The time strategic real have always had a big identity problem. During the boom period of the genre, dozens of them were published, all very similar to each other, so much to quickly create strong conceptual fatigue, which led to a real commercial meltdown.
The essence is that after years in which every publisher seemed unable to exist without having its own RTS, a period of distancing from the general public has begun, in which the releases have become more sparse and the size of the productions has reduced. However, in recent times there has been a rebirth within a fairly large and active niche, which has led to the success of titles such as the re-releases of the Age of Empires, Northgard, and Iron Harvest., not to mention Total War, however never decayed (perhaps precisely because they have a strong identity that characterizes them and makes them recognizable beyond the genre they belong to). It is probably the seemingly favorable market conditions that suggested to FireFly Studios that a return of the Stronghold series was a good idea. So, seven years after Stronghold Crusader 2, here is Stronghold Warlords, a successful work, but not very courageous, as we will see in the review.
The first detail that you notice when starting Stronghold: Warlords is the oriental scenario, completely new for the series, usually set in the European Middle Ages, albeit with some sortie in fantasy. The game offers five single-player campaigns, four-set in China and one in Japan, for a total of thirty-one missions, arranged over a long period that goes from the third century BC to the arrival of the Mongols. Of these, four are military campaigns, while one is referred to as an “economic campaign” because it focuses on other aspects of the gameplay, such as finding resources for the population or rebuilding destroyed structures. In addition to campaigns, Stronghold Warlords also offers other modes for solo players, such as the Skirmish, which pits against one or more CPU-controlled opponents on dedicated maps, or the sandbox mode focused on free construction of castles. In addition to the single-player modes, there is also the possibility to play skirmish maps online.
The gameplay of Stronghold Warlords is typical of RTS, with some important variations determined by the saga to which it belongs and the attempt to introduce new game systems that differentiate it from the competition. The bases are still the classic ones, with the player first having to start gathering resources (wood, iron, rocks, and various types of food) to build the buildings that will give him access to other buildings or stronger units. The economic system put up by Firefly Studios is quite light, in the sense that it is enough to have a certain structure to start automatically collecting the material connected to it, with the workers who are easily able to manage themselves.
At most, new houses need to be built now and then to supply the kingdom with manpower and crops need to be expanded to feed the new arrivals. If you want, you can act on taxes and rations to better modulate the urgent needs of our kingdom. For example, if you are short of money you can double or triple your taxes, recovering the support of the population by increasing the per capita food rations. The aim, except in the maps where other is specified, is always to have enough resources to build a stronghold to defend against aggression and to generate the most powerful army that is possible, to set out to conquer the warlords and, in last resort, of the enemy on duty.
Describe the warlords is quite easy: they are personalities who control more or less extensive territories, staying in their tower, protected by a certain number of soldiers. Conquering them not only expands our possessions but guarantees us the possibility of obtaining extra resources from their territories, through edicts that can be issued only if you have enough diplomacy points available (generated by the benevolence of the people and by dedicated buildings). Warlord towers are also great lookout points for anticipating opponent moves with archers and other troops attacking from a distance. In some missions, those in which the economic part is completely missing (given a certain number of troops, you have to conquer the map without losing them all), are also the only way to get reinforcements.
Strongholds and castles
One of the most interesting parts of the game is the one dedicated to building castles, through an integrated editor, which allows you to erect powerful strongholds in no time at all, made of walls, gates, and towers, useful for defending yourself from aggression and to create more complex defenses than a simple deployment of troops in strategic points. The presence of fortifications is also essential to justify the existence of units dedicated to overcoming or destroying them, such as soldiers with ladders or catapults, which add variety to the battles. In terms of design, castles are closely tied to the maps in which they are built. Let’s say that in most of the campaign missions theirs is a purely functional role, that is, it is better to erect them thinking about their usefulness, while in the sandbox mode you can indulge yourself more with creativity, without worrying about conquests, armies, and battles. Castles are also the fulcrum of defensive missions, those in which you win by accumulating resources and troops, because they allow you to dramatically slow down the advance of the enemy, giving really interesting tactical sides.
A classic game
In terms of game flow, Stronghold: Warlords presents itself as a classic RTS, where the speed with which you gain access to resources matters a lot and accumulate enough troops for defense and attack. The ‘ artificial intelligence CPU-driven enemies are well developed and manage to produce decent tactics, particularly in castle defense, but don’t expect anything too elaborate. The battles range from simple skirmishes between units to the most spectacular assaults on castles, where there is no shortage of remarkable moments among stairs, explosive bullets, and collapsed walls, even in the face of graphics that leave something to be desired overall for style, less for details to the genre). The essence is that we are faced with an overall very valid game, but which, despite some attempts at differentiation, fails to take any step forward to the genre, limiting itself to proposing a formula designed especially for fans of the same. This is how we think about niches that are, giving them exactly what they want. Too bad that long inactivity is risked in this way, but it is inevitable in an era when producing a video game has become a millionaire business.