can be really happy with. Sound effects are passable, unobtrusive and easy to turn off if you feel the need.

Settlers Online screenshot showing game interface Settlers Online screenshot

Active community, active chat box

One of the first things I noticed about The Settlers Online is just how busy the chat box could be. Offering conversation between players is the very least that developers can do to give the MMO experience to what is effectively a single player online game, and most people just don’t seem to bother with it. With this, the chat box always seems to be moving and rarely does the conversation degrade to idle chatter, people are willing to help and you learn quite a lot just by keeping half an eye on what people are talking about. Later on in the game, you can trade with other players which obviously lets you make up for any deficiencies you might have in your resource collecting. There’s no PvP mode currently, but it’s looking like it will be added at some point in the near future.

Like all MMORTS, the game begins on a tutorial. This is a mixed blessing, because although it’s an important thing to know exactly what you’re doing, The Settlers Online makes the mistake of only giving you one quest throughout. This means sitting and waiting. As I write this, I’ve sent an explorer off into the wilderness in order to procure me some new land. It will take ten minutes and I have nothing else to do. I’ve said it before and I have no doubt I’ll end up saying it again in future reviews, but if the person playing your game needs to find something else to do while they’re supposed to be enjoying what you’ve made, you’re doing it wrong.

Castle Empire screenshot Castle Empire screenshot

Unlike Settlers, construction takes a long time...

You’ll go through the usual steps of setting up various store houses, resource-related buildings and homes for your people. In a full game of The Settlers, it would take perhaps a couple of minutes, but in The Settlers Online it can take well over and hour to get the basic layout of your village sorted out. More than once I’ve seen people asking if they can skip the tutorial; it’s not that it’s particularly bad but in a world where you seem to be able to do as you please, being limited so early is a real turn off. If there was more to do, options of how to do it or even a less harsh resource/level penalty for avoiding the tutorial, it wouldn’t be so bad, but you’re basically forced to play in a certain way if you want to be in a stable enough position to continue and some people will find this annoying.

2D battle looks nice

Battle takes place on a 2D plane which, when compared to other, similar games (which sometimes make do with only a countdown) is quite nice to see. You still don’t have a massive amount of control over proceedings but if you’ve ever played a digital version of Risk or skipped a battle in something like Romance of the Three Kingdoms, you’ll know the sort of thing that happens. You watch as your army either wins or loses. As mentioned earlier, there’s no PvP yet so you’ll spend your time expanding your kingdom by killing bandits, but there’s still going to be a level of challenge to your battles, especially if you don’t properly focus your resources.

The Settlers Online MMO review screenshot 4 The Settlers Online screenshot 5

Not unusual for the genre, but still something that should be fixed, you’ll spend most of your playtime waiting and then waiting some more. You’ll start building something: that can take five to ten minutes; you send someone out to explore or find a mine, that’s another ten minutes. Before you know it you’ve progressed almost nowhere through the game and spent almost an hour doing so. Again, people for whom this is to be played on a lunch break or during a boring lesson at school probably won’t be disappointed by this lack of action – they can do what they need to do and then go back about their business – but for somebody who wants to sit and play, this can be quite frustrating.

Watch your resources

This can go one step further when you somehow don’t have enough resources to continue on and you realize that you’re only getting one or two of a certain resource every couple of minutes. I’ve been at points where I’ve needed to build something that needs 66 stone, and I only have eleven. A quick check back every so often will reveal that I’m acquiring only one stone every five minutes or so, that’s several hours before I was able to continue. As far as I’m aware, I’d followed the tutorial to the letter and not built anything I didn’t need, so it’s surprising to come to such a fast standstill.

The Settlers Online is a great game within the MMORTS genre. If you’ve read my previous reviews on MMORTS's you’d be forgiven for thinking that that is no mean feat and you’d be right. The biggest problem is that there is literally no attempt at balancing the game for somebody who wants to play it straight through rather than in segments and, for somebody who plays nothing but MMOs, that means that games like this are an instant no-go. To conclude my The Settlers Online review There’s so much potential - especially in something like this, a game that has been delivered so well - but the waiting is just too much. On the whole, this is a great little RTS and something I’d suggest to anybody looking to get into the genre. However, unless the interest is already there, you won’t get much to convince you to love them.

© 2012

by M. Growcott

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