The original Stronghold game was something special. It debuted back in 2001 and there hadn’t ever been anything like it before—you build up a well…stronghold, in Medieval Britain and although there was conquest and expansion through military pursuits, there were also prominent economic and infrastructure development elements. One thing is for sure—the game was just oozing with character.
Firefly Studios saw that they had something special on their hands so they developed a whole slew of sequels. Besides the first game’s direct sequel, 2002’s Stronghold: Crusader (which differed from its predecessor in the fact that the game was no longer set in England, instead it was set in the Middle East during the Crusades), all of the Stronghold games pretty much failed to capture that initial magic.
Firefly Studios hasn’t made a Stronghold game in seven years (Stronghold Crusader 2 in 2014), perhaps because of the increasingly lackluster products they were putting out. Well, they’ve totally changed the setting with their latest game, Stronghold: Warlords. Unfortunately, the new Asian setting isn’t enough to save this game from failure.
Stronghold: Warlords isn’t about building up a medieval gauntlet of defenses and warding off increasingly powerful waves of enemies. No, in the game bases are more symmetrically placed, similar to the original Age of Empires games—only here there are no conflicts over resources, scouting, technological advancements, or unique factions.
In fact, although you have Chinese, Japanese, Mongolian, and Vietnamese warlords to lead your armies, each army is a weird hodgepodge of units from each culture. Oddly, most units, no matter which leader you choose, are Chinese in origin.
One thing that Stronghold: Warlords does that is innovative is place smaller fortresses on each map. These fortresses are held by neutral warlords. Defeat these remotely placed warlords and they’ll join your cause. They’ll even send you resources from time to time, let you use their fortresses as shelters for your troops, and launch assaults on neighboring enemy fortresses.
Unfortunately, since your main fortress that you spend most of your time carefully building up—with defenses such as ballistae, gunpowder traps, fire arrow launchers, and thick walls and towers—just don’t see a lot of action since they’re so remotely placed. Most combat takes place between smaller skirmishing forces, typically involving one of the NPC fortresses. Large-scale sieges do happen occasionally, but not like they did in previous Warlord games.
There is a diplomacy system present in Stronghold: Warlords but it’s nothing to write home about. While it is too simple when compared to other RTS games I’ve played in the past, it’s also cumbersome to navigate around.
To its merit, Stronghold: Warlords features pretty decent combat and siege systems. Although each side’s troops are amalgamations of the aforementioned real-life ethnicities, there are enough different types to see their clashes as interesting. There’s also a wide range of siege equipment to bring to bear, including trebuchets that can fire various forms of ammunition (yes, even diseased animals), explosive rocketry, laddermen, and much more. But all of this still isn’t enough to save this game from being mediocre, overall.
In the end, Stronghold: Warlords doesn’t really differentiate itself from the increasingly crowded RTS genre. Its warlords seem generic and lack any sort of personality and the odd amalgam of troops from different Asian countries is a real downer, as is this game in an overall sense.
Stronghold: Warlords has some pretty okay graphics so you’ll need a pretty beefy gaming PC or gaming laptop in order to play it at a decent framerate. Therefore, you may just want to invest in a superior gaming rig:
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