Truth be told, I have played some real-time strategy games in my day, and I have never been very good at them, especially when it came to multiplayer. Although I was never any good at them, it never stops me from giving them the good old college try. Stronghold 3 is one of those RTSs that I gave a chance.
Stronghold 3 is a real-time strategy game with a rather bumpy legacy. I never played a Stronghold game before, but I did my research. The original Stronghold was cherished by many RTS fans while the sequel was not as popular. Many things changed in the second game that really turned off fans, but from what I’ve read about the first game, Firefly Studios has tried their best to recapture its magic and place it into Stronghold 3. For the most part, they were successful.
The story takes place 10 years after Stronghold 1. The Wolf has escaped death and has returned to destroy The Boy and everything he stands for. Now it’s up to The Boy to escape and begin building up an army of allies to hold off The Wolf’s siege. It’s a very interesting take on storytelling. During the military campaign cut scenes, the dialog and story are presented through the eyes of The Wolf.
The main game all revolves around material and peasant management. You need peasants to do anything in the game. To gain more peasants, you will have to keep the morale of the kingdom up. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, including lowering taxes, increasing rations and better housing for the people. There are also special events that will boost the happiness as well. When your happiness is high, you will gain more citizens to utilize. Material and food management is very important as well. Making sure you have enough food for all your citizens and enough in storage for times where the food supply is affected is crucial. If the happiness of the kingdom goes into the negative, you’ll begin to lose citizens.
Strategically placing buildings is very important as well. Luckily, placing buildings is not a very difficult thing to do. You can rotate any building to fit where you need them. The only problem I found was that after building up a large kingdom, there will be a lot of people walking around. You can’t place a building where a person is standing or walking so you have to wait for them to move. This can become bothersome after you have about 40 people in your area.
Now, there’s not only economy and citizen management in the game. This is a military RTS after all. The game essentially has 2 story modes: an economic campaign and a military campaign. Both have different stories and objectives. The military campaign has you playing as The Boy, first running from The Wolf’s attacks and then slowly building up a stronghold and eventually taking on The Wolf. In the military campaign, the game plays more along the lines of a standard RTS with combat playing a major part in the game. It has a really nice fog of war feature when it comes to night scenarios. Pretty much everything is covered except what you illuminate with light.
The game features other modes in addition to the campaign. There are special sieges you can play that are all based on historical castles. These can be played on either side. There is only a handful, but this is probably the closest thing you can get to a quick play mode against the AI.
There is also a free play mode. Here, you can build to your heart’s content without having to worry about enemies trying to take you over or having to worry about keeping up with materials. Here, you can just sit back and make the biggest, most insane kingdom you’d like. It’s a nice feature.
There is also multiplayer with many different modes. There’s standard Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and King of the Hill. As I said above, I’m not very good at these games, so I’ll keep my embarrassment to myself, but for the hardcore players out there, Stronghold 3 has some solid multiplayer. The only problem I saw was that there were few people playing it while I conducted my review, but after a few days on the market, I’m sure there will be more.
Now, Stronghold 3 is a solid game, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have some problems with it. First off, the tutorial is not very good. For a person that has never played a Stronghold game before, I was coming into this game completely blind. After completing the tutorial, I had sand in my eyes. It’s basically trail and error, and after about the third military campaign mission, the game becomes rather challenging. If you don’t have a good grasp on what to do in certain situations, you will lose-a lot.
The other problem I had is that the game seems fidgety. Let me explain. There are times I wanted to have my troops attack an enemy. Normally, what you would do is have your troops selected, and right click on the enemy. There were many times where I had the cursor over the enemy and it never changed to a combat icon, so my troops would just walk there instead of attacking the enemy. I would have to maneuver the cursor a certain way to get it to change. It’s not that bad, but in the heat of battle, it can become rather bothersome. Also, the troops are rather dumb in this game. It seemed like more times than not, my spearmen would get slaughtered if taking on enemies at close range, but having them throw the spear from a distance would kill the enemies in two hits. It was a constant hit and run, trying to throw spears before they get too close.
The last problem I had was the time mechanic. I really wish there was a way to slow time but, more importantly, speed up time, especially in the economic campaign. Most objectives have you gathering certain materials in order to win. What often happened is that I would be set up to win the mission, but had to wait for my workers to complete their constant gathering. There were times I actually left my computer and just let it sit there while my workers were finishing up their collections.
The graphics are not bad. It has some decent animations, but nothing too fancy. Because of that, you really don’t need a high end PC to run it. My PC is rather old, and it ran very smoothly, with no problems at all.
Stronghold 3 is not a bad game. I see that it has a few missteps here and there, but the hardcore RTS guys will still get a decent experience out of the game. Newcomers, on the other hand, might want to hold off on this one for now. Even with the tutorial in place, you’ll still feel lost when it comes to certain aspects of the game, and may very well get frustrated with trying to figure it out while getting the crap beat out of you. The story is rather simple, but does what it needs to do to get the point across. The voice acting is decent at times, but the advisor that helps you out during the game is a little hokey. If you’re looking for a decent RTS with a few hiccups here and there that could easily be fixed with a patch or two, Stronghold 3 is not a bad choice. If you’re new to the series or new to RTS games in general, you might want to at least wait for a price cut but still give it a chance when that does happen.
Review copy provided by publisher.