Castle Empire turns The Settlers into a free-to-play browser game
Although The Settlers games are usually considered “core games,” ever since the first game released back in 1993, the series has always had a very casual appeal. At the gamescom in Germany, we were given the opportunity to test Ubisoft’s upcoming free-to-play version of the series: The Settlers Online, or Castle Empire as the game is called in North America.
Players familiar with The Settlers will easily pick up the game and start on their settlement, as the game is not very different from its commercial predecessors. You start the game on your own island, rough and unexplored, waiting for your settlers to start building the foundation of your own empire.
As with most strategy games, you start out with building your first small settlement, providing housing for your settlers and starting production of food and building supplies. As you increase your food and supply production, you will be able to build more housing, attracting new residents and thus growing your little settlement one step at a time. Although there is a camp of bandits on the island, this is your island, where you are safe from other players’ attacks, giving you plenty of time to build your own empire. The bandits are a passive bunch, basically just acting as target practice for your settlers before you set out against stronger adversaries.
While there are browser strategy games aplenty, the strength of the Castle Empire lies foremost in its depth. Most free-to-play strategy games have a pretty straight-forward production line, i.e. “cut trees for wood, which allows you to build anything.” In Castle Empire, you will need settlers to cut trees and then bring them to a carpenter that turns them into planks, which can then be used to build new houses. This also makes trading and cooperating with your friends a much more constructive part of gameplay.
The biggest difference in gameplay between the mainstream series and Castle Empire, is of course the time based element which is common in browser games, where performing certain tasks takes a preset amount of time.
While some players will be happy just to build their empire and make their settlers happy, the more adventurous players will be able to leave their island and go out into the world, to so-called PvP and PvE environments. PvP stands for player versus player, which means that players can cross their daggers to see who’s strongest. PvE stands for player versus environment, and means that players will set out on missions, or adventures as they are called, in the in-game environment. One example adventure scenario was “defeat the evil witch,” which has you set out with your settlers army to find the evil witch and defeat her.
During the hands-on time we’ve had with the game, Castle Empire has shown itself to be on its way to becoming a very strong competitor for other browser-based strategy games, perfectly converting the well-balanced gameplay of The Settlers series to a free-to-play concept that can capture any type of player’s interest.
You can register to get into the closed beta here.