by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
Long live the king
Stronghold’s military campaign is far from sparkling. Missions are sewn together through a moving collage of black and white drawings that is accompanied by a voice that details the story. The voice work is more than adequate but the imagery leaves much to be desired in terms of pulling the player in. There is really nothing that would encourage the player to identify himself with the story’s main protagonist and all characters remain faceless as if there were no storyline at all.
Almost every mission plays out the same way: you build your economy, construct some walls and traps and then defend against incoming forces. The enemy may originate from one or more castles in the area or spawn at the edge of the usually rather small map, but come they will. To win, you must either destroy the enemy castles or defend for long enough that the stream of incoming enemies stops. Occasionally, a mission will involve getting your forces from point A to B but these are so unimaginatively done that you wish you could skip the mission entirely. Some missions have multiple goals that seem to contradict. When the goal is to defend the castle for a specific amount of time so your troops can get away, one expects to win when that time passes and does not expect to also have to kill any and all incoming troops.
While I have yet to give the economic campaign a spin, I am somewhat worried about the game’s longevity. It is completely exempt of a skirmish mode so your only option is to take the game online and play against human opponents in multiplayer games. I am sure most of Firefly’s fanbase will be quite happy with that, but with only four multiplayer maps available, I fear for the game’s long-lasting attraction.
Crush that bug!
As mentioned before, it is tricky finding a balance between building up your castle’s economy and going to war. Not in the least this is because waging war is a time consuming affair and requires your full attention. Left alone, your armies will happily stand by and be slaughtered, taking little to no initiative when under attack. Manning a wall apparently means watching the enemy battering away at said wall with reckless abandon until being asked to attack. Blood does not trigger soldiers into action either: attack the fringes of an enemy column and only those soldiers on the fringe will respond to the threat. This way, it is entirely possible to see a large group of soldiers slaughtered with only minimal losses to the attacking force. While these two examples are not necessarily representative of - all - encounters between opposing forces, they are representative of the overall intelligence of your soldiers.
With a non-too-smart AI, the opposing lord isn’t really your main enemy. No, your primary worry is the slew of bugs that plague Stronghold 3 and keep it from being release-worthy. Selecting a group of soldiers will not always select every soldier within the selection area. When this occurs, the soldiers that stay behind can only be selected after changing the camera viewpoint. Some soldiers are so determined to stay where they are that they refuse to listen to commands, often remaining ‘stuck’ until an enemy soldier comes into range. And if that isn’t hair pulling enough, the game crashed on me a number of times. However,even the crashes pale in comparison to the frustrations experienced trying to get your troops to attack or move on top of a wall. There is a total disconnect between the mouse pointer and objects and units on the map. Sometimes you need to point directly on top of the object or unit to attack or climb stairs, sometimes you need to keep your mouse a thumbs width above them. As such, trying to give commands almost becomes a game on its own which, in a fast paced and real time strategy game, is just unforgivable.
And then there's the strange and the bizarre: Wolves that climb up ladders, foot soldiers hacking away at thick stone walls until the walls crumble which in itself is stupid enough until you see that the part of the wall next to it is floating 6 feet in the air and they could have walked straight under it. Or what about groups of soldiers milling about inside gates, never coming out, or the fact that almost every multiplayer session fails to start, or...
Judging the beast
Stronghold is a much loved franchise and it pains me to have to write a review that seems to focus so much on what Stronghold 3 isn't, rather than what it could - no - should have been. What it isn't is 'ready for release'. The bugs described above are only the tip of the iceberg and things got so bad that at first I thought my review copy was a beta version. It wasn't and bugs, not the player, rule the otherwise charming game that is burried underneath all the problems.
Men enjoy taking things apart but for that we need to have something that is whole first. Stronghold 3 is so poorly put together that there is no enjoyment to be had here and even the babies are crying.
Destroying stuff, quick and easy building of walls and defenses.
Bugs rule, no polish whatsoever.