A game that uses a formula from 10 years ago.
Type: Singleplayer, Multiplayer
Genre: Simulation, Strategy
Developer: FireFly Studios
Publisher: FireFly Studios
Release Date: 9 Mar, 2021
While it is generally not known as the best chapter in the series, one of my favourite RTS games is Stronghold: Legends. In my childhood I spent countless hours training frost giants, building impenetrable fortresses and converting weak-minded enemy soldiers using demons. After a decade, I can still remember the different units and their strong and weak points, the different maps for multiplayer games and also the time spent creating custom ones that I then shared with other people through multiplayer lobbies. All this time spent in Stronghold: Legends (and other Stronghold titles, that is) is probably what leaves a bitter taste in my mouth after playing Stronghold: Warlords. But let’s proceed with order…
Before talking about the weak points of the game, let’s talk about the few positives: the game is based on a solid formula and, similarly to the previous titles, creating impenetrable fortresses is still really fun. The possibility of placing walls, towers and anti-siege equipment is the focus of the Stronghold series and this title is no less than its predecessors: manning the wall with archers, crossbowmen and other soldiers is as fun as it was a decade ago. The game has boasts five different campaign, allowing players to have hours upon hours of singleplayer content. The campaigns follow four different lords, plus one campaign defined as “economic”, since it more based on production than the actual war. Campaign missions will also be replayable (and replayed) thanks to the high difficulty of some of them, similarly, again, to the previous titles of the Stronghold series.
Warlords are marketed as the big new addition of this new title: what they are is basically lonely towers scattered around the map that, once controlled, allow the player to use some special actions called edicts to gain some bonuses. These towers are protected by a warlord: a special unit that, similarly to the one of our faction, can kill many soldiers in battle before falling itself. Controlling a tower, something that can be done either military (by defeating the warlord, that will then join our faction) or diplomatically (by using a special currency), annexes the warlord’s territory to our faction’s, without however leaving us the possibility of placing buildings on it.
During the game, by either controlling warlords or creating embassies, we can earn diplomatic points, which can then be spent to gain control of other warlords, emanate edicts or upgrading warlords that we already control. Edicts are rather basic and are usually of commercial nature: you can request gold, wood, diplomatic points and other resources from your warlords, provided that you can afford the initial cost of the edict. The same is for upgrading the warlord: new levels allow us to use new edicts or to empower the defences in that warlord’s territory: the latter is particularly useful because warlords are normally very easy targets, so making them build small fortresses can be beneficial. While the mechanic seems great and is useful in longer games, warlords have one big problem: they get boring after a few hours. This is because our control over them is limited to the pressing of one of five buttons (the edicts) every few minutes, making the incredibly passive throughout a match. They also require attentions that shouldn’t be needed: if an attack leaves their castle walls damaged, you will have to emanate an edict telling the warlord to repair them, something that the AI could’ve done automatically after the attack.
Stronghold titles are definitely not known for the incredible strategy of their respective AIs, thus I really was hoping to see some improvements on this aspect in Warlords. And oh boy, was I let down. Stronghold: Warlords has probably the same AI that could be found in Stronghold: Legends 11 years ago. Maybe its code is not the same, but it suffers from the same problems. Storytime: I start a game and find myself against Genghis Khan, the only thing standing between me and him is a lonely Warlord tower, the only one on the map. The AI starts the game very aggressively, trying to capture said tower, but during the fight my soldiers attack: the result is that the AI attackers are wiped away and I get the warlord under my control. The early to mid game proceeds normally, with resource gathering and some skirmishes caused by the AI attacking with a fixed amount of horse archers every time. This is the point when the AI stops playing, basically: I have control over the only choke point that allows the AI soldiers to leave its fortress, so I just spam archers to keep control over the warlord tower. This is until I started producing trebuchets.
Trebuchets, like in the previous Strongholds, have a crazy long range, but cannot move, which makes them vulnerable to attacks by the enemy army. Anyway, my trebuchets start raining down boulders on the AI’s houses and wood camps, destroying them all. To my great surprise, my enemy keeps using the same strategy of the last 15 minutes: produce 10-15 horse archers and send them my way. Rinse and repeat. Against my army of now 40+ archers. The rest of the game is basically trebuchets raining death from afar, while the only actions the AI takes is instantly rebuilding the destroyed structures, a “strategy” that in around 10 minutes leaves it with no resources, no army and a free coupon for my victory. While rocks fall from the sky, Genghis Khan sends me a message, mocking me about the fact that “apparently I can destroy some buildings”. Well, jokes on you, Genghis Khan.
Graphics and Bugs
While graphics are ok-ish, considering the RTS nature of the game, I was expecting a way more polished experience from the game. The title, like its predecessors, still suffers from pathfinding issues and very often units can get stuck in corners. Other annoying aspects of the game include, but are not limited to, archers getting stuck in towers, making them untargetable (while they can keep shooting arrows), warriors that randomly start chasing the enemy when you told them to target a specific one, a sadistic way of controlling your army that will often make your archers attack in melee the enemy warlord. Plus, the lack of a “move and attack” action is inexcusable in 2021.
Another bad title for the series, Stronghold: Warlords fails to innovate, basically resulting in a reskin of the previous games with a bunch of additional features added. The game is so similar to the previous titles in the series that I felt right at home, but having literally the same mechanics of games that are more than a decade old is a clear sign of failure to get the Stronghold brand to new heights. Are the updated graphics and the new warlord mechanic worth the 30€ price point? Absolutely not.