Developer: Firefly Studios
Publisher: Firefly Studios
Platform Reviewed: PC
Release Date: 22nd September 2014
The goal of Stronghold Crusader 2’s campaign is the simplest you might find this year: Kill the enemy Lord to conquer the map. Do this over and again and you’ll succeed in a campaign that pits you against either King Richard or Saladin’s army. That isn’t to say this is a bad thing though, the simple objective leaves you to achieve your victory any way you see fit and feels refreshing when held against recent Real Time Strategy games, whose sole focus seems to be to add complexity to an already solid groundwork. This doesn’t mean the game simply employs you to create a meat grinder and thrash out a multitude of soldiers to simply suppress the enemy by attrition. You’ll need to be skilled in people management to attract people to your kingdom, rather than that of your enemy and manage a very fragile economical position to ensure your resources are juggled with the population growth and the needs of your military.
The problem with simplicity comes a lack of need to be very attentive. The best part of any RTS is the need to juggle live action battles whilst still managing your economy and any urgent needs of your kingdom. Whilst you will need to do some of this, the main management is boiled down to a simple panel at the top of your screen, which will manage certain attributes that will give boost and penalties through the game. You may want to lower taxes to entice a higher population, or lower rations consumed on a daily basis as you hadn’t quite predicted the growing food needs of your new people and are struggling to keep up with demand. All of these little situations will determine the happiness of your people and, as the game ensures you know, “The people are fickle, sire” and will certainly turn tail and run at the first sign of trouble within your reign. In some ways this feels like the games way of adding a simulation element to proceedings but doesn’t quite go far enough to truly draw you in and complete the experience.
I found myself mostly dabbling with Saladin’s forces rather than that of King Richard; this was because Saladin’s army seemed fresh and offered some different units rather than the same old Cavalry, Knights and Archers. With Saladin’s army I could have a group of hot oil pot throwers or a wall climbing Assassin – it added layers of depth to the combat and something unique to the game.
While you may have forgotten about your castle once you’ve marched your army to the enemy encampment, you’ll certainly remember it again once the siege weapons are out and ready to annihilate all that hard work you’ve put in to defending yourself with walls and a defensive arsenal. Siege weapons feel fantastic to lay waste to your enemy castle and it is always satisfying to see the wall come down to allow access for your foot soldiers. Of course, you may simply want to weaken your enemy and hurl a plague-ridden cow over the wall to draw them out, or thin the population or the age old stress bringer of a fire ball blasted into their castle.
You will never confuse Stronghold Crusader 2 as a single player game over its multiplayer, as the two campaigns are simply titled “Learning Campaigns” and are designed to get you up to speed with each army and teach competence at the base management; before you take yourself into the multiplayer skirmishes, yet fails to teach you any actual winning strategy beyond very simplistic building and growth support. You’ll get the opportunity to face the computer AI in skirmishes that will hit you with wave after wave of enemies in ever increasing combinations and difficulty, this can help you stress-test any strategies you’ve thought of for your army, but other than that the learning is extremely bare.
Multiplayer offers you the real challenge and is the linchpin of the entire game. If you can find good opponents and enjoy the first few hours of having your army torn to pieces, then you’ll find a lot of fun. The game doesn’t prepare you though – especially for people new to the genre – with what to expect when heading into a multiplayer battle. You’ll fly blind and either feel your way out into the battle or give up because it’s simply too much to take in.
Developer Firefly Studios has grown around this genre and have possibly lost a some of focus on what I thought made previous games great – the castle building mechanic is too shallow to really excite any budding RTS player and the tutorials offer nowhere near enough depth to begin teaching anyone who may have stumbled across the game. The combat can be extremely fun and the siege weapons bring additional depth, this is what matters and yet this isn’t enough to hold long term interest in the game. The generic unit choices often leave you simply replicating and creating multiples of the same unit, time after time, until your enemy has relented and you finally win.