Stronghold Legends – PC
Release Date (NA): October 13th, 2006
Developer: Firefly Studios
Rating: 6.5 out of 10
The Stronghold series is one of the few sets of games I’ve ever bothered much with on a computer, but I have poured just as many hours into these titles as anything else in my collection. Following both Stronghold and Stronghold 2, Stronghold Legends introduces its fair share of new gameplay elements and adopts a visual style somewhere between its predecessors. In many respects this is my favorite entry in the franchise, but I will be objective enough to point out that I like it a lot because it’s much easier than the previous games, and it’s much easier because of diminished RTS elements.
Like the other 2 Strongholds, Legends is mostly based upon building castles, raising a military, defending the castle, and engaging in sieges of enemy castles. There are a number of aspects to consider such as creating and managing industry for raw materials, funding and training a military as well as a means to equip them, managing agriculture for the food supply of the town, and accruing “honor points’ to access and train specialized units and assisting in the creation of stronger standard units such as swordsmen and knightsi. Perhaps the most difficult concept to grasp in the early stages of play is setting up an efficient tax system. One’s castle needs to raise enough money to pay for military troops and other odds and ends, but the castle also needs to be friendly and hospitable to settlers from a safety and financial standpoint.
The other major facet of gameplay in Legends is the actual deployment and direction of the military. The player is responsible for what types of troops are created, how many troops are created, and where and what the troops will be doing. Missions often allow one a little time to focus solely on the castle while the opponents do so as well. Soon however, Legends becomes a balancing act between town management and military campaigning. In the earlier games military strategy was often complex and a lot of time was spent figuring out what troops would be best in a given situation and what areas the military might needed to focus on. Legends largely does away with any specific strategy and instead relies on some very basic maneuvering as well as the help of special units.
Stronghold Legends lets the player choose a lord with either a good, ice, or evil theme. When playing through the 1-player campaign, these correspond to easy, medium, and hard respectively. Aside from affecting the visual landscape of the player’s designated area, there is no difference in castle building or the standard military. However, one does have the option to build an exclusive facility designed to train specialized units. With Arthur/Lancelot (good), the Knights of the Round Table can be summoned, each one being a very powerful mounted warrior and each having a special ability, such as shielding nearby troops from arrows, healing nearby troops, or revealing hidden traps around castle walls such as spike pits. Dragons can also be created; they are a semi-tough, flying ally able to easily set fires to lands within the castle walls or to troops in the towers. Siegfried (ice) can generate ice giants, flying witches, and wolves. Ice giants devastate castle walls and can take an astonishing number of hits, while the witches can generally be killed by 1 arrow but their flying ability can make them difficult to track and intercept, and a large enough force can quickly take out a tower or two filled with archers. Dracula (evil) uses his specialized barracks to form giant bats, dragons (with the same abilities as King Arthur’s dragons), werewolves, and others. Bats will launch kamikaze-style attacks on castle walls or towers, and werewolves are strong opponents able to quickly scale walls and punch holes in the defense of an enemy castle.
Gathering the needed resources isn’t nearly as hard in Legends as it was in the first game for reasons I don’t fully understand. Somehow it is much easier to get a working economy up that mostly takes care of itself so that the player can begin on military aspects of the game as soon as possible. Perhaps the workers’ output is faster and therefore more resources are available more quickly. It could be that the population is not as sensitive to change, making it easier to keep the townspeople satisfied and most importantly paying taxes. Whatever it is, even the most novice of players should be able to get up a decent stone wall and fortify it with 2 to 3 dozen archers by the time any enemy sends its first wave over. The first months of a mission were never this easy in Stronghold or its expansion pack Stronghold Crusader; in fact many times a wall was nowhere near complete and the lord himself had to be assigned to help repel the invasion.
The one player campaigns range from trivial conquests to massive sieges. This mostly follows the gameplay of the other titles, but the strategies for setting up and moving troops aren’t nearly as rigid. Whereas a knub of a hill or a well placed rock could mean the difference between utter defeat outside the castle walls or a total victory with less than 5% casualties, nothing so precise seems to be a part of Legends. Some campaigns begin from the ground up allow the player great variety in accomplishing the goal while others start with a fixed number of soldiers and equipment with which to conduct a seige.
Another 1-player mode allows the player to pick one of several maps of varying difficulty to begin building a castle on while also choosing how many opponents he or she will face along with where on the map these opponents will be placed. This is my favorite method of play, although it may only be because I exploit a weakness in the game. Once weapon production is going well and I feel enough archers are in place for defense, I go for broke and recruit as many knights as I can. Knights combine the extreme toughness and fighting ability of the swordsmen, but since they are mounted on horses there’s no need to endure the long, sleep-inducing crawl of the swordsmen.
Once I have 60 to 80 knights, I begin building siege towers and recruiting archers, along with some specialized troops. In the case of playing as “good,” I fill 4 to 8 siege towers with archers and crossbowmen to rid enemy walls of towers of opposing soldiers. Afterwards I send in all the nights and a few Knights of the Round Table, usually the one that can bring down part of an adversary’s wall and another to temporarily guard from projectiles. With the elevated archers providing support from behind, the lord is dead in minutes. I employ similar strategies with the other lords, a noticeable difference being that of Siegfried where I simply build up a force of around 200 witches bringing the defensive archers down in no time and allowing for a force of 20 or so knights to go in and finish the job. It really shouldn’t be this easy, but either the designers didn’t intend for so many special units to be created or never really tested them out properly.
I really enjoy the visual style of Legends. The 3D is done well, in a nice unobtrusive fashion that doesn’t hinder castle building or military management. The first Stronghold and Crusader were 2D through and through and as such there wasn’t always the greatest perspective of the surroundings to be seen except by constantly rotating the view. The 3D environment in Stronghold 2 proved very difficult at times, especially in missions where making extremely efficient use of the land is paramount.
Gameplay is virtually identical to other games in the series and I have no complaints here. Anyone familiar with the clicking and dragging to move armies and using the mouse to place a building will feel immediately at home.
I like the adjustments to Legends on a fundamental level as it makes the process of juggling so many tasks much more manageable. But even though I win a hell of a lot easier with the new creatures and warriors it’s easy to see a lot of the difficulty has been cut out. Even though everyone has their own set of specialized units there are few weaknesses to exploit. I’ve never had an opportunity to play against a human opponent, but I suspect it would devolve into a numbers game with these new troops, or coalesce into a stalemate due to increasingly cautious defenses. Still, this is my go-to game when I feel like some medieval action.
Reviewed by The Cubist
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