by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
Watching a baby laugh after destroying a carefully built tower of red, yellow and blue blocks is a rather infectious affair. While most women grow up to be less amused by causing such destructiveness themselves, most men will enjoy taking stuff apart throughout their childhood, teens and even adult life. Men like challenges too; whether it is big, very small or just sturdily built, the more difficult something is to demolish, the more satisfaction can be had from it. Men will always be boys, of course.
The medieval period with all its castles, ballistae and trebuchets provides ample inspiration for both building and ‘forced deconstruction’. As such, it is the perfect setting for Stronghold : a playground catering to boys’ needs to destroy and more.
Stronghold 3 takes a ‘back to basics’ approach as compared to Stronghold 2, doing away with a number of concepts that were introduced, your population’s health chief among them. You’re no longer required to build crappers or falconry posts as disease and rat plagues have mostly gone the way of the dodo. Similarly, crime has been abolished, removing the need for any form of a justice system and leaving punishment in only as a way to scare your population into working harder. The result is a game more focused on building actual castles and waging war on your enemies and that's a good thing. It does make the single-player campaigns feel a bit empty but it works well where it counts: in multiplayer campaigns where keeping human opponents at bay is a much more ‘stressful’ job than it is in singleplayer.
New buildings are selected and placed via a traditional yet effective interface that allows you to quickly select resource, food, military and defensive constructions. Buildings can be rotated minutely, allowing for a lot of flexibility in customizing your castle to your liking. To keep the pace, buildings are available instantaneously, only awaiting workers before beginning the production of their resource. Don’t be too quick, however, dropping buildings all over the place as the area around your keep is ’prime real estate’ for building houses. Peasants prefer to live close to the keep and the houses built in its vicinity are bigger and provide more living space but will require more wood as well.
This is no trivial mechanic in the game either. If you would ask me to pinpoint the single most important resource in Stronghold 3, I’d probably say “your castle’s population”. The ebb and flow of your population depends heavily on how popular you are as a ruler. Food, taxation, weather and random events such as roaming bears or royal visits play the leading role maintaining your popularity. Keeping track of housing is particularly important, as ample living space adds to the attractiveness to your castle but growing too quickly can result in quickly diminishing food levels in your granary.
It is tough to keep food stocks to a satisfactory level; so tough that you spend much of your time trying to find building space for yet another wheat farm to feed your hungry population. Not that you need that distraction, because even without crime, health and food shortages, there is very little time to relax and enjoy the scenery. As lord of the castle, you’ll be juggling your time between managing your settlement, building fortifications and waging war and that’s a formidable task indeed.
Building walls, whether made of wood or stone, is done with a simple click-drag-let-go mouse pointer action and couldn’t be made easier had Firefly tried. Adding towers, walkways and other items is equally hassle-free, as long as you keep an eye out for placing the building’s entrance inwards towards your keep. Some buildings, such as the barracks and armory, can become part of the castle wall which is a fun addition, but the walkways at their backs make them look a little off when placed somewhere away from the wall. A different design for those situations would have added to Stronghold’s overall polish.
Stone walls in theory offer considerable protection but it is preferable to hurt and possibly destroy the enemy long before they reach one’s defenses. For this, Firefly has provided a wide range of satisfying traps such as tar and stake pits. It is worth noting however, that while walls do keep the enemy from barging in to your territory, they give no defensive bonus to your ranged units, nor do they seem to add range to those on them. Enemy archers and spearmen will as easily pick your men off the wall as they would standing in an open field.
Destroying stuff, quick and easy building of walls and defenses.
Bugs rule, no polish whatsoever.