Following the announcement of The Settlers during Gamescom 2018 we had a chance to try a new version of the game shortly before this year’s GC. World exclusive as first magazine we were invited to the Blue Byte headquarters in Düsseldorf. We played the current pre-Alpha version for two hours and got the chance to talk to the inventor of the series, Volker Wertig. We were presented that definitely feels like “Settlers” and comes along surprisingly complex. For our session we start a skirmish map and watch our settlers arrive on a new island. Dinghys help to transport our first settlers and resources on shore. The beautiful landscape design catches our eye at the first look at the map. The developers use the powerful Snowdrop Engine (which is primarily known for The Division) to create fancy vegetation, mountains, water etc even though the game does have a slight comic touch. All maps of The Settlers are procedurally generated. The purpose of this is creating constantly new challenges and keeping the sense of discovery fresh. During the creation of a map the first step is the initialization of a blueprint including the distribution of resources and structural design. This process considers parameters set by the player and fixed rules from the developer. Based on that the actual map including all landscape elements is being created. We don’t see that in the shown maps at all though. The landscapes are very varied and appear as being hand-crafted. As usual for the genre we start our settlement with facilities for basic supplies. Thereto we are looking for a lush forest. That doesn’t only provide us with trees for building materials but also with berry bushes and wild animals. We deploy lumberjacks, gatherers and hunters. All facilities farm the forest and influence its eco system. Trees and berries regrow as long as we don’t completely deforest the area. The animals are based on a complex simulation as well. They are being born, breed, grow old and die. Hunters obtain meat from rabbits, boars and deer and simultaneously control their population. Too much hunting may endanger the population but not enough hunting and proliferation may make the animals a danger to our settlers. Before we get to that we actually need to build the facilities though. The Settlers begin to carry the required resources to the building site. As in Settlers 3 the workers do not necessarily need a street for that. Still it is advantageous to connect our buildings with a useful road network. On the one hand our settlers walk faster on the streets. On the other hand we can equip our carriers with carts and other vehicles later in the game for which a road network is absolutely necessary. The building process uses a hexmap. Every building consists of one or more hex field. Before the placement of the building we can change its rotation and the position of the opening to the street. Despite the hex grid all created buildings and their appearance seem very organic. That is partially due to the natural alignment of the streets. A single street hex can have 12 different alignments. This clearly differentiates a settlement in The Settlers from the static grid based structure of a town in the Anno series. After the constructions of the first buildings are complete it’s time to think about expansion. The starting area does by no means have enough building ground or resources. We create watchtowers at strategically important landmarks close to the border (which is typically for the series indicated by many border stones) As soon as its construction is complete a portion of our army is stationed there automatically. Archers man the tower and pioneers begin to relocate the border stones to expand our territory. Meanwhile we look after the food of our settlers. Each subject develops hunger which we need to allay or they will stop working. We already established hunters and gatherers and additionally fishing lodges. But the job is not done with procuring of the raw materials. We now establish a number of residences. Settlers use those to cook the food and then distribute it to the hungry people. They automatically go to the facilities to acquire the raw materials. To shorten the travels we build market stalls close to our housing estate. The gatherers, hunters and fishermen bring them there now. At this point in the game is currently missing prompts how well the sustenance is working. We can check the workload of the citizens by means of fume from the chimneys but we can never really be sure whether everyone well cared for. Volker Wertig explains that many of these features are just not implemented in the current version. The finished game is supposed to include information about the wellbeing of the population including filters for the minimap. Incidentally we can change the size of the minimap just like a screen window to our likings. The next step in the development of our empire promotion to the next level. To do that we build an townhall as central building. As soon as its construction is done we have plenty new options. We can upgrade the existing facilities to the second level which raises their efficiency. When we create new buildings now we can choose their desired level. Additionally the levelup unlocked multiple new facilities for new resource chains. At first we need to arrange the supply of building materials. We now need planks instead of trunks. Logically, we build up some sawmills close to the lumberjacks. With the development of the settlement another resource becomes scarce: settlers. We create a harbor to be able to recruit new inhabitants. A boat sails from here to hire new people. Later we can mint coins to increase the efficiency of these trips. The larger the city, the harder it becomes to recruit new settlers. The newcomers are automatically assigned to the carriers. Our settlers are split into four categories: Carriers transport all goods between facilities and the market. Builders … build. Workers represent all manpower for the facilities. The soldiers are the last category. Soldiers, builders and workers are being educated from carriers in the guild hall or military facility. You should not educate too many carriers because that will lead to the collapse of your economy. We never control the settlers directly. Instead we give them superordinated commands. The respective citizens automatically know what to do. Sometimes we can help our economy more directly though: for example during a shortage If we don’t have enough planks we will build another sawmill obviously. Waiting for the completion of its construction takes a while though. For more short term assistance we can boost facilities. In the window of the facility we request unused carriers who support the workers there. You can observe that directly in the game world. As we can see the worker in the sawmill does not have to do all steps in the production pipeline on his own. This boosts our production and the speed at which we acquire new materials. Additionally we can influence the resource chains by “prioritizing” certain facilities. A prioritized production site will be the first that the builders go to and a prioritized facility receives resources before other facilities are considered. After some time we need to look after the military infrastructure. We build a weapon workshop where spears, bows and arrows will be created. Next to it we place a training facility where we train pioneers, javelins and archers. New citizen tiers unlock new variants of these facilities where more advanced troops and weapons can be obtained. There are other uses for the military units than just placing them in watchtowers. For offensive operations we need to build a garrison. We assign a commander from a number of hero characters to it. Those are waiting on our ship for an operation. As soon as the commander arrives we can assign a number of troops to him. We have some form of direct control over this army now. After a while we discover the settlement of an opponent. We can now give an order to attack a sector. Each settlement belongs to multiple sectors each with a watchtower. The more towers you have the more sectors need to be attacked. There are no options beyond a simple attack command onto a sector currently. The soldiers automatically attack opponent units and destroy all opponent buildings. After that the troops take over the watchtower and hoist the flag of the player’s faction. This sector now belongs to our territory. There are supposed to be a few more options to control units in the finished game. We get a glimpse of a more advanced military situation with the savegame from the developers. There are two armies with more than 300 soldiers each in this situation. Our territory abuts on an opponent’s territory who has reinforced the border with walls and improved towers. Of course this doesn’t stop us to attack that territory. There are no siege engines but we have other methods to take over this sector. Berserkers use two axes and can climb over the wall to face the archers. Additionally we have engineers who pulverize the stonework. Every unit type has its own advantages and disadvantages. Primarily The Settlers is a building management game though. Don’t expect the tactical depth and complexity of an RTS. The savegame is not only used to present the big battle though. Additionally this is the first time we see the second biome: Drylands. Compared to “Upland” (which loosely resembles middle european landscapes) we encounter more structures with sand here. The maps of Drylands have fewer resources and therefore bigger building areas. In total the game will feature three biomes but the developers did not want to tell us about the last one yet. There will be more variety in other aspects as well. For example victory conditions and opportunities to interact with opponents will feature other possibilities than combat. Another victory condition is the “road to honor”. Volker Wertig presents it in another prepared save game. We have a larger settlement here as well. For the “road to honor” we need to raise our reputation and fuel unhappiness in opponent factions. To help with that we run gladiator fights by assigning heroes to barracks. These can train and prepare for upcoming tournaments. Of course we need to build an arena which is available in different sizes depending on your citizen tier. We can choose one of our heroes and an opponent to start a tournament. Afterwards drummers walk around the streets of our city and our opponent’s and try to attract citizens to the tournament. As soon as the battle starts we have fans of both factions. The duel begins and hopefully our hero emerges victorious. Thereinafter the mood of the population changes in the cities depending on the result. Gradually we can lower the reputation of our opponent until the population rather revolts against their leader instead of work as usual. If the happiness reaches a threshold the settlement including all its buildings and citizens converts to our faction. This not only grants us more land but also gives us a significant boost to our own economy. Of course all these details can hardly be conceived in two hours of playtime. Volker Wertig has pointed to multiple details that we can’t all mention here. But it’s already obvious that The Settler will be immensely complex and a stickler for details. We haven’t seen anything related to Faith yet which will be related to a third victory condition or the promised single player campaign. We need to be a bit patient though. The release window was changed from Q4 2019 to next year. What do you expect from the new The Settlers? And what do you think of what you have seen so far? Tell us in the comments and read the detailed preview on pcgames.de!