It is a fundamental fact that castles are incredibly cool. Just imagine owning a castle, it would be like owning your own small town, with a giant wall to stop anyone you don’t like getting in. As someone who has a fairly strong dislike of people that sounds amazing. Unfortunately, chances are I will never own a working castle, as they don’t really exist anymore, however Stronghold: Crusader 2 gives me the chance to command a castle in a virtual world.
Building your castle is a vital task in Stronghold: Crusader 2. Without well-built walls with strategically placed defenses the enemy player can just run a small group of units to your keep and kill your Lord, resulting in a loss. With a castle, however, they will have to send siege units to bring down the walls, along with dozens of ground units to bring down any archers you may have. Castles don’t only offer protection; they can also give tactical advantages, especially in the smaller maps. If you can build a tower close to a known chokepoint and fill it with archers, you will have a high ground advantage against any attackers.
Castle building requires stone that has to be mined in a quarry. Once you have enough stone you can select different parts of the castle to build. Walls are created by drawing them on the map, and other areas such as towers and gatehouses are placed like any other building. Unfortunately the castle walls are a bit of a pain to place, they often don’t sit on the terrain as they should, resulting in low or broken walls.
While castles are one of the cooler things in Stronghold Crusader 2, wood is perhaps the most important. Without wood, you can’t erect the majority of buildings. Without wood you wont be able to efficiently mine other resources. Without wood your economy will fail. Other resources such as gold or food can be saved by increasing taxes and reducing rations (which will make you quite unpopular), but wood needs to be collected 24/7.
The core of any real RTS game is the combat itself, and Stronghold: Crusader 2 features the traditional “lets throw loads of units at the enemy and hope we have more than them” combat style. Fights aren’t particularly interesting to micro-manage; just select the units and click on what they need to attack (although the unit AI isn’t great so you have little choice but to constantly micro-manage each unit.) However, selecting the right units for the job is much more interesting. You could send a massive group of archers to the castle, and they might do a great job or bringing down the enemies on the castle walls, but once they get inside they will never kill the Lord on their own. Pikemen will be more effective once the castle walls have been broken, but before that point they are slow sitting ducks for the enemy rangers.
There is a plethora of units available they are quite varied, especially when you add in siege weaponry. Weapons need to be forged in order to make units, and some require other items such as horses or armor. Each unit has advantages and disadvantages and creating a good mix will usually serve you well. However, archers are a must in order to defend a castle wall.
One of the most infuriating parts of Stronghold: Crusader 2 is the final fight with the enemy Lord. As soon as he dies it’s game over and victory is yours, but he seems to be some kind of invincible superman. Arrows deflect off him, siege weapons do nothing to his keep and some units just don’t seem to harm him no matter how many you send his way. Even more annoying is that a few times the enemy Lord will disappear inside his keep as you’re attacking, making it impossible for any units to target him, and literally making the game un-winnable.
If all of this sounds a bit complex there is no need to worry, as the learning curve isn’t particularly steep for newcomers. The tutorials and single player skirmishes give enough information for you to get the basics but leave enough unsaid that the joy of discovery is still present. Still, the difficultly may put some people off.
On the multiplayer side of things Stronghold: Crusader 2 has a few neat ideas, such as allowing two people to be on the same side, controlling the same castle and its resources. Ideally one player would be in charge of the economy and castle while the other is in charge of combat, but that never really works out, as everyone seems to want to rush the enemy castle themselves. Elsewhere, the 1V1 fights will probably offer the most replayability once you have beaten all the single player skirmishes, and are pretty much what you would expect, although finding a match can sometimes take a while.
Overall, Stronghold: Crusader 2 does a lot of things well. Managing the economy is important, but it doesn’t need to be constantly managed (although you do need to take the right resource path in order to succeed). Combat is the traditional RTS “smash into each other experience” but it works well (despite the questionable unit AI), and building your castle is incredibly pleasing despite the dodgy interaction with terrain. Irritating moments such as the enemy Lord fights and generally high difficulty detract significantly from the game, but it’s still an enjoyable romp for any RTS fan.
GOOD. A game that scores 7/10 is worthy of note, but unworthy of fanfare. It does many things well, but only a few of them incredibly well and, despite a handful of good qualities, fresh ideas and solid mechanics, it fails to overwhelm.
Review code provided by publisher.