After a seven-year break, Stronghold returns, but there is no déjà vu at first sight.
- Jun 26, 2021
When you play the first scenarios with Thuc Phan in Vietnam, you don't get particularly involved visually or narratively - and this distance remains in the campaign, although the direction wants to create atmosphere via animated portraits and an advisor. The presentation isn't bad: there are tracking shots, voice-overs, and the mission design has a clear structure; it's just that the spark of the narrative doesn't want to jump.
The story isn't the essential element of the strategy, of course. However, it can ideally support the historical flair or at least provide some spice via the smug humor, as in the older Strongholds. That is missing here, but instead, the largely familiar cycle of resource mining, base expansion as well as combat and siege develops. You first harvest wood with zoom and rotating camera, build houses, barracks & co, then your fortress, whereby the architectural gimmicks in castle building are unfortunately limited: Here a staircase, there a few wall and tower types - that's it.
The civil construction is pleasantly logical, especially since you can also manage the satisfaction of your population well via taxes, food, and housing - and the happier they are, the more gold you can extract from them. So you try to grow not only enough rice, but also vegetables, pigs, or tea to increase the rations at the push of a button. But be careful: If you are too spendy and can't deliver, you will lose dissatisfied inhabitants. If there is enough wood and gold, you can also build fancier houses, which not only attract workers but also lift your spirits.
The game finally stages a competent cycle of building, economy, and battle, which reminds us of the cozy times à la Age of Empires with catapults and falling walls. But the nostalgic touch evaporates quite quickly in the sterile campaign. Not only because of the modest AI, the lack of scurrying factor as well as too little game depth, but mainly because the British can't inspire with the game-mechanical innovations like the warlords nor with the Asian scenario. There is a lot of mass from Vietnam to Japan, but ultimately little class en detail. There are no fortresses, but here they sometimes seem like mere accessories, although they should be the core of the fascination. Those who primarily want to siege and fight with friends in multiplayer will still be solidly entertained. However, there are many classics of real-time strategy out there that reach a much better level.