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The Settlers Online (PC) artwork

The Settlers Online (PC) review

"Choosing not to pay (and still winning)"

I feel the need to post a positive review to counter-balance the glut of stupid, "waaah I've found a way in which you can spend money on this game therefore it's not free therefore the devs are greedy liars therefore everyone should boycott this game" hate that's been posted. If you just want a brief review of the actual gameplay, skip to the end: but if you’re worried about this game because of all those negative reviews, read on!


First up, I like to think that most people realise that there are different ways to market games. Some devs simply charge for their game. Some prefer monthly subscriptions. Some release them for free but allow you to buy currency to buy things in game. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this last model. Some people see "Free" on a game and therefore assume that there is absolutely no way in which you can ever spend any money on the game. When they find out that it is actually possible to support the game financially, they immediately think they've caught the devs out in a lie, and feel the need to illuminate the world by posting a typical negative review rant spouting on about "greedy devs", "paywalls", "pay to win" etc. etc. These people genuinely think that game devs are obliged to provide us with games entirely for free and should spend months or years developing games while their families slowly starve to death, all with absolutely no possible remuneration. They basically support slave labour. Hopefully, you're not that stupid.

The "free with premium currency" model can be abused, of course. I'm always amused by people posting their comments claiming they've been "forced" to hand over their life savings... Really, dude? You were forced? You had no option?? If a game only lets you compete at the very highest level if you've got in-game stuff that can only be bought with premium currency then yes, it's genuinely pay-to-win, but even in that case, it's totally your choice whether to get involved in some pay war with some nasty little kiddy with low self-esteem and access to daddy's credit card, or not. Personally, if I realise a game's pay to win, I stop playing and never give them a penny, because, you know, free will and stuff.

The Settlers Online (PC) image


So is this game pay to win? Having (hopefully!) established that the existence of premium currency does not automatically mean that it is, then I have to say no, it's definitely not. I've been playing for a few weeks now, and in that time I've earned well over 1000 gems (the premium currency) for completing quests. I haven't felt the urge to spend any of them yet. Yes, I could spend them to make a building, which normally takes an hour to upgrade, upgrade instantly, but why would I want to? Building stuff takes time, that's an inherent part of building games like this, and if you can't handle that concept, why are you even looking at building games in the first place? Naturally, therefore, I haven't felt the need to spend real world money buying any more. And obviously, I haven't been forced to!

To be fair, I'm a very long way from the end-game at the moment, so I can't say whether, if you CHOOSE to participate in, say, end-level pvp warfare, a limitless supply of gems would be an advantage or not. But again, it's a choice. I've spent 25-30 hours having a very nice time building a medieval town. Should I not have done that because, if in several months' time I fancy declaring war on the biggest, baddest guild on the server, I'm going to need a lot of gems to hold my own? I talk about choosing to take part in pvp because, unlike a lot of genuinely p2w games out there, I haven't spent the past few weeks being raided and pillaged by players 30 levels higher than me, so I'm assuming pvp is entirely optional, which again removes the need you find in genuinely cash-grab games for spending real money building up a huge defensive army.

To draw a comparison, I've put a LOT of hours into War Thunder over the years. If I wanted to be the baddest mofo pooning all before me and one-shotting the very best level 5 jet fighters, it would probably require some expense on my part. But if I want to get hundreds of hours of enjoyable flight sim combat, I can do that for free. As it happens, I've been so inpressed with what Gaijin have given gamers for free that I actually have, willingly, spent money on the game, because I don't want the devs' kids getting malnutrition after all their hard work. Does that make it p2w and should I downrate it and slag it off to everyone on Steam? Does that make the WT devs greedy liars?

The Settlers Online (PC) image


One last point: a lot of people have slagged off this game and downrated it on the basis that "pff it's a Facebook game, browser games don't belong on Steam, Steam is for PROPER butch PC games with, like, 30GB installs!" Yes, this category of game, the town/empire/farm builder, often appears as a browser game. But so what? A PC game is a game you play on your PC. Should we really say that all building games should be banned from Steam (I'm looking at you, Sim City)? Being on Steam has all sorts of advantages - easy updates, plenty of reviews, a Community hub with discussion forum etc.... Why should SO not be allowed all that, just because it's kinda like Farmville which was on Facebook?


You'll notice that I've barely reviewed the game at all, so far. My disappointment is that a lot of people will see the Mostly Negative rating and just assume that the game itself is no good. What I suggest is that you look through those negative reviews, and ask whether an awful lot of them are just from ADHD kiddies who are too stupid to realise that the existence of premium currency doesn't automatically equal p2w. Look past that - what do they say about the actual gameplay itself?

Well, here's my penny's worth. I like building games. I like starting with a single building and slowly, over several weeks, building up a thriving community with a diverse economy. SO is a well-made, attractive addition to the genre and if you're a fan of the this sort of game, I highly recommend it. I can sometimes spend an hour concentrating on the game whilst I try to sort out my supply chains and balance my production of certain specific resources; or I can have it running in the background while I work, and just check in occasionally to see if my geologist has retuned from his trip. These sorts of games are not the sort of game you need all-night sessions for like RPGs or whatever.

The Settlers Online (PC) image

I haven't had to spend a penny so far. If I wanted, I suppose everything I've done in the past few weeks could have been done in a couple of days if I'd spent a ton on gems, but to be perfectly frank if you're the sort of person who needs EVERYTHING to be completed RIGHT FOOKIN NAOW!!! then you're not suited to this sort of game anyway. And if, in many months' time, I realise that it actually would need a significant investment on my part to become the server's most feared pvp-er, well, that'll be my choice.


baggywhacker's avatar
Community review by baggywhacker (April 05, 2017)

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Zydrate posted April 05, 2017:

Sorry mate, I feel this one loses a bit of credibility at this line:

"Yes, I could spend them to make a building, which normally takes an hour to upgrade, upgrade instantly, but why would I want to?"

You go on to talk about building time is inherent in building games. That's true, but I'm used to RTS's where that's mostly a strategy thing. A barracks in Starcraft might take 45 seconds to build yes but that's a more compressed passage of time. A lot can happen in those 45 seconds.

Instead, I marked this one as "Not interested" on steam when I read about the paywalls which do have some merit. If I see some facebook-ified game, I avoid it. I don't like playing a game for thirty minutes and then having a whole upgrade system built around "Okay these upgrades will be ready for you in... three hours!" Indeed, that's where the paywall term comes from. Give money to skip. That's what it is.

It's nice that you've played this for 'weeks' and 'earned' all the premium currency, but that mostly speaks to your patience rather than the game's faults. The problem is still there.
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hastypixels posted April 05, 2017:

The fundamental principle of Free to Play is that there are two kinds of currency: Money and time. The question is what can you afford? I appreciate your candid approach, but you're not the only one who plays. What does the developer earn for your time, anyway?

I'd be interested in seeing a review from you on a less heated topic. Thanks for contributing. :)

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