I met up with the Firefly Worlds guys at last year’s Gamescom, to talk about Stronghold Crusader II, and they had a bold plan for the title. However, since then things went quiet, and so it was quite nice to catch up with them a year later and see what they were up to. Simply put, they’ve been slaving away at the game!
So, it follows quite clearly that this time around, they had a lot more to show off and talk about than last year, beyond discussing plans and showing concept art. A year ago they – and their partners at Gambitious – weren’t quite ready for prime time, but at Gamescom they were able to show me gameplay, and now that their crowd funding project is in full swing, they’re letting us peak behind the curtain.
For those that aren’t familiar with the series, Stronghold Crusader II is set during the Crusades, when the various European kings thought it would be a rollicking good time to go and invade that Middle East place. It puts a different slant on proceedings from the main Stronghold line.
The Crusader spin off is much more about the skirmishing side of things than the main franchise was, and it’s to this firm favourite of many fans which Firefly are returning. Out in the deserts, you’ll be building your castle, but maps can be created in such a way that you’ll be fighting over oases, the few areas where you can have farms and grow food, and control over which will help to starve and weaken your foes.
Building and managing your castle is naturally going to be an important part of the game still, and I’m sure that many fans of the series are glad that the game is stepping away from the free-form layout of Stronghold 3, and returning to the grid system of previous games.
It’s not just that the free-form system didn’t work too well, but having a grid just makes things a whole lot easier to manage. You want to consider your building layout to optimise the workflow and path which supplies take. You can watch the smiths work on armour and swords, and then see this being carried over to the stockpile. Naturally, the shorter the distance, the faster that’s going to happen.
That then supports your army better, and here Firefly have taken the opportunity for a handful of new units to add to the mix and improve upon the old classic. These could be things like having the War Wagon, to help protect your archers in a tank-like vehicle, and let them go toe to toe with defenders on the ramparts, who now get bonus damage from their elevation.
You then have units with special abilities. Slave drivers can push their slaves to try harder, whilst assassins can become invisible and scale walls and whirling dervishes cause a flurry of damage to weaker opponents.
The importance of balancing all of these elements isn’t lost on these guys, and part of how they’re doing this is highlighted by the Arrow Storm, which is an additional upgrade to a siege camp. It can unleash a huge number of arrows, and massacre a lot of defending enemies, but it’s also limited by range, the requirement of being built on top of the siege camp, and so forth. A canny defender will be able to see this happening, and send out troops to disrupt and destroy the enemy progress.
When siege weapons are brought to bear, though, they’ll take good advantage of the new physics engine. As projectiles slam against the stone walls of the Arabic or European styled castles, they’ll gradually start to crumble. You’ll have to be careful as the defender, as these rocks will fall backwards and maybe deal damage to your troops!
You will also have to be wary of the new map events, which could see a locust swarm hamper your crop production, or a tornado which can breeze through and tear up buildings and people. Another excellent use of the physics system, and one which can really affect your plans.
While there’s a campaign mode, and Crusader Trails which are more like specially designed skirmishes that make use of the map events, skirmish mode itself will be what sustains the game years from now. The various AI personalities should help to spice things up. You’ll face up against and deal with the Caliph, who’s good at combat, whilst the Shah might be more willing to bargain and help your economy.
A more reliable character might be that of a friend who you play co-op with. However, instead of putting you in separate castles, the new twist here is that you both control the same place. A useful way of handling attacks from multiple sides, or having one of you deal with the economy and castle building, whilst the other sallies forth with a small army and harries the enemy.
So much of the game hinges on the little touches and attention to the details from Firefly. They’re being careful to stay faithful to the original Crusader game, but also want to add new things to the mix. They’re addressing tiny things like troops bringing pickaxes and crowbars out when they want to attack a wall, whilst at the same time integrating editing features and Steamworks support for sharing. All added together, they’re aiming to make a new Crusader game, to last for another decade.
You can hop over and support their project on Gambitious right now, as it heads to the cut off date on the 28th of September.