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Settlers: Heritage of Kings

Ok, we might as well get right into it. My problem with Settlers isn't so much what it is - it's more about what it isn't. What it is is a reasonably competent, solidly efficient resource-management game with vague pretensions at being a strategy game. What it isn't is particularly worthy of note in any area it attempts to engage in.
Let me explain...

Heritage Of Kings is actually the fifth Settlers title in a series that stretches right back to 1993. Right from the start, the games were focused on the lives and times of communities of wee little fellas chopping wood, mining pits and building farms until they've amassed enough strength to have a ruck with their neighbours and take over the place. So far, so Age Of Empires, except that The Settlers pre-dated Microsoft's standard-setting series.

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This time round, the Settlers have supposedly grown up and thrown off the shackles of their cartoonish past. So now you have a 'proper' plot about fantasy medieval heroes taking on an evil enemy, you have whizzy 3D graphics, and you have all the resources you could ever hope to manage in one game. Problem is, none of it is any good.

The Others
If you want big old historical battles with hundreds of troops, then you need more than a few variations in unit types and basic formation commands. You need Rome: Total War (or Medieval: Total War or Shogun: Total War or, if you prefer a slightly more fantastical approach, The Lord Of The Rings: The Battle For Middle-earth). There you'll get all your massive armies from the outset and will have far more in terms of strategic and tactical warfare to play with.

On the flipside, if what you're after is resource management gaming of the highest calibre, you're not really getting anything here that you haven't already encountered (better) in the Age Of Empires series, Rise Of Nations, Civilization and so on. Settlers has a couple of nice ideas, but you need more than that to warrant real attention in a day and age when games are routinely breaking new barriers at every turn.

Take the citizen moral function, for instance (you know the one - a happy worker is a productive worker). Buy Theme Park or Rollercoaster Tycoon or any one of a hundred Sim City-type games and you'll find all the mood management gaming you could hope for. True, you can argue that at least Settlers gives you a bit of all these aspects in the one package but be honest... If you pour the dregs of a dozen different pint glasses into one drink, you're not going to end up with a pint of ice cold Carlsberg.

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I've followed the Settlers series since the child-friendly cartoon antics of the early '90s. Back then it took the basic resource management concept and ploughed its own furrow - centring on the dynamic relationship between a worker and his needs rather than purely his function. Combined with a quirky sense of humour (attacks would be initiated with a polite introduction and a friendly bout of fisticuffs), it was a winner.

Problem is, it never really changed as the years progressed (except to lose the humour) and other games, most notably the Age Of Empires series, quickly took up the ball and ran so far with it that Settlers would need the Hubble telescope to even see the dust they've been throwing up as they go. Now these games all do the same things that Settlers is boasting about, but they do them better and with more appeal for the casual gamer - which I'm led to understand is where Blue Byte was hoping to pitch this title following the nightmare of micro-management that was Settlers IV.

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