by Kenneth Kok
previewed on PC
Gamescom 2019 gave us the opportunity to sit down for a 2 on 2 chat with Firefly Studios' Stephen Richards (Design Assistant) and Paul Harris (General Manager/Senior Producer) to see Stronghold: Warlords. Actually, Stephen and I were having a hands-on demo. Sergio and Paul have known each other for a long time and were giggling like a bunch of girls over past Gamescom mishaps and not paying enough attention to the serious stuff. But don’t worry, I am here to the rescue.
If the Stronghold series were numbered, I am not sure which number Warlords would get. As a franchise, Stronghold has a long history dating back to 2001 with the release of the first Stronghold game. After that Firefly studios made Stronghold Crusader, took a sidestep with Space Colony, and returned with even more Stronghold. In 2009, the studio created the massively successful Stronghold Kingdoms MMO which they self-published for PC and mobiles and they have released several titles since. These guys get around.
We are going East... wait wut!?
Firely Studios' latest work in progress, Stronghold Warlords, will take the franchise to Asia for the first time. Yes you read that correct. We’ve been to Europe and the Middle-East, but we will be shifting East and all the way to Asia. The historical campaigns start at around 3rd century BC in China and plays through the Japanese Shogunate era up to the Mongol Empire. The new setting allows the studio to explore all kinds of interesting units and gameplay mechanics. New units under your command include Imperial Fire Lancers, Samurai, Mongolian Bowmen and oxen packed with explosives (watch out for friendly fire!). At some point in the game, you will reach the early gunpowder era and will be able to field the fire lance, an early firearm designed to cause shock and awe on the battlefield. From there, weaponry quickly gets more explosive.
You will be my subject, and you, and you...
Everybody will be my subject. Or at least that is my aim when I finally get to play. I am talking about the Warlord system that gives the game its title and was the primary focus of the demonstration. In previous Stronghold games we knew our adversaries by their fictional nicknames like the Pig, the Wolf, the Snake and the Rat. Similar names will make it to Stronghold Warlords, but this time you get to subjugate them and rule over them. They will be your buffers against invasion, your mercenaries and your supply lines. They can help with pretty much everything you will need to build up your economy, your castle and your armies.
To give this some structure, the map will be split up into estates that are ruled by those warlords, or at least until you subjugate them through politics or force. Once you have them under your rule, you can send out orders to support you in the ways mentioned above. Requests are not free, though, you will need political influence to ask for stuff. Influence points will accumulate over time and are tied to certain castle buildings. While estates start simple and will provide modest bonuses early on, they can be upgraded to have their own walls, increased supplies and better armies.
I saved the trademark feature for the last - this wouldn’t be a Stronghold game without being able to build walls and design castles. Firefly is making improvements to wall building, making it easier to build beautiful or just plain functional walls and castles. Walls now “hug” the terrain instead of stair-casing on different terrain levels like in previous Stronghold games. This will make for aesthetically better-looking walls which will go up and down with the terrain as you place them. Another new feature is that units are not immediately killed when their section of the wall is getting hit or destroyed. Instead they will be thrown back of the wall and, depending on their health, will be able to fight on.
To the walls!
We played a very early Alpha build which was still rough around the edges, so I can’t comment on graphics or content. That will have to wait until the game is much closer to release. But the new features, upgrades and Firefly’s castle-building-game track record, it looks like Stronghold Warlords will bring back some of that ageless gameplay that is Stronghold. I will be following the development with much anticipation.