To Siege or Not to Siege
War. There seems to be a lot of it, whether in the modern day or in the annals of history. It's unavoidable, a trade-off of being of the species we are, it seems. No matter how terrible war actually is however, it seems that simulation of war is an entirely different ball game, particularly when it's the borderline glorification of the feudal conflicts of the medieval period and its surrounding centuries.
Rome: Total War and Age of Empires are games that specialise in this sort of thing, but their grandiose nature and staggering quantity of features can put casual gamers off. Stronghold is a siege-centric game that actually portrays real combat in a dynamic fashion, allowing you to get your hands dirty whilst also managing a settlement. There's a lot to be said for this approach in spite of some bare-faced flaws in the game. Continue Reading
Release Date: 19th October 2001
Available on: Windows, PC Download
Play the Game
Stronghold - Get your siege on with this medieval real-time combat simulator game that borrows elements from other big-hitters of the genre
Not To Siege
Because Stronghold is essentially a dual-pronged approach to real-time strategy, the whole game isn't entirely one-dimensional in that it doesn't focus solely on siege warfare whilst providing no respite from this style of gameplay. One of the prongs of Stronhold's real-time strategy fork is the economic campaign, which involves time-sensitive missions based around certain goals like acquiring a minimum quantity of gold or various goods. This aspect of the game plays precisely like other real-time strategy titles, namely the browser-based Tribal Wars 2 or Forge of Empires.
Stronghold's take on the management aspect is rather superficial however, involving simply building production buildings as well as secondary production centres (i.e refineries that process the primary resources) to make things like weapons and food. You've also got the usual limiting factors to take care of such as food quantities for your population, but I found that they can be kept happy and working by simply providing more food as opposed to performing any deeper actions such as building statues as you do in Forge of Empires.
It's pretty safe to say that Stronghold's true calling - and indeed the sharper prong on the previously-mentioned fork of its real-time strategy entertainment - is the military campaign. Here you get to go ahead and defend yourself against sieges from aggressors as well as lay siege to other castles and strongholds around you. Instead of taking place in a grand, open world as you would find in Age of Empires however, you instead have to focus on gaining back land the land of your murdered father, one section at a time.
You're slowly introduced to the siege-based action through tutorial levels, starting with only archers to defend your fortifications with and then moving on in the later stages to more useful troops such as swordsmen and mace-men, as well as useful individuals like engineers that build your weapons of violent siegery (I'm coining that word). It's a little annoying how suddenly things escalate from simple tutorial activities to full-on siege warfare; this is one flaw in the game, though it is certainly not the last.
Four to the Flaw
One of the most glaring annoyances in the game for anyone will be its interface, which doesn't seem to follow conventional logic or basic associations whatsoever. Reaching the primary menus is easy enough as things like your farm, food production etc. can be reached through tabs at the bottom of the screen. Various items are positioned in places they don't seem to belong however, making the whole thing a little awkward and significantly blunting the sharpness of the combat. Unit selection is another aspect where the game falters, separating members of your unit if you select them individually; this can lead to you losing the group associations you spent time making.
The flaws continue with the building mechanics. Do you fancy building just behind that mound of earth over there? Sorry, no can do. You can't actually build anything that isn't in your direct line of sight, which becomes problematic considering the relatively shy and shallow camera angle.
So to return to my two-pronged fork metaphor from before, it seems that one point of Stronghold's prong is significantly shorter than the other due to the disappointingly shallow economic campaign, but this tired comparison doesn't end there, no sir. It turns out that the other prong - the game's military campaign - though significantly longer and more useful is somewhat blunted by the multiple flaws in the interface and building mechanics. This would otherwise be a fantastic game, but these drawbacks are too numerous to forgive developers Firefly Studios for allowing them to be present in the final release of the game.
Play the Game
Stronghold is developed by Firefly Studios.