I'll be in the Brewery . . . hic!
Most people I know, including myself, had never heard of a little game called Settlers before. Surprisingly, the game has been around for years, and has now returned in its third incarnation. While Settlers III wont be the new dominating real-time strategy game, it still delivers an innovative and fun experience.
While the graphics and sound are interesting, most strategy buffs want to know how much thinking they'll have to do in order to win. In Settlers 3, you have to change your thinking. While there is a lot of resource management, every strategy player has a handle on that by now. You also have to build units, but everyone knows about that too. What's different is the building order.
In StarCraft, for example, you need a Covert Ops and a Science Lab to build a nuclear bomb. Settlers III takes a somewhat more complex approach. To get usable wood, you need one settler to grow trees, one to harvest, and finally a woodmill to make boards out of it. To feed your people, you need to build farms - the fields actually grow as you play. To get the military unit you want, you have to mine metal ore, smelt it, and then transfer it to a blacksmith to build your implements of war. This level of complexity sets Settlers III apart from other real-time strategy games.
Strategy aside, graphics are an important part of a good game. And while Settlers III doesn't throw the most amazing effects at you, it still holds its own against today's standards. Though it lacks the effects of StarCraft and the 3D appeal of Total Annihilation, the bright and colorful sprites look interesting and are well animated.
Sound is equally decent, but not spectacular. You'll mostly be hearing mining and chopping sounds anyway - not the most interesting fare.
The story, while taking a back seat to the gameplay, follows three demigods. These gods have become fat in their rich lands, their people working for them and producing many goods. They represent three different peoples, Asian, Roman, and Egyptian. Their master, the "main" god, has found them to be lazy and decides to have a little game. They must battle each other, the victor winning the favor of their master.
That's where you come in - you are the person, chosen by your god, to lead your people to battle. Three battling races (many will draw comparisons to Starcraft or Age of Empires) but lets remember that the original Settlers came out even before Warcraft.
Settlers III is also the first in the series to include massive multiplayer gaming. While the interface succeeds in being both accessible and powerful - joining games is a tedious task. After receiving multiple time-outs and other network errors, I finally got into a game. The game was filled with lag as well as having another major problem - even without internet latency, the games are inherently slow. While Settlers III works well as a single player game, building up a civilization does not lead to quick "rush" games. An experienced player warned me of games that never end as well as games that run so long they go out of sync.
The number of users playing Settlers is decent, but not overwhelming. Peak hours saw about fifty or so people playing the game. However, for the most part the multiplayer is a disaster - you must dedicate hours and hours of play just to complete one game, hours that many people do not have, especially not in a single stretch.. If you are looking for a quick fix, look somewhere else.
For a game that succeeds so well as a single player game, it really is a disappointment that the multiplayer is so bad. Settlers III is an interesting, fairly innovative real-time strategy game, so if playing against the computer is your bag, well then baby, get this game. On the other hand, if you crave the excitement of biological opponents, don't settle for this one.