If the conversation turns to classic real-time strategy, the same names are often thrown into the conversation mixer: Age of Empires, Command & Conquer, War or Starcraft. When I think of the genre, only one thing usually comes to mind: "We don't have enough wood, my lord!" This is Stronghold's iconic sound (buy now)– the first work of the British Firefly Studios. This originally appeared in 2001 for the PC and gave hobby strategists and castle builders dozens of hours of fun.
The heart of the game is the military campaign, which lasts several hours. It tells a story, admittedly not very exciting, about a young, ambitious general. With that you have to restore law and order after the king was captured by barbarians and consequently his country sank in the civil war. To do this, you face four lords who have divided the kingdom among themselves and take back the counties step by step.
This action is packaged in a total of 21 different missions, in which you have to fight off intruders and destroy enemies. It doesn't sound very exciting at first, but Stronghold shows a lot of variety in the implementation of the seemingly simple task. One of the missions is about building a beer production, delivering the kegs to an ally, and using the support units received in return to fend off attempts to conquer the enemy.
Source: PC games
In addition, the campaign impresses with a steadily increasing learning curve. If you are only supplied with very few resources, units and buildings at the beginning, the full range is available at the end – which is definitely an advantage, as the opponents are becoming more and more demanding. With the rat, the snake, the pig and the wolf, there are four very different opponents. Not only do they have their own personality, which they keep repeating in short messages, each character also plays according to an individual philosophy. While the rat relies on light units and sometimes confusing, angular castle complexes, the wolf builds massive forts, which he occupies with heavily armored troops. So different tactics are always required to triumph in the end.
Fortunately, you can choose from a wide range of units in Stronghold. Regardless of whether you are a close-range or ranged fighter, master builder with siege equipment, ladder racks or tunnel diggers – the game has everything that the Middle Ages had to offer. However, there is no complex scissor-rock-paper principle as in other genre representatives. You have to do without counterattacks à la Age of Empires, where you fight units mounted with spearmen. The decisive factor is much more the strength and health of your fighters – which unfortunately makes warfare somewhat undemanding. Sometimes it is enough to simply build up as large an army as possible and overrun the enemy with it. At least in the campaign, however, this is counteracted by the fact that the recruitment of troops costs gold and weapons. And of course you have to get it somewhere first.
Source: PC games
The gold reserves are too scarce, sire!
Accordingly, successful warfare in Stronghold is naturally based on a functioning economy. So you have to use resources, collect taxes and produce goods. There are also a few differences to the competition. The RTS oldie, for example, only plays in the Middle Ages – so you will search in vain for different races, epochs, upgrades and technical trees.
Source: PC games
Stronghold is also relatively uncomplicated in other respects: there are no construction times for buildings, just as there are no complex production chains. Basically, only two basic raw materials are required: You can get around really well with stone and wood, you can not only build buildings, but also manufacture weapons such as lances or bows that serve you well at the beginning. If you want something a little more unusual, you can also mine iron or pitch. But that's about it. Only when it comes to food production does it get a little more complex. In addition to cheese dairies and orchards, there are also corn fields, the harvest of which you have to process in mills and bakeries. To make beer from hops, of course, you need a brewery.
All in all, this still doesn't seem very challenging – especially in contrast to the production chains of an Anno. Despite the simple basics, Stronghold can still be quite demanding, especially if it is important to keep a constant supply running as the season and population increase. Trees have been cut down at some point. Game hunting stocks at some point completely thinned out. It is important to plan long-term, to drive in multiple tracks and to keep your citizens happy. After all, they are responsible for the most important factor in the game: the popularity of your ruler. If there is too little food or accommodation, or if the people are plagued by diseases and usury taxes, then this will bring your lord of the castle into disrepute. Your reputation falls into the basement and people leave the settlement at some point, which can bring entire business chains to a standstill. Only when you make the castle life with beer serving, double rations or gardens more attractive, does that attract people back.
Source: PC games
An audiovisual experience – thanks to the HD version
But basically you actually want your people to be doing well, because this is what makes Stronghold so special. There is a feeling of a village climate in your settlement: you and your subjects are on you and you, you know and you value yourself. Each villager has his own name, greets decently when you click on it, and otherwise – sometimes more diligently – goes about his day's work. There are also some nice details like cackling chickens in front of the granary or a jester who is joking in the keep. This conveys a beautifully harmonious medieval atmosphere. Not to mention the atmospheric soundtrack penned by Robert Euvino, whose Castle Jam I could listen to for hours.
Source: PC games
Thanks to its timeless 2D style, Stronghold is still nice to look at today. Yes, the staging with animated dialogues instead of cutscenes is rather minimalistic. But there is a lot of action on the battlefield. When towers crumble together, throw tribocks with cadavers and dozens of enemies go up in flames thanks to pitch pits, this is an impressive experience for the eyes and ears. Especially if you play the HD version released in 2012, which has been provided with high-resolution textures again.
The original remains unmatched
The whole thing is rounded off by a reasonable scope. In addition to the campaign mentioned at the beginning, you can also look forward to additional game modes that focus more on the military or the economy. In the sieges you defend iconic castles such as King Arthur's legendary Camelot Castle or the Thuringian Wartburg. On the other hand, in outdoor construction, you concentrate fully on establishing a productive county without having to worry about hostile attacks. And of course there would be the map editor, with which you can create a variety of new scenarios or simply find out who is actually stronger: 1000 archers or 100 armored swordsmen?
If you then add the multiplayer part, in which you can throw knightly insults at your friends' heads ("Shut up, squire!"), Stronghold turns out to be a real real-time strategy hit, which for many people is wrongly flying under the radar. Yes, the successors could not quite convince because of missing gameplay innovations, messed up 3D graphics or fantasy elements. I always like to get the good old original out of the moth box to wallow in medieval castle romance.
Source: PC games
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