|Settlers III is the third
incarnation of the very popular Settlers series. For those of you unfamiliar with the
Settlers series, they are real-time resource management games in which a player builds a
nation by efficiently placing buildings and managing workers. As the sequel to one of the
best selling resource management games in history, Settlers II has some big shoes to fill,
and BlueByte has followed the classic (if uninspired) tradition for creating a sequel,
i.e, keeping the nucleus of the game the same, correcting a few bugs, streamlining play,
and adding a little new content.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Settlers game, heres the ten-second tour. In Settlers, players build their empire, expand their territory, and gather more resources until they find another such empire. When two empires meet up they either coexist peacefully, ormuch more likelyattempt to conquer the other.Settlers II had a number of minor annoyances that have been corrected in this newer version. For instance, in the previous Settlers the graphics were a bit rough, and it was often tough to differentiate the various "settlers" or citizens of your empire. Settlers III, on the other hane, uses pre-rendered 3D graphics which are a big step up from previous versions. A player can now tell one type of "settler" from another by a simple glance. The games interface has also been streamlined. Fewer clicks are required to handle game functions and many game mechanics have been simplified, especially the interface for selectable "settlers" such as troops, geologists, and pioneers. And whereas in Settlers II combat was very confusing and difficult to control, Settlers III provides an interface much like a real-time-strategy game. Units can be selected with a quick click-drag, and then given orders with just a simple right click. Some of the mouse commands are even customizable, providing extra flexibility.
In addition to improvements, there are also a few small changes to the original game. There are now three types of soldiers: bowmen, pikemen, and swordsmen. Each of these troops serves a different purpose. Swordsmen are your basic unit; Pikemen can attack through ranks of swordsmen, and bowmen stay to the rear and shower opponents with arrows.Another addition is that of religion. Each empire has a god which they appease by donations of alcohol. In return, each these happy gods bestows their people with various benefits, and can grant their priests with limited amounts of godlike power. These powers range from changing the allegiance of enemy troops, to improving a fishing hole, to doing any number of strange, bizarre, and often useless god-type things. When a god is sufficiently satisfied (or should we say inebriated) a player may also upgrade troops.
One of the more monumental changes for the game is the addition of in game movies. For the campaign game, many missions have an associated "cartoon" type movie that sets the tone for the game. These lighthearted movies tell the story of the players god, be it Jupiter of the Romans, Chih-Yu of the Asians, or Horus of the Egyptians. These movies definitely make the game more appealing to younger players and the quality of the animation still provides a story line for older players.
The three nationalities of the game also provide good variation, since each group has its own quirks. The Egyptians need a good supply of stone for construction; they can build in deserts and they can also mine gems. Asians build primarily wooden structures and therefore need vast forests, but have little use for stone. They can also grow rice in the swamps and know how to create gunpowder. The Romans have a more balanced need for wood and stone in their buildings and can create vast amounts of wine from their vineyards.Although Settlers III has many good points, it still has a number of failings that are tough to overlook. The game did provide me with a fair share of technical problems. From time to time, I would find all the trees my forester planted would stop growing, or that new troops were not being trained no matter how many resources were available. Although I found a quick reboot of my computer would fix this, it was nonetheless an irritating bug. Settlers also seemed to have the habit of crashing my computer on certain long missions. In one situation, whenever I took over a specific guard tower, the game would crash and send me right back to Windows. After much frustration, I found that taking ALL the other towers and castles before conquering the problematic guard tower would allow the game to run smoothly.
On big missions the game also runs slowly. In large maps with many units, the game would look something like a slideshow, even on my new state of the art computer. Even with the settings turned down to speed things up, the large maps still crept along.
Another annoyance was that the game settings and the documentation are not accessible from the main game. In order to change the game settings or view the manual, you must save the game, quit out of Settlers, change the settings or view the manual, start Settlers, reload the game, and then hope desperately that you dont have to do it again. In addition the game comes with essentially no printed manual, simply a CD case insert which goes over a few of the basic rules. All to often, I found myself frustrated with the lack of written documentation and the tedium of viewing the CD documentation or the Settlers web page when trying to figure out how to play.The game also comes on two CDs, which is both a positive and a negative. While the two CDs provide more storage space for higher quality videos, game graphics and the like, the constant switching of CDs is itself an annoyance. It seems the computer just wants to make sure that you really own both CDs, so every time you play it wants to see both of them.
My last complaint can also be taken two ways. This game is very long. For those of you, like me, who feel that you need to beat every level of a game to feel satisfied, this game may prove tedious. Many of the missions are very similar, making for very repetitious gameplay. However, for those who want to get all the playing time they can for their dollar, this game is quite a deal. I would estimate that a week of full time playing would not get most players through all three campaigns.
Despite the defects, my time playing Settlers has been enjoyable. The game was entertaining enough to allow me to look past many of the bugs and annoyances. Overall, I had fun playing the game; it's just not a vast improvement on the earlier games in the series.