The latest in the long distinguished line of the settler titles has been released, and it is significant in that although it is the 6th game in the line it is not a simple update of graphical fidelity, but rather a return to the more traditional game play experienced earlier in the series, after the deviation expressed in the fifth. While lacking some of the complexity of before, complexity that some would not have wished dropped, it has been updated with a new clean engine that allows for strong empire building and resource management, without extensive amounts of micro.
In Settlers 6 you act as a city builder. Your settlements are made up of your settlers, the citizens of your empire who occupy and work in your buildings but whom you cannot individually control. By building a lumber mill, for example, settlers arrive as lumberjacks and cut wood for your stores. Then by building a broom maker, this wood can be turned into brooms for your populace. This sort of production based game play is the core of the game, and is carried off quite elegantly and with simplicity, although you could argue that it is nothing new compared to similar economies like that of Rise of Rome or Caesar IV. There are a number of different primary goods in Settlers 6, including sheep, meat and stone, and most can then be turned into usable goods through secondary structures, such as a bakery to turn wheat into flower or a soap maker to turn hides into soap. The whole process is perhaps a bit simple, but there can be difficulty in getting the balance between gathering and processing the finite natural resources right.
You also have a Knight who you can upgrade along with your castle and fighting forces as your settlement grows in size. This Knight is one unit you can directly control, as well as serving as an unobtrusive tutorial giver in the early levels. In fact, apart from voice acting that grates at your soul like an eternity of pain, the tutorials in the game are on the simple yet effective side, and give you control in game as part of the story without relentlessly beating you back to reality they tutorials do in some games. It is quite well done, and unfortunately not done enough throughout the industry. Throughout the course of the campaign you have to fight off barbarians, internal threats and resource shortages as you grow your initial town and outlying settlements into a powerful empire.
The graphical fidelity of the game has improved, as you would expect of course. The new engine is definitely competitive and requires a fairly decent system to be run at full capacity, especially when your settlements grow to such a size that hundreds of settlers are on screen at once. The artwork and model design is pretty good, and when buildings are built or upgraded they go through this fairly neat growth animation. Animation too is excellent. Each individual settler is superbly detailed and watching them go about their daily business, with period stops to talk to their fellow citizens, is a good way to pass the tedium while your resource stores grow.
In conclusion, Settlers 6 is a good, fun little game that is perhaps not as epic as its predecessors. Its system requirements are high, but if you can satiate them then the game runs well and has a nice blend of humour and genuine city building. The reviewer would highly recommend Settlers 6 for anyone who needs a nice quick dose of strategy, without too much stress. However for those looking for the next step up in the Settlers legacy, this game isn’t it, as while it maintains the traditions of the originals it doesn’t feature any new game play for the series and certainly nothing new for the industry.