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The Settlers Online

The Settlers Online: Castle Empire is an MMORTS based off of the popular Settlers series, where players build their cities from the ground up and manage their residents. Players must take caution with resources and build their city with care for the amount of resources they expend, with more in-depth resource management than many other free MMORTS games.

Publisher: Ubisoft
Playerbase: Medium
Type: Web Strategy
Release Date: September 11, 2012
Pros: +High production value. +Good economy system. +Helpful community.
Cons: -Long wait times. -Very similar to other strategy games. -Pay-to-win elements.

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Overview

The Settlers Online Overview

The Settlers Online: Castle Empire is a city building MMORTS based off of the popular Settlers series, developed and published by Ubisoft. Build and expand a massive city from a barren island to a thriving city and center of trade. As opposed to many games that offer infinite sources of harvestable resources, The Settlers Online goes further, requiring players to replant trees, explore new copper mines, and plant new wheat fields once theirs run out, forcing players to grow outward, exploring new regions and connecting their settlements together. Recruit specialists at your tavern that can fight bandits to lay claim on new land, discover new materials, and explore the regions around. Optimize production and create a solid city infrastructure with the game’s detailed economic overview, giving the game a clear focus on its economic aspects that sets it apart from other browser city building games. In its core though, it still plays a lot like Tribal Wars 2ElvenarTotal Domination, and other web strategy games.

The Settlers Online Key Features:

  • Objective-Based Progression – tons of detailed quests to complete over time.
  • Economic Focus – economy overview menu allows players to see the entire production pipeline, allowing for intelligent resource management.
  • Resource Trading – trade resources with players across the server, making it easy to get what you need and help out other players.
  • Colony Conquering – conquer other players’ settlements with special troops for resources and glory.
  • Good Production Value - great, detailed graphics and animations that make the world feel alive.

The Settlers Online Screenshots

The Settlers Online Featured Video

Full Review

The Settlers Online Review

By Sean Sullivan

After playing Might and Magic, I had come to respect developer Blue Byte, even after being owned by Ubisoft. The TCG left a favorable impression for its simplicity and fast-paced gameplay. Their first game, The Settlers Online, recently made its way to Steam. While the game is a 2010 release, it has managed to worm its way into the Popular New Releases tab as a free-to-play title. Having learned about the game when researching Might and Magic, I was interested to trace the evolution of the development team from their first project to their latest. Suffice it to say, The Settlers Online is a game that would have been better forgotten, and sits like a mustard stain at a wedding on Blue Byte’s development shirt.

Browser Beginnings

Upon launching The Settlers Online, I was greeted by unremitting silence, hopefully not a portent sign of my future feelings about the game. Negotiating account registration, I learned the second section was asking for my age when I tried picking “01.” A simple UI element that said “Age” next to the box would have been helpful, rather than forcing me to play trial and error. Selecting 41, appropriate to how aged I had felt, I finally made it past the first screen, to be greeted by a secondary silent home screen. It’s disconcerting. Why does this game not have sound? Maybe Blue Byte is making a statement, one I can’t comprehend—something avant garde above my pay grade. Anyway, I clicked Play Now and the pseudo browser game prepared to captivate me after a reminder that it is indeed created by Ubisoft.

A Whole New World

Character customization consists of selecting your avatar from a myriad of Victorian caricatures. The exaggerated features are charming and I struggled to choose between petit old man and the biggest chin on the European continent. I settled for “SirJowels,” equipped with a powerful mustache that would make Napoleon quake. The art is perhaps The Settlers Online’s greatest aspect. Unfortunately, the artist commissioned only designed portraits.

Your first quest is to manufacture planks, following numerous steps. Questing largely introduces you to the game's elements, without too much coerced navigation. You’re left to your own intuition to navigate the menus, though the icons do speak for themselves. The hands-off approach is refreshing after playing hordes of games that refuse to let go of your hand. Opening the building menu I set about constructing a Pinewood Cutter. My filthy peasants built the structure, hammering one nail at a time, culminating in a more than sixty second project. Everything takes time in The Settlers Online; civilization is a stretched process.

Browser Despotism

From the tavern you can recruit specialized citizens to perform specific tasks. Through the game’s introduction you’ll recruit a geologist (Stan’s Dad) and can command him to search for specific resource deposits. Early on you’ll only be able to instruct him to search for Stone, as other deposits, such as Gold, require you to be a higher level. After yelling some Sims gibberish, my Geologist went off in search of Stone. From the beginner tavern you can also recruit Generals, Explorers, and Marshals, each offering new avenues of gameplay.

And then there are specialty buildings, providing buffs for your meager workers. From the Provision House I made an abundance of fish platters, increasing production for a certain amount of time when applied to my buildings. You end up with an abundance of resources to manage and must dish them out properly to optimize production. And it’s through economic management that the game aims to captivate interest. Monitoring your economic overview, deciding what buildings are missing or prove irrelevant, is how you create the perfect Settler village.

Max Level Emperor

Completing quests translates into experience, awarding perks and unlocking more buildings to decorate the verdant landscape. At level 2, my filthy peasants had mastered the art of building Pinewood Sawmills. Whereas level 3 brought about the knowledge to construct a Pinewood Forester. The beginning quests award a fair amount of experience; I leveled up quickly and on track with how the game wanted me to experience its mechanics. Mechanics that quickly rest on the clock like a student's eyes.

The first few buildings don’t take much time to build, typically less than 2 minutes. But then at level 4, it’s time to build a tavern, eating up a whopping ten minutes of time. Beyond all of the imported booze, my peasants must be using the finest mahogany to make a beer hall. The further you delve into the game, the more time is needed to build structures, a la Clash of Clans style (or any other mobile village builder for that matter). The timed builds are an artificial cap to test players’ patience, typically reserved for mobile/browser games, not a PC release.

Investing in Zen

When patience wears thin, you can construct buildings instantly and refresh cooldowns for a price. Lapis lazuli gems serve as the game’s cash currency, a system heavily pushed on impatient players such as myself. The Settlers Online is a game that profits through frustration and our need for instant gratification. It costs two gems to instant build most structures, a miniscule amount but one that quickly drains resources if used too often. Six hundred sparkling gems can be purchased for $5.56, whereas 24,000 costs $111.32 (“Best Value”). The strange costs are due to the game being founded in Europe, so the Euro to U.S. dollar conversion causes funky values.

After playing the game long enough and investing enough mental energy, purchasing gems may begin to seem like a good idea. “Time is money, friend.” Although you could, of course, gruel out the grind and patiently await unlocks, logging in daily to receive meager rewards that will ultimately seem useless at later stages of gameplay. Most items can be purchased with the coruscating jewels, from resources to specialty items. Ultimately, you will need more building licenses to continue constructing your village, purchasable for 650 gems. Even further gameplay adventures, such as The Nords and The Black Knights is exchanged with blood diamonds. With an infinite amount of cash, there’s little incentive to play, beyond an undeserved sense of accomplishment.

Digging through PC gamer, I found two comments that summarize the ideology of the development team for The Settlers Online. Blue Byte employee Christopher Shmitz said, “Game design is not about game design anymore - now it’s about business. If you think you have the same items for this year and next year, you’re wrong. You have to change everything in the Superstore.” Design lead Teut Weidemann added, “We have to bring them in and keep them addicting and make them keep playing. Selling advantages is seen as an evil. That’s over for free-to-play-games.” Exploit human weaknesses, the desire for more: vanity, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, and sloth. It’s a compelling point, but one that pragmatically fails to ensnare my interest.

Community

I have to admit that the mods are helpful and stand vigilant in the chat room ready to answer players’ questions. I managed to incite one mods’ ire by saying “Wtf, is going on in this chat?” learning that acronyms are not allowed. The chatlog had nothing to do with the game, jumping from discussions about the Falklands Wars to ethnic pride, and players’ European whereabouts. Even Barrens chat discussed World of Warcraft on some level, trolling or not.

When chat deviates away from a game’s mechanics or discussion about the game, it can be indicative that players are distracting themselves from the game’s elements. I often found myself desperate to excite my attention outside of the The Settlers Online's window. Gameplay elements are too limited by time constraints to excite interest for long, before you’re back to playing the waiting game, like sitting in a broken elevator while your bladder screams.

Final Verdict - Fair

The Settlers Online is fine, largely bug-free, and does what it sets out to do. It’s another browser/mobile game masquerading as a PC-designed game through Steam. And that porting may work in some instances. However, The Settlers Online failed to hold my attention. I was prone to browsing Digg, reading emails, updating excel sheets, and watching YouTube while playing. There was never a sense of immersion; instead it was a passive experience that mirrors childhood chores. It’s engagement that works as a buzz in your pocket, to preoccupy the moments between entering the bathroom and flushing. Unless you’re a bored student who doesn’t know how to use emulators, there’s little to be excited about with The Settlers Online.

Screenshots

The Settlers Online Screenshots

Videos

The Settlers Online Videos

System Requirements

The Settlers Online System Requirements

Minimum Requirements:

Operating System: Windows XP 32 bit
CPU: Pentium 4 3.46GHz or Athlon 64 3800+
Video Card: GeForce GT 120 or Radeon HD 4550
RAM: 2GB
Hard Disk Space: 3 GB

Recommended Requirements:

Operating System: Windows XP 32 bit
CPU: Celeron E1200 Dual-Core 1.6GHz or Athlon 64 X2 Dual Core 4000+
Video Card: GeForce GT 230 or Radeon HD 6550D
RAM: 2GB
Hard Disk Space: 3 GB

The Settlers Online is a browser based MMO and will run smoothly on practically any PC. The game was tested and works well on Internet Explorer, Opera, Firefox and Chrome. Any modern web-browser should run the game smoothly.

Additional Info
Additional Info

The Settlers Online Additional Information

Developer(s): Blue Byte
Publisher(s): Ubisoft

Design Lead: Teut Weidemann

Other Platforms: Browsers

Release Date: September 11, 2012
Steam Release Date: October 21, 2010

Development History / Background:

The Settlers Online was developed by Ubisoft’s German development studio Blue Byte, the same company responsible for Might and Magic: Duel of Champions. The game was initially released for browsers exclusively on October 21, 2010, and later published through Steam for PC’s. Blue Byte was purchased by Ubisoft in 2001. Blue Byte is also responsible for the Anno series of games, including Anno Online.