The Settlers Online is the next instalment of the much-loved Settlers franchise, coming from Blue Byte Games. Putting you in charge of a settlement of villagers and saddling you with the tasks of managing resources, planning building arrangements, dealing with bandits etcetera, this edition mixes things up a little by adding the social game mechanics of many browser based resource managment games. You can trade with other players after you reach a certain level, and are able to logout and have the economy manage itself and continue gathering resources without your guidance.
The first thing you’re likely to notice, especially newcomers to the series, is the interface’s very confusing appearance. There are a lot of menus, and if you don’t let the tutorial roll out mechanics as it has deemed appropriate, it’s very easy to get buried under countless numbers and numerous flow charts.
From the very beginning you are assigned quests leading you through all the main parts of the game. It takes you through each resource cycle, through quests and trading, and asks2 you to do things without really ever explaining why. Once you reach level 16 or so, the only main quest awarded to you becomes “Reach the Next Level.” At this point your only motivation to continue is to reach the next level, unlocking new buildings and the ability to harvest newer, and more time consuming, resources.
Every resource need one to three buildings to produce, which means that it can take half an hour to produce enough Bronze Swords for one Foot soldier unit – and that’s after you’ve spent the time waiting for a deposit of bronze to be discovered by your Geologist, which itself takes about half an hour. Almost all of the production cycles in the game can be sped up to varying degrees with buffs, but even then it can feel like one is feeding quarters into a vending machine and waiting a few hours for the snacks to dump out. This time commitment is this game’s main failing point; by taking the resource management of an RTS, but adding time frames that can reach upward of six hours, the casual feel of the game is lost in the twiddling of thumbs and idle clicking.
Strangely, the part we had the most fun with was also the least important: road building. Roads are a free structure that has no effect on your settlement in any way, other than making it look spiffy. As we poked and prodded at our villagers, trying to make things happen, we would gleefully connect their workhouses and homesteads with little dirt roads. We’d then make sure that all future buildings lined up with the roads that we had so carefully planned. It was delightful to see our dirt roads turn to cobblestone – now THAT’S progress. The art style of the game does make it quite pleasant to watch your little workers mill about, though once you get as close as the game allows (which isn’t all that close) it sort of starts to look a little rough around the edges.
The most grievous time sink found in the game is tied to the Specialist system. You can assign the Specialists to a task, and that Specialist will undertake said task within a time limit. The Explorer Specialist can be used to undertake a Treasure Hunt. A “Quick Treasure Hunt” will collect only a small amount of resources, and takes six hours – or three if you pay with gems bought with your own hard-earned cash.
A lot of time in The Settlers Online is spent waiting. In the later levels of the game, we found ourselves spending maybe 10-15 minutes playing, and then logging out and waiting hours for resources to collect so we could go and fight bandits.
It never really feels like you ever have any real control over the goings on of the settlement. Villagers go about their business at the speed they want to, which can be quite lengthy. The only real effect you can have on the economy is by pumping gems into it, which you can purchase with real money in an online store. The time measurements associated with resource management are quite obviously there to convince players to purchase gems. That’s par for the course in F2P games, but the fact that the game can take an unbearable amount of time to play without paying is a little too far.
The Settlers Online is a fairly standard casual F2P RTS with a pleasant art style, but the unreasonable time commitment and confusing interface makes it a directionless time sink for anyone but the most casual player.
Final Score 2/5