The Settlers series is a grandaddy that brought aspects of gameplay which still feature in titles to this day, and part 2 (TS2) is arguably the best of the series.
The primary game mode follows a group of Romans who find themselves marooned on an island, and they must establish settlements and explore before discovering a way home. Gameplay is pretty straightforward, revolving around the gathering of wood, stone, food, and various ores, plus the manufacture of goods. Raw and refined resources are the primary focus of TS2, and good management is paramount – especially considering that many types are strictly limited. You can grow and harvest all the trees you please, but when you run out of iron – that’s it. It can be particularly frustrating if you exhaust some vital ore well into a level and are forced to start over.
Buildings of varying sizes and functions can be constructed according to the availability of space. Every structure must be linked to the road system, which allows helpful serfs to fetch and carry goods. Here things can get interesting – each road has flags, with one serf between each flag. More flags, more serfs, and the faster goods get transported – a dense city will have hundreds of peons scurrying around like ants. However, each flag occupies precious construction space, so a balance must be struck. The route and number of roads combined with flags determine efficiency, so layout becomes critical when space is limited.
While TS2 has a strong military element and most levels require the defeat of enemy forces, the implementation is rather simplistic. Soldiers are the only unit type (but can be trained), and combat consists of simply choosing units, then selecting a target and letting the combat play out. Building military structures expands your control zone and permits you to launch attacks into opposing territory.
TS2 can be tricky at times due to the lack of any useful resource requirement indicators. Nowhere are you told what is needed to build or run a particular building, and only by trial and error can you figure things out. You might find yourself scratching your head over a half-constructed building, and only by scrutinizing the various detailed information screens would you discover that workers lack the necessary tools. While modern games allow us to take information exposition for granted, it does provide a barrier to entry for TS2.
The overall pace of gameplay is rather slow. It can take ages for industries to get up and running smoothly – and even longer for their fruits to become available. You will probably spend a lot of time waiting for things to happen, anywhere up to 3 hours per level.
Graphics are simple and colourful, and can go all the way up to 1024 x 768 (which was, like, HUGE in 1996!) with a lot of detail, considering the game’s age. You’ll see sheep and rabbits gambolling about, foxes hunting, and idle serfs reading the newspaper. On a par with many retro titles, music in TS2 is annoying right off the bat and is best left switched off. Decent-quality sounds accompany many occurrences in the game, providing the expected atmosphere. Occasionally, the timing of construction, forge, wood cutting, and other noises will create a cadence not unlike a pseudo-industrial remix, which is good for a chuckle.