The original Settlers was released back in 1993, a time when I was still developing my higher cognitive functions and motor skills. The series has a long-standing history that has expanded worldwide, with its popularity stretching to the present day. When Ubisoft released all seven installments of developer Blue Byte’s genre-defining series into one neat package with The Settlers History Collection I can’t lie, it was intimidating to say the least. How could I, someone who had never even HEARD of this franchise until recently, even begin to talk about an entire series of games nearly as old as me? Whelp, I started with the first one and worked my way up from there!
Remastering classic RTS (real-time strategy) games has been all the rage recently, with visual updates to legendary series like the original StarCraft and Age of Empires setting the trend. Fans should expect prettier versions of Dune, Command & Conquer and Warcraft III soon. Unfortunately, The Settlers History Collection doesn’t quite qualify as a complete remastering – or a remastering in any real sense of the word.
In a nutshell, the Settlers franchise is a civilization-building sim with real-time strategy and economy elements that have to be managed for your citizens to thrive. The History Collection from Ubisoft does exactly what it’s name promises by offering an interesting study of the series from the pixelated days of the Commodore Amiga version to its eventual home on MS-DOS and early home computers. Think of them as a mashup of SimCity meets Civilization, with a dash of early WarCraft (minus the Ogres and magic). So, what did I think of it and what can you expect?
While I never played the Settlers when it first came out, I did recognize common elements I’ve encountered in modern sims, mainly being production chains that require combining multiple components to create the essentials cities need to survive the elements…or battles. Maybe it’s harder to appreciate now, but so much of what constitutes staples of the genre began with The Settlers. It’s all about keeping the supply chain running like a well-oiled machine. For instance, to get meat from pigs they first must be raised by the farmer, slaughtered by the butcher, and can finally be prepared for consumption by other villagers.
Maintaining these chains become the lifeblood (literally and figuratively) of every city and interruptions in can throw a metaphorical wrench in the whole operation. The History Collection feels like a snapshot of how the series developed over its 25-year history, following its humble beginnings as little more than a collection of pixels moving across a screen to fully realized 3D models reaching for the stars. You’ll watch buildings under construction and farms begin to grow, much like the series itself.
Included are the following: The Settlers (1993), The Settlers II (1996), The Settlers III (1998), The Settlers IV (2001), The Settlers: Heritage of Kings (2005), The Settlers: Rise of an Empire (2007), and The Settlers 7: Paths to a Kingdom (2010). You’ll be glad to know that each game can still be purchased individually in case the prospect of taking the series head-on is too daunting for your civilization-loving self.
Not all games are created equal and neither are the Settlers. Seven games is a lot, especially for a comprehensive series like this. I ran into hiccups that could be equally parts frustrating and puzzling for newcomers like myself going in for the first time; I wasn’t sure what to do from the start. But if the point is to keep the experience as authentic as possible for people who grew up with these games, why not include revised manuals for modern systems that can be referred to? Don’t get me wrong, most of the time I liked what I saw and had my share of moments where I felt dumb being stumped by a series nearly as old as I am. But being able to have a user manual or a rough guide on how to get started would have been nice.
Optimizing games for modern home computers is not the same as remastering them, a problem I kept running into with many of the games here. The original Settlers was almost unplayable as the game was ‘stuck’ in its original resolution – cursed with fonts that became almost illegible on modern screens. Worse, there’s no way to change or make game’s archaic UI more usable in any way that matters; navigating these menus ended up being a trial and error experience
Naturally, later games performed much better, no doubt because they’d been designed for more powerful and capable hardware. Of the available games fans would become divided over some of the gameplay changes in later entries, which given the sheer amount of content (and the fact these are videogames, after all) shouldn’t be that surprising. I can’t comment yet, but I’m really curious to see if the upcoming Settlers game due next year will take these gripes to heart, which could result in a back-to-basics effort for the Settlers faithful.
Optimization issues aside, The Settlers History Collection was clearly designed for people who grew up with the series and want to be able to play them on a modern PC; to those folk I tip my hat to all those kings and queens. Odd resolution problems abound, this is a huge collection of a pivotal series that begat the entire genre, and that alone is impressive. Could Ubisoft have taken the time and effort to actually ‘remaster’ them, especially the original Settlers game? Sure, but given the choice I’m sure fans would prefer them authentically accurate over even the slightest chance they’d be changed in any meaningful way.