Over a Decade of Siegery
It's been quite some time now since the original Stronghold: Crusader was released in 2002, but still the die-hard fans of this castle-building real-time strategy still like to indulge in the action of this series including its successor, Stronghold 2 and 2011's Stronghold 3. But it's now 2014 and the original isometric-view titles have looked quite dated for a fair while now. Luckily, Firefly Studios have been smart enough to realise the persistent nature of real-time strategy through the decades, resulting in Stronghold: Crusader II hitting the shelves on September 23rd.
What a momentous occasion it is for this developer some may say, with the last title's release being a staggering 12 years ago now, but is this an equally significant event for those that will pay for and play through the game? I'm inclined to say maybe, but whilst erring on the negative side of the word. The following article is a summary of my reasons for this cautionary approach to lavishing the game with superlative praise.Continue Reading
Release Date: 23rd September 2014
Available on: Windows, PC Download
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Stronghold: Crusader 2 - A solid real-time siege-warfare game that's let down by its failure to punch above average
Has it really been a whole 12 years since the last Stronghold: Crusader iteration was release? Not since September 23rd 2014 it hasn't, a date that saw the release of Firefly Studios' Stronghold: Crusader II. Featuring a significant visual overhaul as well as a delicate pinch of new features, this sequel's got plenty of gusto in terms of real-time castle-building warfare, but I struggle to find anything within the game that is truly unique or impressive.
If you're at all experienced with the previous Crusader title in the Stronghold series, you'll be blissfully aware that like Crusader 2, it marked a break in the medieval-centric scenery of its Crusader-less titles. Returning in Crusader 2 are a bunch of the original's units including several types of mercenaries, a variety of campaigns including ones that involve skirmishing against AI enemies, and - this is where things take a turn for the disappointing - a return of the clunky and less-than-impressive game engine from Stronghold 3. Oh dear.
Let's not let the negatives get us down this early in proceedings however: Crusader 2 has a lot to offer, after all. As a castle-building real-time strategy game the emphasis is on the establishment of a settlement that's defended by a castle and that has its own mini-economy consisting of production buildings that provide things like the stone for you castles, the money for your so-called economy, and the troops that will supplement your castle walls' defenses. You'll be treated to two tutorial levels that will show you the ropes if this is your first time treading the treacherous grounds of the Crusader series.
A Recourse for Resource Management
Even if you're not familiar with Stronghold's previous forms however, you're not going to be in a world that's even slightly aloof from that of a standard real-time strategy. When it comes down to it, you're simply juggling resources as you are in games like Kingdom Tales 2, Forge of Empires, and Tribal Wars. The only difference here is that the balancing of resources isn't in the foreground or by any means the main aim of the game; the resources are merely a vehicle to facilitate the building of castles and the siege-related warfare that makes Crusader 2 so fun to play.
In fact, the process of building your castle from the ground up from resources you've produced is quite a satisfying feeling and is definitely a factor that somewhat redeems the poor (and recycled) game engine. It's all about erecting your castle, increasing the range of your archers and effectiveness of your other troops, and generally ensuring that you have an advantage over your attackers. Slightly less fun is the act of besieging someone else's castle, but it makes a welcome change from being the defender all of the time.
Lacking in Smarts, A Shortfall in Sense
Drilling in the disappointment for me is the fact that the AI in the game really isn't up to scratch, so much so that you even find yourself having to constantly manage your own troops quite closely whilst they go about their stupid, stupid business. It's a little silly that you can only build castles in certain squares that are designated by the game, and even sillier is the fact that archers are the go-to unit, a sort of panacea for all of your siege-related ailments since they are so very cheap and relatively effective in relation to their price.
Bugs really abound in this game as well, and you'll often find yourself having to lose out on large sections of your fortifications because of lacklustre pathfinding, a feature common to all RTS games that is usually spot-on, but in this case is quite shocking on occasion. This results in getting troops trapped where they shouldn't be, and usually rendering them useless. The "epic" final scenes that involve dominating the lord of the castle you're attacking also seem to last a ridiculously long time.
If you were to take Stronghold: Crusader II in isolation from its predecessors, one would be reasonably happy with Firefly Studios' effort. Unfortunately, much like the cracks in Battlestar Galactica's ship in the later series, Stronghold: Crusader II's problem runs through to its core, namely in the game engine itself, which needs a serious rework if Firefly Studios are anywhere near being equally as serious about finally releasing a Stronghold game that isn't marred with bugs and shortcomings. Put simply, this is 2014; we expect better than what Crusader 2 has barely managed to muster up.
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Stronghold Crusader 2 is developed by Firefly Studios.