by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
Gold and Honor (cntd.)
Your popularity will also sink if your people are unhealthy, which brings us to a new addition to the series; gung, rats and decease. The game provides means to deal with all of these like an apothecary and falconry post. These need to be manned and take away peasants from production. The balance between production and health can be very frail but is not to be taken lightly. Unhappy peasants will leave the castle and new ones won't arrive until you've improved conditions. The middle ages had their share of crime and this too is new to Stronghold. Guardsman posted throughout the castle will find criminals and the judge in the courthouse can send them to a plethora of medieval punishment methods. If you find yourself losing popularity fast, you can consider lowering taxes or even offer a small bribe to nudge people back into working for you.
Honor is also new to the game. It's required to purchase estates as well as any of the more advanced units. The stronger the unit, the more honor you will need to convince them to fight on your side. Honor is gained in several different ways. The easiest is providing different types of food to your peasantry, but a host of other ways like elaborate dinners, statues and jousting games are available to raise the honor of aspiring lords.
Bring out the Trebuchets!
Once you've achieved a healthy balance between all the above, you can focus on war. In the end, that's what you're playing this game for right? Well, contrary to what others have you believe, war is fun! It's been a while since I've had this much fun in a game. It's not so much the toying around with your units, going head to head with the enemy in the field. You can do that in any game. No, what makes Stronghold fun are the sieges. Unleashing ballistae, catapults, flaming arrows, burning oil and whatever else is available to harm the enemy, is tremendously satisfying. A good example of just how satisfying it is, is when in one of the campaign missions, my castle was being assaulted by a far superior army. I had however. Managed to squeeze some money for the placement of burning logs. As the enemy neared the castle, I sat there with my finger purposefully hovering over my mouse button hissing to myself: "Hold? Hold? A bit longer? NOW!" and as the logs came rolling down the walls a good portion of my enemies crack troops found their deaths under logs or in the flames tracing them. Trebuchets are also great fun as they batter away at castle defenses, just out of reach of enemy fire. In many of the offensive and defensive actions, the chaos is palpable and the urgency to shut down the enemy siege weapons is like nothing else I've experienced in any game.
Entering the courthouse
So far it sounds pretty positive right? Well, mostly it is but I have to admit, the game has a few disappointing flaws. There are some serious clipping errors for instance. I've seen archers literally sink into walls that were partially destroyed and often enough you'll see units stand halfway through the parapets of your walls and towers. The worst was a horse cart driving right through my walls and an enemy knight walking just behind it following suit. Formations are also useless. They work as long as everyone is standing still but as soon as you tell them to move, they forget all about being in formation and rush to the designated position. I've had a group of archers freeze up on me and got angry until I realized they might not have been much use in the first place. Often enough the AI is too stupid to realize the pain in their foot is from the spear they stuck into it. To top it all off, the multiplayer match up service is unfinished, unstable and feels like a rush job. But?
Do these problems make Stronghold a bad game? No, but they keep it from being a superb game. When it comes down to it, the multiplayer part of the game 'does' work and that's where Stronghold shines. As with the original games, it's such an immensely satisfying experience taking down the walls of a preciously built castle of your enemy, and so incredibly cool to see your defenses withstand a well planned siege, that everything else is quickly forgotten. The single player campaign and the Kingmaker mode merely offer you a solid training ground for what this game is really about. With a human opponent, the AI shortcomings become a lot less important and all of a sudden you need to rise to the challenge. If you can see past the clipping errors and prefer to play your games online, you're in for a great ride.
No Pros and Cons at this time