by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
A Thriving Kingdom
“My defences -must- hold” I mumble to myself as I watch the enemy army approach the walls of my far-from-complete castle. It is the first time that I am being attacked, and it is somewhat of a nail-biting experience as such. I’m nervously wondering if the basic stone walls will be able to withstand the attack. As it turns out, I needn’t worry, my archers take out the enemy army before they can do any significant damage. I am rather pleased about that, as it seems to prove I am where I need to be at this point in the development of my castle.
Being an online game - and officially out of beta as of this month - Stronghold Kingdoms is not a game where you save and try again until you get it right. The actual battles play out without any intervention from either side, but there are a number of things you can do to prepare beforehand. In fact, that is what Stronghold Kingdoms is all about: building up your castle and preparing it for battle. You start a game with two plots of land. The first is perfect for building a village. It contains farmland and suitable areas for stone quarries, iron mines, farming and forestry. In short, everything you need to build up the flourishing economy that you will need to support your war effort. The second plot features a small keep that is in dire need of additional measures to protect it from being overrun.
It is possible to expand into other locations - either by purchasing an empty plot of land or through conquest - but no matter how big your kingdom grows, your efforts will always be geared towards managing your economy and strengthening your castle. Yet, this core foundation has an extensive list of gameplay elements that add an incredible amount of variety to the day-to-day running of your budding empire.
Setting Up Shop
Basic buildings such as hovels, apple orchards and woodcutters will kick start your economy but you will soon need bakeries and pig farms to provide your people with enough variety of food to make them happy with your rule. You will also need fletchers and other craftsmen to create weapons for the soldiers on your walls. None of these are available right from the get go but require research to unlock, and then even more research to improve their efficiency. And when your scholars aren’t working on ways to improve your economy, they are working on the military technologies you require to successfully defeat your enemies.
And then there’s the honour system. Honour can be gained in a number of ways but most easily by holding banquets and keeping your population happy. As your honour meter fills up, it can be used to climb to a higher rank which has the immediate benefit of granting additional research points. In addition, many technologies are simply unusable without having attained the proper rank, so while you may have researched Pitch Extraction at level 6, you won’t actually be able to construct the building for it until you have reached level 12.
Invest the Time
Stronghold Kingdoms is not easy to get into and the game does little to teach you how to get around. There are tooltips that give you a little bit of information but few hold enough detail to really understand what you have to do or what is going on. Researching Market Guilds will tell you that you will get “extra merchants” per market building, but not that you still need to recruit merchants after building it. And while you can see how much food is produced and eaten in town, there is no screen that tells you how much of each type of food, or even how much a single peasant eats of every type.
A level of depth that goes beyond the normal Stronghold games.
Chaotic presentation, difficult to get into.