Review by AlCurtis
"The most unfair RTS game ever?"
Stronghold is a highly disappointing rts/management game. Its also one of the must frustrating games I've ever encountered. The actual idea and setup is solid and could have been a lot of fun, but unfortunately some amazingly stupid design decisions make it an excise in frustration.
Stronghold is a castle simulator. You start off with a Keep, which is where your Lord lives. Your Lord is a capable fighter, but cannot be healed and if he dies you lose the game. You also start with a Granary. which is the central building where food is stored. From there go on to make hunters huts and woodcutter camps to get resources, to make more buildings, to start producing better food like cheese and weapons like bows, as well as more housing, to support more population, to support a bigger workforce, to harvest more resources etc. This part of the game is fun and detailed. Unlike other RTS games you actually have to make weapons and amour available before you can create troops. Troops also require recruits and a bit of gold. The best ones such as swordsmen and knights are slow to make as you need iron which is a rare resource and each sword and suit of amour has to be made. as well a horse bred for the knight. This is refreshingly realistic and its fun to watch your economy grow and everyone run around busily at work. There are a decent number of troops such as knights, spearmen, macemen and crossbowmen. Making your castle's walls is somewhat more annoying as it can be hard to see where you've left gaps and forests always seem to get in the way.
Graphically stronghold looks pretty good. It is 2D and the animations are nice and detailed. When something happens in a building, the wall cuts away so you can see little details like a Fletcher carving out a new bow or people talking in your inn. Everything is distinct and it's easy to tell who is doing what as they have different clothes for each profession.
The sound is very good. Its cool to listen to the work sounds in your castle: the banging from the blacksmith, the twang of hunters bowstrings, woodcutters chopping etc. The voice acting is on purpose campy. Knights have the dashing, daring Monty Python type voice you'd expect, while the basic infantry sounds more common and grunty. Cut scenes are voiced in the same way, with some decent to listen to mission briefings. Battle sounds are also cool, things sound realistic and there are some nice cries and screams.
Unfortunately for all this good stuff, Stronghold totally falls apart due to some utterly inept gameplay balance.
Top on the list is how cheap the computer players are. In stronghold's missions when you defend which is in all the missions I've played you don't actually see your enemies castle. They just send troops at you. But the problem is they send TONS very quickly, resources and recruits for the enemies aren't a factor they can just magically spawn troops till you either kill enough or accomplish something depending on the mission. In mission 5 which is as far as I played you had to defend against catapults, tons of enemy archers and spearmen with just archers even though that's all you had to use since the start of the game. Not only is this stupid and unfair but why isn't there variety? Archers are fairly weak and they literally die in seconds from the rain of fire they are under. You have no way to prevent being attacked as you can't actually see your enemy's castle. The enemies just magically appear at a signpost. Fun? No.
Weapon damage is way off too. Any infantry getting near a building levels it in less than a second. You can watch one enemy spearmen move close to your barracks and it will fall into ruins in one frame. Buildings don't have health bars besides your gatehouse and they just instantly are destroyed. Brilliant. Who though of that one?
Arrows are also pitifully weak. You'll have a dozen archers raining arrows from the top of your walls onto 3 swordsmen walking around below and they wont die for AGES. Sure arrows aren't that effective against metal amour but your archers use LONGBOWS and bodkin arrows existed by the time the game is set. Crossbows aren't much more effective though they are meant to be.
The one off attack or defends battles are stacked against you too. The one I played I was the defender and a crapload of troops arrived when I had just archers about 8 spearmen, 3 swordsmen and four crossbowmen as well as a few ballistae mounted on towers.. You cannot build buildings or create troops in this scenario. I was defeated even though they were getting hit with s deluge of arrows, bolts and ballista missiles. Their pikemen just somehow smashed through my stone walls in seconds.
I restarted and played as the attackers. Within 10 seconds I was annihilated almost utterly because now the defenders have flaming missiles and oil that set a huge patch of ground alight and decimate your troops, launching it instantly on the only path I had to move my troops to the enemy castle killing almost all of them. I didn't get that when I was the defenders. How is that fair? Its not.
There are also some other silly things such as the fact buildings and troops are instantly created and you can even build walls while the enemy is attacking and have them instantly appear in front of them. This doesn't help a toss in surviving tho as the enemy so stupidly outnumbers and/or overpowers you. A final annoyance and bafflingly poor design flaw is the fact that you cant control your lord and he loves to hang around on the roof of his keep as arrow rain down and get killed.
In the end Stronghold could have been a good game with unique premise but some UTTERLY obvious flaws and imbalances were completely ignored by Firefly making for a garbage game and a missed opportunity.
Reviewer's Score: 2/10 | Originally Posted: 10/02/08
Game Release: Stronghold (EU, 10/21/01)
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