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Stronghold 3 Review - A Lord and His Castle

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Updated Thu, Oct 27, 2011 by Stow

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

30Pitiful

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.  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.

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.   Want to learn other critical things, like how to manage multiple foodstocks or what bests what in combat?  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.  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.  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.  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.  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.  A pack of wolves ran up to it, and climbed a goddamn vertical ladder, in their same running animation, and then mauled my archers.  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

45Very Poor

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.

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.  No excuses, Firefly, this is just garbage.

               

Sound

60Below AverageThe 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.

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