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Stronghold: Crusader Review
developer: Firefly Studios
PII 300, 64MB RAM, 4MB Video Card, 850MB HD
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Sep 25, 02 (released)
|» All About Stronghold: Crusader on ActionTrip|
Gathering of Developers began its work as a developer syndicate. It was supposed to provide good working conditions to all hard working programmers and designers and help them share resources and achieve successful contracts with publishers. In the meantime, GOD became sort of a co-publisher themselves. Firefly Studios, one of GOD's own, made a terrific sequel to its game Stronghold for Take 2 Interactive.
Battle monks don't even bother to notice the raging fire.
At first, they were just an odd group...
In a word, this game is a sight for sore eyes for all RTS gamers who liked Age of Empires. The gameplay is simple yet deep, and the plethora of resources will in no way represent a burden to players. Economy and warfare are well balanced and equally exciting. The gameplay is fantastic, and it will require you to think strategically in stead of just massing up units. Micro-management is not too complicated, and the control system has been neatly solved. On top of it all, this game has four modes for you to enjoy: you can go through the fifty connected missions, play the four historical campaigns with five missions each, simply deal with building up your castle with no outside enemies (far from an easy task, believe you me), or play against other live players. The game, of course, ships with a scenario and campaign editor.
The main subject of this game is the Holy Crusades. In those days, warfare was mainly focused on huge fortifications, which has been perfectly presented in Stronghold. You have to organize the life in and around the fortification, which is fairly hard in desert conditions. Oases are centers of life and will therefore represent the most important strategic points. Be careful in determining your peasants' diets; the more versatile food they eat, the happier they are, and the bigger taxes they will be willing to pay. Still, a farm or an orchard will yield less food than a corn-field. Stone is the strategic resource used for constructing your fortifications. Wood will be useful to construct your workshops and structures, and metal will equip your military units. Money is collected through tax, but taxes make peasants generally unhappy. Once they get too unhappy they might just leave you. This is why it is important to build churches cathedrals, breweries and make sure the peasants are well fed. This game takes place in deserts mostly, where food is scarce; this means that too big a population can easily be the end of you.
One of the best features in the game are the so-called good and bad buildings. If you want to make your peasants fear you, you can decorate their villages with skulls, pyres, gallows and alike. These will reduce your popularity, but they will make the population work 50% more efficiently. The good buildings like a playground, a bear tamer, gardens and flags will increase your popularity but decrease efficiency. So, what's the point? Well, the more popular you are, the higher taxes you can raise.
The game is in no way easy. Even building your base without an enemy disturbing you is an arduous process, as you have to balance several problems like food supplies, resource gathering, infrastructure and positioning your defenses properly. Fire is one of the gravest problems as it's capable of consuming the entire city in a blink of an eye. There is never enough space, so try to wisely displace your buildings and erect wells and reservoirs at key points. Now, just imagine having to fend off enemy attacks while doing all that. There are also skirmish missions which do not include building; you are simply supposed to use your existing army to defeat your opponents. The terrain can drastically influence building priorities so that there is no ideal formula for constructing one's base.
If evereyone is doing his part, victory is granted.
Yay! Victory at last!
Siege is always an interesting tactical problem. There are many ways to attack or defend a fortification. This game features a lot of very different units, and you will have to learn to combine them properly in order to become a successful general. You can use various siege engines to attack a castle, from ballistae to siege towers, and you can always undermine the battlements. The engineers are crucial to any siege as they both construct and operate siege engines. Light units like spearmen can climb the siege ladders, and Saracen assassins are capable of climbing any wall. Another crucial thing will be to have more archers than your enemies. The cavalry is useful, but it can never complete a siege on its own; they cannot penetrate the last defense and get to the lord of the castle and his personal guards; that has to be done by the infantry. The crusader and Saracen units have been well balanced - the crusaders mostly have strong and powerful, yet slow moving and attacking units, while the Saracens have lighter and faster units. My personal favorites were the assassin, horse archer and knight.
Graphics are excellent. All units and objects on screen are extremely detailed and vividly animated. Each peasant will have his own name, a short report on what he is doing, and a short comment. Even pets and farm-animals have names. I loved simply watching the people go about their jobs, run, rest... the soldiers tend to rest if there is nothing of any interest going on around them; the Christians lie back in the grass, and the Saracens sit in their own Muslim manner.
The sounds are really impressive! The music is absolutely wonderful and utterly becoming, and it perfectly follows the action on screen. What's more, your units will tend to yell when charging, further improving the already fantastic battle atmosphere.
I could go on about "Stronghold Crusader" day and night over, but I guess I should leave something for you to discover on your own. Finally, I would just point a couple of things out: First, female voices have deliberately been done by male actors, and second, your trebuchets are capable of firing cows which explode and spread disease (a notorious technique that was actually used in those days). Both of these are obvious Pythonesque elements, which severely improves the atmosphere.
8.5 Very Good
Historically correct game, which can be played for a long, long time. Good balance and playability, excellent possibilities for tactical maneuvers. Both funny and serious at the same time;
Poor tutorial and help. Game dynamics are inadequate for beginners. Sometimes, it can be overly difficult, as it requires precise micro-management even in skirmish scenarios.
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