Comprised of seven titles (not counting the add-ons), The Settlers is one of the longest PC gaming series, with a history spanning 16 years. According to the fans, the best of them all was The Settlers 2: Veni, Vidi, Vici (1996) which was later followed by a remake – The Settlers II 10th Anniversary (2006), that offered the same gameplay, plus multiplayer and updated graphics. The Settlers 3 and 4 tested the waters for a new direction which saw its peak with Heritage of Kings (2005), the first 3D title of the series, but with a gameplay which was a significant departure from the guidelines established by its predecessors. And since Rise of an Empire (2007) followed the initial concept more closely, the fans were eagerly awaiting the launch of Paths to a Kingdom.
The Settlers, along with other German series (Port Royale, Anno, Patrician), never had the same resounding success in North America as it did in Europe, since the players on these continents have vastly different tastes when it comes to certain titles. But even so, I didn’t quite understand why the European box is so different from its US counterpart.
In that, if you take a look at the latter, you might jump to conclusions regarding the nature of the game, which will in turn surprise you after only a few minutes, because Paths to a Kingdom is not as violent as the North American box would suggest. It’s a game with a visual style rooted in the original concept of the series, colorful and beautiful. Where, even though you have battles, you won’t see a drop of blood. In which the military aspect isn’t imposing, but accounts for about a third of what The Settlers 7 has to offer.
The main innovation is the Victory Points system, through which you can now win a match by exploiting the economic and research options available, instead of just military force. In essence, the Victory Points (VP) are a set of about 20 Achievements, some permanent, others dynamic: the most gold gathered, the largest army, conquering certain areas, the most sectors under your rule, establishing economic relations with certain lands, etc.
When a player (or a team) reaches a certain number of VP, which varies depending on the number of players or the map settings and their size, a count-down will commence to indicate the time remaining until certain victory. During this window, the other settlers must do everything in their power to shift back the balance of dynamic VPs (a permanent VP can’t be canceled out). If they succeed, the timer stops. If another player gathers the minimum amount of VPs required to win, the count-down will commence anew, and since some VPs are harder to get, there will be plenty of matches where the chance for victory will swing from one side to the other and back again in a blink of an eye.
Who would have thought that a Settlers title, by definition slow-paced due to its complexity, can have such an adrenaline filled multiplayer? The musical score also contributes to the sense of urgency you have when the timer to your defeat is clearly displayed on the screen, backed up by the absence of the fog of war: thus you get to see what the enemy is doing at all times, but this works both ways. However, there are 2 things to note regarding the VP system: the AI doesn’t know how to deny the VPs of another AI player and those who prefer the military and/or defensive strategies have a big chance of… losing.
In fact, the only complaint I have regarding this system is that it can’t be turned off entirely. I know, it sounds weird, but sometimes I just feel the need for a good ol’ skirmish or multiplayer match where the only objective is the total annihilation of my opponents. True, you can obtain a hidden VP (Domination) by conquering all the sectors from a map and using the Map Forge you can edit various settings for the levels, but you can’t save them if there isn’t at least one VP, except Domination. The best compromise I found was to have said VP tied to the capture of a certain sector (the most difficult to obtain VP in the game).
Each map is divided into sectors, and unlike Rise of an Empire, capturing the neutral ones requires some effort, because they have their own military forces protecting them. There are 3 ways you can go about to conquer a sector: by force, sending monks (Novices) or through bribe. And in multiplayer, choosing the right option at the right time can bring you one step closer to victory. Because just like the Anno series, Paths to a Kingdom is a game where it really matters where, how and when you build something. In that order.
Regardless of the game mode (single or multiplayer), the sectors are small when it comes to size and, since the economic chain is pretty elaborate, you are forced to expand in order to get new resources and the real estate for new buildings. Conquering sectors is also important because, unlike the monks who can freely walk about in neutral or enemy sectors, merchants can’t cross hostile borders.
Since some sectors are harder to conquer than others – either being guarded by a powerful army, either being fortified – you have to carefully plan your approach to how fast and how many neutral areas you’re willing to grab. And regardless of the path you take (military, economic or technological), annexing sectors to your empire is fundamental for an efficient economy.
An economy that cannot exist without food, which is split in two categories: regular and fancy. The former is comprised of fish and bread, while the latter means processed meat at the butchery, meat which you get from hunters and pig farms. To function, some buildings don’t require food, while others will need regular rations.