Developer Ascaron’s third game in the popular Patrician series continues in the tradition of its forebears by presenting one with a simple, pick-up-and-play interface along with a large amount of depth. Don't make any plans before you boot this one up. You wouldn't think that a game requiring you to hunt for the best price on bricks would be all that intriguing. In the case of Patrician III, that assumption would be horribly premature.
Classified as a real-time trading simulator, Patrician III takes place in northern Europe during the 14th century. The ultimate goal of the game is to secure a spot in the merchant elite by attaining the status of Patrician and Alderman of the Hanseatic League. The road to this elevated spot in life is a difficult one, for you start as a young, simple shopkeeper with an office in your hometown, and a single ship. With a modest purse of money, you must forge from these humble beginnings, a sprawling, profitable trading empire.
On the surface, Patrician III fails to induce excitement. Its graphics are 2D, blocky and dated. The ambient sounds are limited and the music is forgetful, but if you give it half-a-chance, you'll be hooked. Racing around the map from city to city, trying to outmaneuver your competitors will soon become an obsession.
Patrician III offers a nice selection of play options. There’s a significant tutorial that covers all of the key aspects of playing the game, from figuring out where to go in town for what, to the subtleties of trading for profit. In addition, the first of the seven campaigns offered acts as a tutorial as well. You’ll be given hints, using the game’s correspondence feature, to help you along. There is also a wide open single player campaign with adjustable starting points and starting towns. Multiplayer for up to eight people is available via IP and internet games.
In short, Patrician III has a large selection of options to keep one entertained for quite a long time. With a combination of town-building, economy-building and even simplified naval battles, this title definitely contains broad-spectrum appeal. The first time I pulled into a neighboring town and discovered I could unload a huge supply of pig iron for a large profit, I felt a tingly excitement that was, oh, akin to the excitement I felt when I discovered that Liquid and Solid Snake were actually cloned brothers. Well, close anyways.
Once the money starts flowing, you may start building all manner of structures in your town, from workshops that produce goods to warehouses in which you can store those goods. Build up cheap housing for your laborers and put in a couple of wells to make sure there’s plenty of fresh water for all. Once you attain the rank of Lord Mayor, you may even build additional town fortifications. Building up your town is at least as important as your maritime mercantile pursuits. It has a more direct influence on your popularity with the townsfolk, and it creates a secure, production infrastructure. Until you get to that point, you’re at the mercy of others to produce the goods you need to trade.
In a nice wrinkle, Patrician III includes real-time seasonal weather changes. Producing more than just a layer of snow over your town, these seasonal changes also have an impact on your trading philosophy. With the onslaught of winter, you’ll notice that beer, grain and other seasonal consumables begin to become scarce. If you haven’t already, you need to scramble to build-up a stock of these foodstuffs to get your town through the winter without starving. Again, this aspect is critical to keeping the locals happy. The change of seasons, implemented in this way, adds a graceful way to keeping the micro-management from becoming too bland and repetitive.
The world map offers a view of the 24 major towns of the region. As you progress, you will eventually attain the ability to build up to two new towns of your own. And you had better keep an eye on those masses. You need to make sure there are enough beer and grain for the workers and enough luxury goods for the rich. It doesn’t hurt to donate large sums to the local church either. All of these actions will increase your reputation and will ultimately pave the road to higher and higher ranks within the town and eventually the Hanseatic League.
It’s not all about public relations. Peruse the tavern to pick up travelers who will pay you for a ride to another port, or if you’re feeling particularly naughty, give a ship to a band of unemployed buccaneers and let them prey on your competitors.
The naval battles are simple but fun. You can destroy enemies from afar, or board them, take them over and plunder their loot. The physics aren’t all that realistic, the lumbering ships will turn on a dime, but the battles make you take small things like the direction of the wind into account. All in all, they’re a nice, infrequent distraction from the micro-management of running your trading business.
Also included is a map editor offering a wide variety of customization. You can choose from up to 40 cities to place on your maps for play in single and multiplayer matches. Of course this just adds to the bounty of reasons you have to pick up this game again and again.
There are a lot of flashier, sexier sim games out there these days. By comparison, Patrician III is an ugly duckling, but if you give it a little time, you’ll see that underneath it all the gameplay is a beautiful swan. For those who are already fans of the series, you’ll find more of the same thing that you loved in Patrician II; the biggest addition probably being the online multiplayer component, but Patrician III is structured in such a way that it is very accessible to newcomers as well, so come one, come all. I know a place where we can pick up some whale oil really cheap.