Stronghold 3 Review - A Lord and His Castle

One of the seemingly few series that hasn’t changed hands since its inception, Firefly Studios’ Stronghold series has always been an RTS safe haven for those of us who want to do a hell of a lot more than just build walls for safety.

But after playing this one, it just might be time to hang up the gloves and let someone else take over.

Cautions

Beyond a little ale drinking at the inn and some poorly detailed violence, I would say this is safe for everyone that can wrap their head around the economic systems of the game.

Gameplay - 30 / 100

Stronghold
has
always had strong single player, and while the options are fewer in
this, a lot
of the same flair shines through. 
You
have historical sieges that you can attempt to fight your way out of
(or into!)
as well as your skirmish/sandbox mode. 
You’ve
also got two campaigns, one that is more about fighting, and one more
about
creating strong economies and producing goods in a set time. style="">  Both of these are fairly
high in difficulty
for even seasoned RTS gamers until you have a firm understanding of the
game
mechanics.  I had to
restart the first
economic mission twice!

Now, coming from a former Warcraft
III
pro, that is a damn
embarrassment. But there’s a
reason I wasn’t able to figure it all out from scratch and put the AI
in its
place.

This is the single worst interface I
have ever worked with
in an RTS.

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This is my lord.  What
are his stats or health?  Beats me.  See that cool
arrow icon back and forth?  That's the patrol button.
 It does nothing.  I realize that the patrol button
is only used by a few players in RTS games, but this is just another
silly strike against the game that shouldn't exist

Nothing in this game makes sense at
first glance, so your intuition
is right out the window.  Let’s
take for
instance, the Ox Post.   I
wonder what
this does, so I’ll place one.  Hrm,
it
spawned an ox.  Let
me select it, okay,
it says Waiting for Resources.  It’s
an
advanced gatherer!  I’ll
put one next to
my wood camps and stockpile so I can save valuable time for my peasants
and let
the beasts of burden do things.

No such luck. 
Unless
you view the in game encyclopedia of sorts, you will never know that an
ox will
do absolutely nothing unless you place it next to a quarry or iron
mine, and it
won’t even always work then.  The
in game
tutorial teaches you how to place buildings, lower taxes, and right
click
enemies.  That’s it. style="">   Want to learn
other critical things, like how
to manage multiple foodstocks or what bests what in combat? style="">  Sorry man! 
You’ll just have to wing it.

So since you don’t know your ass from
a hole in the ground,
you plunge right into the game and start fumbling around with troops,
and then
this lovely scenario happens.  You’ve
got
a pack of infantry selected, and you go to right click and attack an
opponent,
and the cursor doesn’t even change. 
It’s
just a stupid move icon hovering over a building/enemy/wolf. style="">  No sir, we can’t implement
an accurate
selection mechanism!  You
sometimes have
to click above, below, or to the side to actually attack a unit. style="">  So forget making any kind
of midfight
micromanagement happen.  You’ll
just
accidentally click archers into moving to the front rather than firing
upon
foes.

“Okay, so combat is screwy and you
need to figure things out
yourself.  That’s
not so bad Stow, man
up!”

If that was the end of it, I wouldn’t
be so negative
here.  The minimap
barely shows any different
colors, so it’s up to your eyes to catch enemies while moving around. style="">  Peasants being slaughtered
by raiders or a
single wolf behind a building?  No
audio
cue.  No audio cues
in general, for that
matter.   Besides
generic unit responses and
food/happiness related messages, you have no goddamn idea what is going
on
unless you see it happen.  Lord
under
attack by bandits?  You’ll
never know
until you come back to a half dead guy.  

Even if you just want to sit back and
enjoy your empire building,
you can’t even do that.  Peasants
will
walk between jobs and some non-selectable ones that are just there for
flavor
will wander randomly.  That’s
cool for
flavor and making your castle seem alive, but these jerks block
buildings.  Once you
have 100 + citizens running around,
it becomes a mini-game almost to time your placement before the next
retard
walks into your placement circle. 

It doesn’t even matter if the game
has cool features like sandbox
mode when it’s incredibly cramped and limited to two maps. style="">  So many basic things are
broken about this
game that it’s difficult to enjoy even as a fan of deep economic
strategy
games/4X style.  I
feel like this is a
broken release of a game, ala Dead
Island,
but there has been no apology, no patch, and no word
from the
developers.

To give you a taste of the failure,
here’s a true story.  I
built a massive wooden tower to defend
against the wilderness, and manned it with archers to defend my town. style=""> A pack of wolves ran up to
it, and climbed a goddamn vertical ladder,
in their same running animation, and then mauled my archers. style="">  They then climbed back
down and presumably
celebrated ruining the game for me while all I could do is laugh at how
idiotic
this is.  Don't believe me? I wouldn't either. Have some footage of glorious Stronghold 3 combat.



Yep. That just happened folks.

Graphics - 45 / 100

We’ve got a decent looking game on
our hands here, with nice
zoom features, but everything just has too little detail regardless of
your
zoom level.  Discerning
what troops are
what can be difficult unless you’ve got them selected, and the same
goes for
your enemy when you’re on offense. 
What’s
the difference between a pikeman and a man-at-arms—they’re both
carrying a big
spear but one is a basic unit and the other is a hardened badass.

There’s a lot of lighting in play for
the various weather
effects, but then a building catches fire and the fire just looks like
a little
ball of light.  Much
like the rest of Stronghold 3, the
graphics have good
foundations, and just flop miserably in the execution.

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src="http://www.tentonhammer.com/image/view/200042">

Most
webcomics have higher quality art than this.  Ugh.

This is every single cutscene in the
game.  Games CAN do
a badass black and white style,
or even color stills and get away with it. 
Hell, my last two reviewed games were under 20 bucks and
had moving color
pictures for cutscenes.  
Here we’re
spending 50 dollars and getting high school sketch books. style="">  No excuses, Firefly, this
is just garbage.

style="font-size: 11pt; line-height: 115%; font-family: "Calibri","sans-serif";"> style="">               

Sound - 60 / 100

The scribe and music is spot on, but the limited amount of actual sound in the game is baffling. You’ve got a handful of quips in game to tell you about super important things, but there are maybe 5 music tracks in the game, two unit responses, and the rest is up to you to make noise for. The result is by the 4th stage, you’ll be sick of hearing the same stuff, and that’s not a good sign in a long winded economic game.

Value - 60 / 100

You get a fair bit of content, but the price of admission is simply too high for some basic single player campaigns with zero production values. The maps are far too small and far too cramped to create any castles that would make SimCity jealous. RTS and strategy games have largely been independent of DLC, but with the preorder bonuses in play, I’m sure we’ll see this game try and milk it for cash rather than delivering a solid game out of the box.

Lasting Appeal - 20 / 100

This game needs to be recalled right
now, apologized for,
and redeployed with a proper set of basic RTS features. 
The only thing that you are going to remember
about this game is its horrid launch, and how good the previous games
were in
the series by comparison.  
Really, there’s
nothing new or interesting done by this game in the series, and even if
there
was something new and interesting here, the design and lack of quality
assurance ensures that you will never get to see or enjoy it fully.

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Okay, so I can see my gold, honor and popualation.
 Awesome.
 Want to see any of the 10+ other resources that could be
limiting you from building or expanding?  You have to click
the building or deselect your army.  I've told you how hard it
is to click and select in this game, and it cripples your ability to do
anything
economically too.

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Music is good, but repetitious
  • A
    prosperous empire feels awesome once you get there.

Cons

  • But the game has done everything
    in its power to make you
    want to quit before you experience it all.
  • Between the wolves running up
    ladders and mouse
    selection/attacking issues, I’m pretty sure no one tested this game. I feel like I paid 49.99 for beta
    access.
  • A disastrous launch will likely cripple or halt any further content, DLC or otherwise. That might be getting ahead of things--we should pray for a patch to establish basic functionality first.

Conclusion

Somewhere inside this package is a good game. A good game that is beneath heaps of dirt, dirt consisting of stupid design decisions, and an interface that is not only lacking and ineffective at communicating with the player but actually lying to you about your mouse cursor’s position half of the time. If Firefly listens to their community and fixes everything, I’m sure we’ll see Stronghold 3 become a worthwhile successor someday, but it is not this day.

Overall 41/100 - Very Poor

Metacritic

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