The Nations: Gold Edition
Windows - 2001
Description of The Nations: Gold Edition
Although initially a bit of a failure with the public and critics when the original version was first released, The Settlers franchise has now been immensely successful. Having spawned sequels and expansion packs with decent sales, the Blue Byte game has created its own genre, with the latest entry being the subject of this review. So seeing as everyone has at least heard of it, let's make things very, very simple: if you enjoyed playing The Settlers or any of its sequels, then you'll enjoy this. If you didn't, then you won't.
As its unique twist, The Nations takes the resource juggling and infinitely anal attention to detail of The Settlers and combines it with the need to keep your folks happy in the vein of The Sims. You take control of one of three tribes: The Pimmons, the Amazons or the Sajikis. The best way of describing the Pimmons would be to picture them as a kind of alien hobbit. They're fat, lazy, incredibly ugly... oh, and they're blue as well. The Sajikis are a kind of mischievous insect race and the Amazons are a sickeningly beautiful society of bronzed Venus's and Adonis's (or however you want to spell that). They're also the only matriarchal society, the significance of which I'll probably forget to talk about later.
Each race has its own campaign of ten missions each, but before you start the game proper, you're led in by a fairly easy-going tutorial that explains all the ins and outs of the game and confuses you with so many symbols that an Egyptologist would begin to feel dizzy. For those unfamiliar with The Settlers-style gameplay, this is quite normal and is nothing to worry about. But even if the symbols don't confuse you, then the gameplay certainly will.
Whatever race you choose and whatever missions you play, the basics still remain the same: build the civil and economic aspects of your city. The key to raising a strong, healthy population is scientific research, having plenty of work for everyone, a good relationship with your neighbours, putting a roof over everyone's head and enough soap to keep everyone clean, some pastries and a varied diet, medicine (in case somebody gets poorly), and controlling the wild animal population so folks aren't getting attacked, but keeping enough alive to appease hunters. You also need to make sure there's not too long a distance between people's houses and workplace, they get a decent night's sleep, give them resources to do their work with and, last but not least, a good pub lunch every day.
Sound like a lot to be getting on with? Well don't forget you've got to train all the teenagers, worship the gods, trade with other nations for anything you haven't got, hire scientists and knights, build roads, temples, wharfs, mines, ranches, witch doctor huts, towers, labs, wells, temples, distillers, butchers, bakers, candlestick makers, strongholds, warehouses, ore mines, quarries, smithies, carpenters, schools, taverns, ramparts, markets, police stations, 2 and 4 bedroom houses, barracks, and a million, zillion other things, too.
But of course you don't get lumped with that lot straight away - in fact, things start out simple. You begin with a few houses, a school so you can train people and a tavern so they can eat lunch. The more research you do, the more buildings and careers are available to you, but also, the more luxuries your citizens demand and the harder it will be to keep them happy. For instance, sooner or later, they're going to want soap and pastries, and if they don't get them their mood will worsen, eventually causing them to leave your town or become a criminal.
If you're after any bloodshed or battles then you'll have to look elsewhere because The Nations, just like The Settlers, concentrates firmly on the production side of strategy. Granted, there are a few skirmishes here and there but it's really only a token gesture. You'll not find any opportunities to flex your strategic muscles or overpower your enemy with tanks, big lasers or flamethrowers. Instead, the nearest you'll come to a hostile attack is offering 7 wooden planks for their 20 fruit instead of 8. You rebel you.
It has to be said that the developers have done a fantastic job with the graphics, and it just goes to show that you don't need thousands of dirty great explosions to make a pretty picture. The different races are well drawn and animated, and exude a surprising amount of character. One of my first worries when looking through the documentation was how the player would relate to two alien races and a cliché of perfection; fortunately, that problem never occurred, and it's through neat little touches like giving the characters names and a daily schedule that this is resolved.
For example, Pim the Carrier gets up at 8 a.m. every morning and goes to work. At 11.30, he'll clock off for his lunch break and then he'll get back to work. If you look at his info tab, it'll tell you exactly what he's doing, what his mood is and if he had a good night's sleep or not. You can even set up a camera to follow him around all day. It's all minor stuff, but attention to detail such as this can really help make a game.
Another interesting facet is the pronounced difference between males and females. It might be terribly non-PC but instead of de-gendering (which may or may not be a word [No, it isn't. -Ed]) all the characters, The Nations give men and women two different jobs. For example, you can pick a career for the male characters such as foreman or lumberjack, but female characters always do the domestic chores such as picking berries, shopping at the market or praying at the temple. To avoid a slaughtering by the PC brigade, Neo has reversed the roles if you decide to play as the Amazons.
There are, of course, a few little niggles, such as the absolutely enormous status bar that blocks half of the screen and the fact that zooming out to a respectable distance slows the game down to a crawl (even though this seems to improve when the desktop resolution is lowered).
On the whole, though, this is really rather an enjoyable game - so why no award? Well, like I said at the start, this is a Settlers clone and a lot of people out there will be put off straight away by the complete absence of any action. You really have to enjoy building bakeries just for the sake of building bakeries, and not as a part of some scheme to make your guys better in combat. Another reason concerns one of the major criticisms that was leveled at The Settlers; that is, it played the same all the way through and the same is certainly true with The Nations. So while the core gameplay is great fun, longevity does suffer from the inevitable repetitiveness and uneventful missions. Be wary.
Review By GamesDomain
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