Following the comprehensive design of its DOS-based progenitor, Impressions Games' Lords of the Realm III is an encompassing medieval monarchy simulation involving players in numerous and varied responsibilities of regency in the Middle Ages. Beginning as a minor noble in a factionalized land, the ultimate goal is to rise to a position of power and unite the country under the player's supreme rule.
Yet to claim supreme authority is to take on the many varied duties that come with the throne. In real-time gameplay, players must draft loyal knights to lead powerful armies, keep the commoners in their place and protect their well-being, curry the favor of the Church, and establish new villages and cities, all while defending their territories and conquering the lands and resources of their rivals.
Lords of the Realm III uses real-world maps based on the borders and geography of its historical setting. Players develop their realm by assigning vassals to parcels of land. The land can be used for defensive, productive, or religious structures, depending upon type of vassal placed in charge. Most battles can be controlled directly by the player or left for the computer to resolve.
Lords of the Realm III is broken down into two parts: the strategic map, where armies march across the countryside, and tactical combat, where you lead your forces into battle. Everything is done in real-time -- the game never stops. Even when you're leading your armies in combat mode, other armies are moving and time is passing on the strategic map. The speed of the game is rarely a problem, however. In fact, the pace could be considered plodding at times.
The game allows you to jump into any combat situation that you wish. When armies meet on the field, a battle starts. You can either let the A.I. handle things behind the scenes, or you can double-click on the conflict and take control of the combat yourself. It's a cool idea to let the A.I. manage fights like this, as it allows you to take control over the important battles while the skirmishes are left to the artificial intelligence.
One of the most important parts of the game is the handling of vassals. Each parcel of land in your kingdom is operated by an A.I. vassal that you assign to it. There's no peasant micromanagement here. There are four types of vassals: knights, burghers, serfs, and clergy. Each vassal runs his region differently. For example, a knight vassal will focus on defense and army recruitment while burghers focus on making money. Each vassal is an individual with different levels of skill. In other words, not all knight vassals are alike. You need to decide which vassal is best for each region, and assigning these characters is one of the most crucial strategic decisions you make during the game.
The vassal idea works very well in Lords 3. Unlike a game such as Master of Orion 3, where nameless and faceless advisors run your empire, at least here they have personality and strengths and weaknesses. But with so much automation, sometimes it leaves you feeling disconnected and with little to do. The vassals recruit your armies and work your budget -- they pretty much run the show. Your main job is to assign the proper vassal to an ideal parcel, and to move armies around the strategic map.
The game's design isn't a bad one; despite the fact that it leaves so much up to the vassals, it works rather well. The A.I. is the main problem with Lords of the Realm III. It simply ruins the game and leaves you with the impression that it was shipped too soon, despite its long development time.
Castle sieges are laughably bad. The A.I. has no idea what it's doing; when you assault a castle (big or small), the A.I. places its defenders along the front wall, awaiting the attack. The problem is that if you go around to the side of the castle, the A.I. doesn't react at all. You can sit back with a catapult and smash down walls with impunity. Once the walls fall, the A.I. then rushes its units to the ground level to meet your forces. So, in reality, each siege is just like a regular battle, but with a few walls in the way.
Even regular battles are extremely hollow. Each fight ends up as a big mess of units as they meet in the middle of the map. While this may have some realism attached to it, it doesn't make for a compelling game. Even flanking -- an extremely important tactic -- doesn't work because units always go after the center of a line. It's just not fleshed out very well.
Multiplayer works better than the single-player campaigns because the A.I. is taken out of the equation to a point. Up to eight players can play in conquest mode or two players can duke it out in a battle scenario. Multiplayer doesn't fix the odd combat engine, but at least castle sieges aren't a waste of time.
Lords of the Realm III isn't a bad game, but it should have ended up a whole lot better than it did.
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Lords of The Realm 2, Lords of the Realm 2: Siege Pack, Lords of The Realm, Lords of Magic: Special Edition, Lord of the Rings, The: The Battle for Middle Earth II, Age of Empires III, Civil War Generals 2, Medieval Lords: Build, Defend, Expand
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