The Settlers: Heritage of Kings
Score: 6.5 / 10
I've never played a Settler's game and was always curious to know what fuss was about. Popular enough to spawn a series, I thought that there must be something special here. Playing through this entry in the series, I found about what I had expected. Since none of the previous games flew into my radar, I had suspected that they may have been good but were flawed. My experience with Heritage of Kings can be described in much the same way. I found the game flawed in some fairly serious ways, however, I still managed to enjoy the overall experience of playing through it.
I absolutely loved the look, and sound of the game. The cut scenes are
gorgeous as well, but the color and texture of the in engine game really
made everything feel alive and vibrant. The music and narration was also
very well matched to the game. Although there is really only one track,
it is neutral enough that while complementing the mood of the game, it
doesn't distract you from the gameplay. The storyline follows a young
man on a quest to save the villages and towns of his kingdom as
"Black Robber Knights" are attacking the settlements of the
land. Along the way, you encounter and recruit more principal characters
and together you help to save each town.
The hero characters are much the same as those found in other games both conceptually and in practice. Each hero character has special powers that they can invoke to help surrounding units in battle. Also, one of the characters can be used to uncover new resources, while a couple of the others can set up defensive traps and turrets. Dario himself has a pet falcon that can be used as a scout. Although fairly powerful, the hero units are still vulnerable and can be overwhelmed in battle by a sufficiently large force. This somewhat diminishes the usefulness and overall impact of the heroes and is something that I wished had more emphasis. Fortunately
heroes can not be killed and if they lose all of
their hit points, they will go down until a friendly unit is stationed
within their vicinity, with no threats around. After about 10 seconds,
the hero will be revived.
The game plays much like a typical RTS. There are resources to collect, and farms and houses to build to ensure your populace is fed and sheltered, and there are new technologies to research and ways to improve your buildings.
You begin each stage with your main building where you
recruit serfs which are your builder units. Your serfs can create new
buildings where people are employed but they don't actually work in the
buildings. There are unoccupied village centers scattered throughout the
maps and by having your serfs build and occupy a village centre, workers
will come from there to work in your buildings. These workers are your
settlers. By having more settlers in your village you can collect more
taxes which increases your supply of talers, or the game's currency.
However, each village centre can only release so many settlers, serfs,
and military units, or so the game dictates. As such, there is a careful
balance that must be had when attempting to maximize the amount of taxes
you can collect versus building up a sufficient military force.
The other resources in the game are collected from mines, except wood, which is the only resource that can be collected by your serfs as they can be chopped down from the general area. Mines can be found scattered throughout the map and your ease of success in a mission is often tied to your ability to find a mine for each of the resources and to find it quickly. This can be frustrating as you will need to explore the surrounding area of your fort, and sometimes, a mine is easily missed by one or two areas of sight. Getting caught in the cycle of waiting for resources so you are able to research new technology upgrades so that you are able to gather resources more quickly is also inevitable. This makes for some long, boring stretches in the game as you wait to have enough resources to upgrade your mines to employ more workers and so that those workers are more efficient. Then finally when you have a fast rate of resource production you can employ more settlers and finally create a large military force, provided you have enough settlers that can come from your village centers. The problem is that there really isn't that much to do while you wait to have enough resources to build something, or upgrade a technology.
the end, you will need a large military force with all of its upgrades
to do battle. Relying on tactical strategy is not an option because the
unit AI is not any good. Your best hope of victory in battle is
overwhelming numbers. Even then, your forces scramble like an
unorganized group of wasps when directed to attack an enemy unit or
structure. The problem seems to be that when you direct your forces to
attack an enemy unit, they believe that they should attack that specific
unit rather than engage the enemy force as a whole. As such, you are
left with your melee units running around to attack one specific
swordsman, while they are being hacked at by all the other enemy units
involved in the battle. Thus, your best bet is to build as strong and as
large a force as possible before taking on your final task in each
mission which is usually to destroy all enemy forces and buildings.
Again, this leads you into the long arduous build up of your technology
and military upgrades. While at first, and admittedly in the end, it is
quite satisfying to power your way through the technology developments
having to do this over and over again, loses its entertainment value.
Also, this makes completing only one of the levels an incredibly long
affair with some of the later missions clocking in with a reasonable
completion time of 4 to 5 hours.
strategic aspect of the game that is fairly original is the ability to
manipulate the weather. This comes in the form of rain, snow, or sun and
they are all involved in the goals in some of the missions. Once you
have researched the correct technologies and upgraded the right
buildings, you can change the weather conditions from their current
condition, to sun, rain or snow. This comes in to play in the missions
because some maps of the game aren't accessible until you have frozen a
lake by changing the season to winter. Conversely, by changing the
season to summer, you can defend your position by preventing enemies
from crossing a lake. While a great concept, the race to be able to
wield such a power is a long and slow process of resource collecting.
Of course, the requisite multiplayer options are included, however, the same resource collection pace poses the same problem in multiplayer games as in the single player campaign. Furthermore, because there is only one race type, this lessens somewhat the lifespan, and replayability of the game.
While Heritage of Kings has all of the ingredients to make a fairly serviceable game, the pace of the game as dictated by the resource collecting is its Achilles Heel. If the city building aspect had been developed to be more involving, this would have given the game a somewhat different feel, but at least then the gamer would have something to do while the resources were slowly being collected. As it is, because the battles are lackluster, and the building and development aspect of the game is slow, it prevents Heritage of Kings from offering the gameplay to go along with its excellent visual and audio presentation.
- Mark Leung
(June 22, 2005)
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