A Troubled Past
Those that experienced the original Stronghold will know that it was a game with its heart in the right place, offering up a rarity in the real-time strategy world: the opportunity to take place in siege warfare where you had control of everything that was happening on the battlefield in front of your eyes. Not even games like Crusader Kings allowed for such dynamic battlefield detail, and Stronghold went ahead and broke those barriers. It was however full of flaws and shortcomings, a comedy of errors that developer Firefly Studios have certainly addressed in the most serious of manners in Stronghold: Crusader. Continue Reading
Release Date: 31st July 2002
Available on: Windows, PC Download
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Stronghold: Crusader - A significantly improved siege-based real-time strategy that's been through some important changes since the original.
Siege and Onion
So what has Firefly Entertainment done with its time between the original Stronghold and Crusader? Quite a bit it seems, and pretty much all for the better as well. Gone are the days of spreading your time between a fairly in-depth siege campaign and the laughably shallow sideshow of the economic campaign. The developers clearly identified this major flaw in the original, which was essentially the dilution of the siege campaign with an unnecessary economic adventure, and have pulled the focus of the game towards siege warfare only.
This tightening of focus has produced favourable results for Stronghold: Crusader, though there are now more modes of gameplay that demonstrate equal awareness of the players' desire for nothing-but-combat focus. You can play in single-player skirmish mode against AI for example, presenting you with various challenges ranging from easily-defendable terrain to situations that put you at a distinct disadvantage. This is the kind of challenge that never really presented itself in the original Stronghold game.
Crusade The Day Away
By far the shining highlight of the game is the Crusade trail, a mode that is comprised of fifty individual battles whose difficulty increases with each victory. As you succeed (or struggle to do so), your passage through time is recorded, with a quicker victory obviously being more beneficial than a slow and sprawling one. This mode involves the construction of your own castle, which is a bit of a departure from the military campaign mode of the game.
Veteran players will notice that this time around, some of the game's modes feel more like tailor-made puzzles in battle form, and all taking place within some sort of historical context to boot. Many of the missions focus on certain aspects of the game such as some that require the collected of certain sums in tax form, or others that highlight the pros and cons of archers in the wider context of the game. Experienced players will also appreciate the inclusion of new Arabian units such as horseback archers that are significantly more powerful than many of the units that were in the game before.
It works in Stronghold: Crusader's favour that the military units in the game are much more accessible than in the original Stronghold. This is made possible by doing away with the need to produce massive quantities of resources, allowing you to instead simply produce gold through a marketplace and pay for a military training camp that produces units that can be used almost instantly. Other improvements include the way the happiness of your population is affected (things like religious belief have a more important part now), allowing you to better handle the disgruntled population when you have to raise taxes - you can also just give them access to alcohol and see their happiness rise as well.
A Desert Holiday
If you're used to the grubby and monotonous medieval scenery of the original crusader, the desert landscape that you'll encounter in Stronghold: Crusader offers up some much-needed variation as well. You'll also notice the different music that gives energy and atmosphere to the game. It's a bit of a shame that Firefly Studios hasn't taken more care to improve the less-than-intuitive interface that marred the experienced of the original Stronghold, but at least there have been improvements mostly in areas where they count. Having more shortcuts to cut out all of the menu-trawling would have been a great addition, but you can't have it all, can you?
In all, Stronghold: Crusader's problems are much less pronounced than in the original, having a significantly less devastating effect on the enjoyment you get out of the experience. A few more improvements here and there to the interface and unit formations would have resulted in the game being almost perfect.
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Stronghold Crusader is developed by Firefly Studios.