by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
Once upon a time...
Once upon a time there was a game called Castles. It didn't look like much, even for that day and age. It's sequel Castles II however, was a joy to the eye. Building castles to protect your own lands and invading enemy territories and tearing down other castles proved to be a very fulfilling experience. It also generated a somewhat random background storyline every time you started a new game, keeping you coming back to it like a fly to cow dung. After that brilliant game from back in 1992, there was nothing. Virtual castle builders where left out in the cold as game developers focused on other genres.
That all changed back in 2001 when FireFly Studios released Stronghold. That game along with its sequel Stronghold Crusader, made it possible to relive the satisfaction of Castles II with improved gameplay and graphics. All that was missing was the storyline generator, but with everything else beefed up considerably, no one cared. Neither game was a smash hit, but both continued to sell well and even today, know strong sales in the budget bins. Why? Because the multiplayer component allowed you to unleash the satisfyingly evil plots you came up with for siege and defense in the single player game, on a human opponent. Twisted fun guaranteed!
Recently Stronghold 2 was released. With promises of deeper gameplay, full 3D graphics and even more vile ways to defeat your enemies, the still thriving Stronghold community was holding its breath. Questions like "How will the transition from 2D to 3D work out?" and "Will it live up to the great multiplayer experience of its predecessors?" kept occupying the fans. Now that the game is out, those questions can be answered.
On to the walls men!
The player plays a young lord in a troubled land. The King has been poisoned, the royal guard been disbanded and sent home by evil conspirators and under threat of invasion by a marauding band of savages who want to take advantage of all this chaos. The conspirators want the crown for themselves and the King, too sick to rule, has been taken into hiding by a small group of loyalists. Your old mentor, Sir William, is trying to save what he can and asks your aid. No storyline to write home about, but it does the trick and has a few interesting twists along the way.
The first thing any fan will notice is the change to 3D. It's impossible not to. Graphically the game improved dramatically and although the game is not as crisp as the early 'screenshots' would have led you to believe, they offer enough eye candy to make any fan drool. It's not just the static objects like castle walls, towers and buildings that look good. Your army and peasantry too are detailed and lively. You can see workers going through the various stages of their craft. Farmers will sow the wheat, take it off their lands and deliver it at the stockpile where it in turn is picked up by the miller and baker who continue the process until bread is being delivered to the granary. Each worker has his own cycle and the attention to detail is considerable.
Baking bread is just one example of the products you can make. A large part of your production will be dedicated to creating food for your population but any excess production needs to be used to gain resources to defend your castle. Stone and wood for example, is used for building walls, towers and buildings. Wood, along with iron and leather, is also used for manufacturing weapons and armour. Without leather and iron, you're stuck to basic units like spearmen and bowmen. Though these are important units in their own right, the heavily armoured pikemen, swordsmen and knights won't have much trouble cutting them down. Every step of the way you're aware (or should be) that your production and economy are key to your victory and any new additions to your production are immediately felt.
Gold and Honor
With all the resources needed for production, it's easy to forget about the other two resources in the game; Gold and Honor. Both are tightly connected to the happiness of your people which, expressed in Popularity, is pretty much a resource too. Popularity is influenced by food, health, crime and taxation. Food is the easiest to manipulate. If you increase the amount of food distributed to your people, your popularity will rise. If there's not enough food, Popularity will plummet. As long as your popularity is high, you can tax the crap out of your people and they won't even flinch when the taxman comes to collect.
No Pros and Cons at this time