Lords of the Realm III Review
By Michael Richter |
Good strategy games don't have to simulate everything. In fact, the best strategy games tend to reduce the variety of real life factors down to a few key concepts that capture the essence of battle. But there's a risk of oversimplifying things to the point that the action of the game seems to have nothing to do with reality. Lords of the Realm 3 dances on this line, offering a nice range of features but presenting them in a format that crosses from the realm of refined essentials to the realm of the arbitrary and overly abstract.
As such, it's best understood as an arcade-like answer to Activision's Medieval Total War. It offers the high-level strategic game where you manage your entire realm-- appointing knights, priests, burghers and serfs as the stewards of your various parcels of land. Directly or indirectly, these vassals provide the resources that you need to run your war machine. The other half of the game involves leading your armies on the fields of battle. A real-time, simultaneous format adds a bit of pressure here as you switch back and forth between separate battles and maintain control of your kingdom.
Being a king, you'll have to have enough armies to protect your kingdom and, hopefully, to expand into neighboring territories. But those armies have to eat, so each parcel that provides an army will have to be balanced by a province that produces food. Parcels that are worked by priests and bishops offer production bonuses to other nearby parcels. Parcels worked by burghers become towns and produce gold that can be used to hire mercenaries and other specialists. The parcels are grouped into regions with control of each region determined by ownership of a special estate parcel. These estate parcels are the ones you need to grab in order to gain land.
You can pause the game to review the situation, but you can't issue any orders while the game is paused. Though things get complicated from time to time, you'll rarely feel as if the game is more than you can handle. In fact, you may even start lamenting the lack of any time scaling controls for the periods where not much is going on. In fact, there's not even any sort of clock apparent anywhere in the game. Even if the developers aren't willing to offer a standard where one minute of game time equals a month or a year in the game, they should at least offer some sort of seasonal effects to the map to mark the passage of time.
As a king you're supposed to be able to rely on your knights to lead your forces on the battlefield. And while you honestly can rely on them to obtain plenty of minor victories, there are some significant shortcomings with the tactical AI that will require you to jump in if you want to win decisively or quickly. The AI takes far too long to commit to battle, even in situations where your forces outnumber the enemy by four to one. Knowing that my knights' forces are simply standing in ranks while their morale drops and fresh enemy forces are rushing to the battlefield is simply infuriating.
The one bright spot to this system is that you'll have a minute or two to jump in and take charge before your knights actually commit your forces to battle. A better system, though, would be to include a pop-up window announcing the battle and asking if you'd like to take command.
It becomes even more irritating because you can't place one of your vassals in a conquered territory if any enemy troops are present. You'll find that the AI relies on a trickle strategy to keep you from taking control of their lands. Beat the garrison at the estate and you'll be faced with a nearly endless series of battles against single companies fielded by the AI. When you eliminate an enemy knight, your opponent can start raising fresh troops again and send them right back to contest the estate. This makes the dalliance of your forces particularly aggravating.
When you take personal charge of a battle, you'll find that the fights almost always eventually degenerate into one big clump of men fighting with another big clump of men. Formations become hopelessly entangled the instant your forces are committed and, even if you do try some fancy maneuvering to get your troops into position, they attack the center of the enemy company, making flank attacks kind of pointless. I've been able to add a bit more sophistication by keeping some forces in reserve and moving them around the edges of the main fight but once you've issued an attack order, you might as well head back to the strategic view because there's not too much you can do beyond that point.