Review by Shadow Edge

"Extreme balance, realism, fun and much more, you name it, Stronghold's got it."

A lot of great RTS games have already been released, namely Red Alert series, Warcraft series, Starcraft, and much much more. The main reason people play them is because it's plainly fun, well-known, VERY well-known, has great sounds, and are eye candies. I myself have played and liked the mentioned games. However, one thing is missing from those series: realism. No, realism not graphics-wise, but gameplay-wise. But if you want to play a game that not's only realistic, but also excels in the field of sounds, graphics, lifespan and especially gameplay then Stronghold is definitely the game for you.

Graphics: 8.5/10

The graphics are very-well detailed for a 2D RTS game. Idle peasants have a variety and working peasants can be easily distinguished from each other. The military units look great. All of the sprites, trees, plants etc. were animated nicely and smoothly. The only thing that needs a bit more work for the graphics department is the background. At the first glance, the iron ores look like gored colorish meat. The crenelated walls could use some attention too. They look messed up when built horizontally/vertically instead of diagonally.

Gameplay: 10/10

Gameplay deserves a perfect 10. You can play the game in three ways: Military, Economic and Free Build.

In the Military game, you can choose Campaign, Invasion or Siege. The Campaign mode is the story mode. You play a series of battles with a story, where after every battle you gain new stuff like new units or buildings. This game isn't titled "Stronghold" for nothing. The Campaign mode mainly focuses on defense. The story isn't complex, just right for an RTS game.

Invasion mode is the best part of Stronghold, in my opinion. In this mode, you must build a base of course, but it's not that simple. Stronghold is a mixture of RTS and simulation. Which means there's more to than just build, train, kill. The cycle goes like this: the first thing you should do is to set up a keep, where your king will hide during enemy siege. Then place a granary, where all your food would be stored. You can't just build structures, you'll need people to use and run them properly, so you must build hovels so that peasants will start moving in to your kingdom. Don't worry, you have more than enough materials to start a camp. Peasants will automatically fill in the empty posts of buildings so you don't have to point them on what to do. So after that, you must harvest on wood and stone for building purposes. Other materials like iron and pitch are used for defensive purposes (we'll get to that later). Materials need a place to be stored, you know, so you should make your stockpile bigger so you can hold more. While doing this, your people would be getting hungry soon, so build food producing buildings. What's unique about this game is that the food processing is realistic. For example, to produce bread, one must harvest wheat, then it goes through the mill and will turn to flour, then finally at the bakery to be stored at the granary. Oh, and yes, your non-idle peasants are smart enough to know this, so you won't (or can't) have to order them to do these, making the game simpler. We really wouldn't want the people to go hungry, because this game also has the "Popularity" points. If your popularity is above 50, people will move in, and the higher the popularity, the faster they move in, and vice versa.

Training units require not only gold, but a peasant AND equipment. For example, Archers need a bow while Swordsmen require a sword and metal armor. Equipment can be acquired from the marketplace or the workshops. For example, the Fletcher Workshop gets some wood from the stockpile then contructs a bow, then puts it in the armory, and the same goes to other weapons and armors. You can get money by trading goods or taxes. You can set taxes from generous bribe all the way to downright cruel taxes. The higher the tax, the more negative impact your popularity gets, but the more money you get. To counteract this, you should chip in extra food. The food levels can also be set from No Rations to Double Rations. And like taxes, the higher the food distributed, the happier people are, but the faster your food consumption is. Other ways to make people happier are to build churches and building a pub.

One great thing about Stronghold is the personalization of your fort. You can build walls in any way or form you like. Build a stone gatehouse, stone wall, attach a ladder, add crenelated walls and towers and you've got a decent base. But there's more for base defense. Certain units can dig moat (shallow water) around your base for added protection. Enemy units will have to dig up the moat first before they can enter your base. Of course while them digging and you shooting, you're guaranteed to have a better chance of survival. For an even better chance, you can ditch pitch around your base. Archers can use the blaze rigs to light 'em up and watch those damn enemies scream in agony. There are other traps which makes it harder for your enemies to beat you, and makes it also hard for you to beat your foes as well.

As your base grows bigger, building can be quite a hassle. Besides from being able to zoom and view the map in four directions, you can also "bring down" the structure to small and landscape view, making it easier to see things behind big buildings. This is one thing I have never seen in other 2D RTS games (well, maybe there is another game, but it remains to be played by me).

Battles are fun and very realistic in the sense of logic. You can set units in different "Stances", namely Stand Guard, Defensive Stance and Offensive stance, which all have their pros and cons in certain situations. Another example, a person, weighed down by a heavy metal armor, carrying a shield and sword cannot scamper away happily like a butterfly. Those kind of units prove devastating in close combat, yes, but with their very slow movement ballistic units will most likely have killed them before they can even reach the gatehouse. Yet another thing of realism, a bow and arrow cannot easily pierce metallic stuff because it only relies on the energy released by the bow, and that's why it's very weak against metal armor. However, use a bolt and a crossbow that requires several winding can easily pierce through. One last thing I would mention out of the many things of realism in this game is that any armor is helpless against fire, which is true. Bolts are arrows cannot damage any structure, which is DEFINITELY true. You try breaking your bedroom wall with bow and arrows.

One thing that sets aside Stronghold from other RTS games is your objective (or downfall). Other RTS games' objectives is usually "destroy the enemy base". In Stronghold, you and your enemy(ies) objective is to kill each others' king. Kings lurk in keeps during an enemy attack. To make the king safer, you can place units on the keep's roof. The more grandiose the keep is, the more units it can hold.

The other game mode, Economy, is focused on harvesting and producing a certain number of items. You will encounter several problems here like a bear attack or theives and such. In Free Build, you can build your kingdom without the worry of enemy siege. Oh and yes, you can also create your own skirmish games with the map editor.

Now let's go to the BAD things. The AI is stupid. For example, when you place a stone wall on a tile infront of your base, enemy catapults and trebuchets will aim at it, rather than the your main base wall and do greater damage. If the AI can talk, I'm pretty sure it'll say "I'll kill the king!", then orders troops to go in on certain path, rather than trying to find a weaker spot (the AI is rather attracted to gatehouses). And if there's an opening in your base, full of traps and defensive units, and another area with a thin wall with absolutely NO defensive stuff whatsoever, enemies will actually enter the open area. One more stupid thing is that swords, maces and other melee weapons can actually break solid walls and structures. Now that's one technology medieval era is ahead of us.

Sounds: 9.5/10

The sounds are superb! You'll definitely be amazed by the clanging of swords on armor or flesh or wood or stone and such. Animals sound the way they should be, as well as Mother Nature. During the "peaceful times", music of festivities and harmony will play. When enemies attack, the music smoothly changes to upbeat, climax-ish music which can both excite and make you nervous.

The voice acting, especially in the Campaign mode, is very well done (gotta love that fire screaming thing). The voice acting of the enemies REALLY matches the personality and their nicknames (Rat, Snake, Pig, Wolf). And there's no grammatical error like "all your base are belong to us" or "you're winner" here. Well, there may be a bit, but it's not that big.

Story: 7/10

It would be kinda unfair to rate the story of an RTS game, since RTS games tend to make the story simpler to prevent the minds of gamers going nuts. But, marking at an RTS standard, I will rate this game a measely 7. Why, you ask? The story goes simply as this: your enemies are the Wolf, The Pig, The Snake and The Rat (nicknames, they're not animals). Your father (some sort of commander) went on an expedition to negotiate with the Wolf to bringing peace, but was ambushed and killed halfway along the journey. The four fiends (Rat, Snake, Pig, Wolf) take over the country, making gold and people suffer. As the son of your fater (lol), it's your job to reclaim the lands with the little number of the people still loyal to the king.

So it's like a typical medieval story.

Controls: 9/10

The controls won't be a problem. The game makes usage of the keyboard-and-mouse control. But since this introduces new controls like landscape view, I think this deserves a higher than the average 8.

Lifespan: 8.7/10

There so much fun in the game, which grows even bigger when played multiplayer, that it'll have so much replay value. Even after a few months or years, you'd still consider playing for an hour or 2.

Ratings
Graphics : 8.5
Gameplay : 10
Sounds : 9.5
Story : 7
Controls : 9
Lifespan : 8.7

Total : 9 (8.8) (Remarkable)

PROs:
- Very realistic in many ways
- Historically-accurate weapons and machinery
- Excellent voice acting and music
- Addictive, especially in multiplayer

CONs:
- Stupid AI
- Typical and short storyline
- Has some minor bugs
- Melee weapons can actually break solid walls and structures

RENT OR BUY?
Definitely buy! Even you will be surprised about this "buried gold" of RTS games!


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 05/11/05


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