Stronghold: Crusader Review (PC)
About a year ago Firefly Studios, Stronghold hit the store shelves. With very little anticipation and not a great deal of press, Stronghold managed to soar into the RTS limelight and gather in a great following. Stronghold was an instant hit, and its follow up game, Crusader is sure to be a smash amongst the hardcore RTS gamers.
Crusader will take the game far beyond what Stronghold provided in its original form some time ago. The gamer will find that economically based missions are a thing of the past, and skirmishes depicting the historical period of the crusades will take over. Gamers will have a chance to face numerous AI controlled enemies within one campaign, to forging ahead and trying to complete the Skirmish Trail through some 50 prepared missions. Crusader comes with a wealth of new units to keep the gamer thinking and an all new and improved military AI will make the planning out of defenses much more important. Many new units come in the form of the Arab units. Horse Archers, Slaves, Fire throwers, fire throwing ballista, all will provide some great and exciting new battles. No longer will your castle walls defend the city within. Fire throwers will burn your cities from outside their walls, saboteurs will scale your walls and open castle gates, fierce horse archers will move about rapidly killing the lesser armed victims. Waves of dedicated slaves will burn down everything in site. The ability to purchase or hire mercenaries to do your bidding will prove to be of great value. The entire approach to this game and how to play it will be an all new learning curve even for those hard core Stronghold players. Having the ability to hire a military and defend your castle takes on an all new economic importance to some valued resources. Will you choose to build your own army to defend your land? Or will you hire a band of defenders at a high cost. Playing out all of the scenarios in this game will take countless hours of dedication. Learning which style of game play to use at which precise moment in time will make the difference between victory and eventual defeat. Although the economic missions are not to plentiful, gamers will find a few great historical campaigns to play through. Battling with or against the mighty King Richard, planning and designing their own custom campaigns and playing against countless other gamers online will make Crusader another smash hit.
The landscape and setting for this game actually hurts the presentation it should have. Stronghold was drooled at for its rich landscapes, excellent graphics, and impressive castles. Because of the settings, Crusader may not be seen as an overly impressive sequel. It is extremely difficult to make dessert landscape awe inspiring, so it is understandable that the view will not be as elaborate. However, I found that many of the structures could have been fine tuned and presented in a more appealing manor. Players of the original game will find that the buildings used in Crusader are not too different from the original game and in several cases they seem to be just repainted images. Many of the old units return for this sequel and it is nice to see some great added units. The castle building structures and ease of creation continue to provide some excellent options, but other than the addition of a few new towers, most of this layout was presented in the original game. Because the original Stronghold was so rich and pleasing to the eye, it raises the expectations of players and unfortunately I felt it fell short in the graphics area.
This being the second game from Firefly covering this genre, stability is nothing short of excellent. At no time did I experience any game related problems and the system resources were not over worked. I found the MP portion of the game to still have a few minor issues, but nothing that would stop me from playing online on a regular basis. Connection troubles and firewall issues have been the problem for many online gamers over the last couple of years, and I think that Firefly has done a great job in reducing the problems, and it is really up to the players to sort out their firewall securities if they wish to play online.
Although there are great improvements in the AI for this sequel to Stronghold, some of the military movements are still very predictable. Once a player has learned the basic strategies of the game, most enemy invasions can be thwarted before any damage is done. This of course does not mean that the military AI is constant. As you think you have determined its regular moves, do not be surprised when an all new attack point is utilized and you get squished for being so sure of your self.
Stronghold Crusader, like its predecessor will provide gaming pleasure for a long period of time. Not only because of its huge collection of skirmish missions, or its large collection of open play builder maps, or its multiplayer capabilities, but with the inclusion of a full featured game and map editor, Crusader will outlast many other games of its genre.