Obviously, Stronghold Crusader 2 is a real time strategy game, but we don’t see these games running the gaming world like they did back in the day. For a long time PC gaming was seemingly dominated by endless RTS clones based off of Warcraft, Age of Empires, and other similar games. That once flood of real time strategies has become a trickle, but Firefly Studios is trying to change all of that. Let’s dig into this review, shall we?
SC2 has been jumping about in the overlap of castle-sim and tactical combat for some time now, and this sequel seems to be a nice, enjoyable compromise between the 2 of them. On its face, a medieval fortress simulation seems like a great thought. There’s an economy that needs to be managed, there are wars to wage. What’s not to enjoy?
The issue is that many players who like to develop an economic system end up disliking in game fighting, and tactical experts go crazy when they have to build supply chains. The important thing here would be to give enough of what it is that any given player enjoys, without compelling them to do much of what they do not enjoy. SC2 isn’t alone in this searching for this happy medium.
SC2 pulls out two tricks to try and make everyone happy. In the economical side, the supply chains are not long. A group of three buildings is sufficient to provide for most fundamental units. More complex (and strong) units are usually constructed out of mixtures of these more straightforward supply chains. There are advantages to each level, although it pays to know what buildings are needed for, say, Templar Knights. This scheme enables combatants to get a fundamental military ready to go, and fast. Coordinators that are patient can wait and build up a smaller yet independently strong group of units for their richer economy.
In the military side SC2 supplies units with unique skills to the point of near embarrassment. The guide claims that over half of the units have a unique skill in some way. In addition, there are a variety of specific vehicles which have specific uses, such as preventing your men from getting shot on approach to an enemy’s castle.
Nature itself even gets in on the action. Wait until your farms are destroyed by locusts, or a Lightning Farm sets fire to your troops, and you’ll see the enemy isn’t the sole thing that wishes you were dead.
The fundamental style of play here is defend your own fortress or assault the other man’s fortress. There’s a decent number of variety given by coop play. Between the big number of components, attacking/defending/building, and coop, the single player campaign will definitely keep you interested. The actual purpose of the game, though, is in the multiplayer. Even the single-player campaign attempts to feel like multiplayer, with diverse enemy AIs that mimic various methods often seen by a human player. I’d have liked the single player mode to be a bit more lengthy, but user mods and future game expansions should compensate for some of that which is lacking in the single player department.
Each scenario in the game boils down to the same type of strategy: figure out where the bottlenecked resource is located and grab it while keeping your enemy away. Maybe you find yourself attempting to besiege a castle. This takes plenty of wood for archers, catapults, and other siege gear. The key to each scenario is forming a strategy to find and take the sequences of economic and military goals, and to do it better and faster than your opponent. In the future this game will likely grow or fail based on a mix of scenario design and multiplayer popularity.
Now, as many of you know, the game was delayed by 3 weeks to give the developers time to work on some issues that cropped up during the beta test. Personally, I love this, as it means they are actually listening to the feedback from the beta, which is something many developers seem to ignore these days.
Nevertheless, there’s still plenty of things that can be improved upon. There are still some minor bugs (men were caught behind walls, for instance). There are other larger bugs, though, that detract from the enjoyment of the game. For some reason there were times when certain units would randomly start moving more slowly than they should, other times they’d suddenly start moving very fast. Odd, and definitely annoying.
So, what is there not to enjoy here? The visuals are solid, but to actually play the game with some skill you’ve got to be fully zoomed out, which of course means that the unit detail is lost. Even when fully zoomed out the maps in the game are large enough to make you feel as though your units spend the majority of the time in transit.
It would have been nice to see some better automation choices for your units, too. There are too many things that need you to do them manually that could have been set on auto pilot. Although careful planning in the game would be repaid by the number of distinct units available, the rate of the game is too fast to actually do enough groundwork for that.
To sum up, Stronghold Crusader 2 is an enjoyable medieval-themed real time strategy. Running around obliterating castles while building your own is enjoable despite the issues I mentioned above, and there is enough of a balance between the fighting and the economy to suit most types of players. I’m sure the game is going to do quite well in multiplayer, especially considering there is a co-op mode.