Back in the day, before 3D graphics afforded us immersive worlds to get lost in, the real-time strategy game was king. Games like The Settlers and Age of Empires had us collecting resources and nurturing tiny little societies into greatness.
Another of those games was 2001’s Stronghold, whereby players took on the role of a medieval lord charged with building kingdom with strong economic and military might in order that it may flourish and survive.
The game was quite popular and over the year spawned a number of sequels- the last of which, Stronghold 3, was released in 2011. 2002’s Stronghold Crusader was a series spin-off that shifted the setting from medieval Europe to the Crusades in the Middle-East.
For the recently released sequel, Stronghold Crusades II, developer Firefly Studio have this time opted to self-publish their game. Using the graphics engine from Stronghold 3, replaced the 2D visuals of the original with a more modern 3D look.
When I say modern, the game still has a very retro feel about it. Don’t get me wrong, it looks OK, but comes a poor second when compared to the likes of the Rome II: Total War. Apart from a nice depth of field blur effect, the graphics look like they’ve been plucked out from a decade ago.
The game is based around a series of scenarios that together make up a campaign. For most of the scenarios I started with a lord standing atop his tower.
Whilst I found the interface uncluttered, it would have been nice to have had a little more information immediately available, like resource stock levels. Some tool-tips or other pointers would also have been helpful, especially in the beginning.
Thankfully the game doesn’t stray far from the genre’s usual mechanics. The main aim is to build a castle capable of supporting your mission goal, usually to expand your influence by taking out the nearby enemy.
The first order of the day is set up a stockpile and a granary to store materials and food respectively. From there it’s time to collect the resources needed to sustain and advance your settlement. Wood camps, quarries, apple orchards and farms provide the essential items to proceed. With the required material in the stockpile I could build hovels to gain more peasants and barracks for conscripting troops.
It’s also essential to consider defence by building walls, fortified gates and towers. It wasn’t long before I had a thriving and self-sufficient fortified citadel.
The game has plenty of game options. There’s a multi-part learning campaign to ease new players in. The campaign had me playing as Richard the Lionheart and then switching over to play his nemesis, Saladin.
Skirmish trails are a series of scenarios pitting the player against multiple AI foes. I was also able to set up my own battles using the custom skirmish mode. There’s also the option to just peacefully build your city in the Sandbox mode. There’s also a multiplayer option, but sadly no one was playing the game.
Stronghold Crusader II was a bit of a nostalgic trip down memory lane, for me, and really doesn’t have much of a contemporary feel about it. I think a lot of players would turn their nose up at the game’s retro feel. That being said I found it a solid game offering hours fun building castles in the sand.