With The Settlers: New Allies, UbiSoft reboots one of the classic PC franchises out there. We checked it out to see if it could reignite an old flame in us.
Our history with The Settlers goes back almost thirty years – the first game in the series launching right at the end of the home computer era (though it did get an Amiga release) and at the start of the RTS boom, with franchises like Dune, Command & Conquer and Warcraft all popping up in the same years. We’d be happy to see any of those return in another RTS game, but for a long time we didn’t think that The Settlers was going to be the first one to do it – developer Blue Byte was acquired by Ubisoft, and it’s been over a decade since we’ve had a game in the series.
And while “New Allies” feels like this new game might head in a different direction, the developers mainly stay true to the original formula, building up a city from scratch as you gather resources, construct buildings, apply upgrades and fortify your defenses. And with a fresh layer of paint and a full single player mode in addition to online multiplayer, there should be plenty to draw in old time fans of the series.
But in staying true to the classic formula also lies part of the challenge here. The core gameplay loop in The Settlers is quite predictable and linear – as things were two to three decades ago. Therefore, you’ll need events, objectives and well designed maps to make things interesting, and in New Allies quite a bit of that is down to how resources are spread out across the map. You don’t want to spend a ton of time moving stuff from one end of the map to the other, so you want to build strategically and shorten that time so you can progress faster or perhaps be ready to face other problems.
It’s a fun gameplay loop that still works today, and you can experiment a little to see what works best for you. A little mini-settlement focused around resources on one side of the map while you focus your military efforts elsewhere because enemies might approach from that side? That could work, but the enemy could also go for your resources and cripple your operation. It’s a nice balancing act, though a lack of in-depth game mechanics found in modern games can still make missions (and especially multiplayer matches) feel similar to one another.
And while most players these days tend to be drawn to the online part of games like this, we generally prefer the offline mode as it adds a narrative component to give more context to the proceedings. It’s a throwback experience that’s rare to come by these days, though the execution leaves something to be desired. Only one of the in-game factions has a campaign to play through, and cutscenes (and the voice acting in them) seem way too low-budget for a brand new game from a major developer/publisher. It’s a shame, because the fundamentals are here to do a lot more within a campaign setting – and that applies to the mission designs as well, which throughout the campaign repeat themselves too often.
What we’re hoping is that Ubisoft will treat The Settlers: New Allies as a foundation to build on. They’ve in the past shown they’re always keen to add post-launch content to games and this one would be a prime candidate for it – add an extra and polished campaign, introduce a few new units, and this could be a great starting point for a Settlers game we can enjoy for years to come. Until then, however, it’s a bit bare bones and will mostly just scratch a nostalgic itch some might have.