Stronghold 3 is a special game. It’s an economy management sim, a castle building sim, and a medieval RTS strategy game all in one. While appealing to so many different tastes may sound like a good thing, it turns out that unfortunately Stronghold 3 doesn’t manage to do any of these things particularly well.
The main focus of Stronghold 3 is the two campaigns. You have the choice between a military campaign and an economic variant. With the military campaign you can expect to find missions ranging from defending and storming castles to more simplistic, rather pointless, get from point A to point B without losing all of your soldiers type missions. The latter of which tends to detract from the rest of the game and end up feeling like filler in between “proper” missions.[drop]Stronghold’s overall goal is to build up a town, defend it from waves of attacks and eventually get up the strength to take the fight to your enemy’s castle. You have to attract workers to your castle through housing, low taxes etc who you can then set to work gathering resources such as wood and food or convert them into troops. However, the process in which this is achieved can be painstakingly slow.
For example, to create bread to feed your peasants you will first need to build a wheat farm. Then you build a mill to turn the wheat into flour and finally build a bakery to turn the flour into bread. This might sound like it would make you want to pull your hair out in boredom but this is actually where a lot of enjoyment can be found in Stronghold 3 and was one of the areas where the original excelled. While it is certainly not for everyone, those who enjoy sim games or who enjoyed the original Stronghold will find pleasure in creating a system that produces enough food to feed the peasants and balancing that with enough peasants to collect all of the required resources.
However, the game doesn’t allow things to be that simple. Sadly, the game is crushingly difficult. A plethora of problems are thrust upon the player from stormy weather to witchcraft, all of which drive your peasants away, slow the game down and make it extremely hard to progress.
Even in the economic campaign, which is supposedly free from the hassles of war, missions where you are suffering waves of attack from bandits or animals from the start manage to prevent you from actually enjoying the missions or completing them in the required time limits.
There is no option to speed up or slow down your peasants and there are no adjustments to the difficulty that the player can make. The game is a constant struggle to the next mission and with no other way to progress through the game, other than completing it one mission at a time, sticking at it and trying again and again is tediously laborious.
To try and give you some scope of the difficulty, I’m used to completing the Total War series of games on the hardest difficulty without having to put much effort in. With Stronghold, it is difficult in a way that your tactics are everything and what you decide to build from the start can make or break the entire mission. If you dont change your tactics to suit the mission, you will not get any further in the game.[videoyoutube]Controlling combat in the game can often be clunky and cumbersome. Selecting troops and ordering attacks is very hit and miss, with the game often requiring you to zoom right in on the action if you want any form of accuracy with your mouse. While building walls when zoomed out, I sometimes found myself with walls just floating in mid air.
While travelling to their location, troops will quite happily take whatever missile is thrown at them, without retaliation, until they reach that destination as a result of some very simple AI. This forces the player to micromanage troop movements and attacks prevent you from spending your time making sure you have enough food in your granary or enough wood in your store. Troop recruitment can also feel like this. I often found the only way to hold off the early waves of attacks was to constantly train troops, which train instantly if you have the required resources, requiring you to keep clicking to train more every 10 or so seconds when a new peasant arrives at your castle.
It’s the game’s limits which also hold Stronghold 3 back from being what it could have been. The original Stronghold had a superb “free build” mode that gave you large maps to create amazing castles with huge armies and economies inside. In Stronghold 3, the free build maps are much smaller in comparison with stone walls and the buildings in general taking up large amounts of space preventing the creative building that could have been a great community feature for the game. There is a section in the menus for “user maps” but this didn’t seem to be working or ready yet (like the multiplayer). How four player multiplayer matches are expected to be played out on such small maps, I don’t know but unless there is a large increase in map size then it will feel very cramped.
Stronghold 3 is not all moans and groans though. I do keep going back, despite my frustration. I also manage to find at least some enjoyment in being presented with a new challenge each mission. The game has a certain charm about it with its localised accents and medieval music and with the option to play historical battles and multiplayer (sadly not working in time for this review) the amount of gameplay available can be extended but there is so much more the game could have offered or done better. A skirmish option against the AI, for example, would have enabled many more hours of gameplay.
- Good sim-like economy management.
- Buildings castles and defending them is fun.
- Charming voice acting.
- You get a big sense of satisfaction from completing a mission.
- Lack of difficulty options means progression will be difficult.
- Free build maps are too small.
- Economic campaign requires too much fighting.
- Combat can be clunky.
- Not very user friendly, little of what building does what is explained.
- Space to build is far too limited.
- The game doesn’t seem finished with multiplayer being broken.
- Newcomers may find it hard to find any fun.
There is a fun game inside Stronghold 3 but it is constantly pushed out of your reach with hindrances and limits that mean this game falls short of what I was hoping it could have been. As someone who put hundreds of hours into the original, I’m sad to say I could create a castle 10 times better in that first game than I could in Stronghold 3 and I would be free from a lot of the harsh limits imposed during the campaign. When these limits are removed, as they are in the minority of missions, the fun is there and you can achieve a great sense of satisfaction from building a formidable yet functional castle. Yet Stronghold 3 will push away many players way before they reach this point with its uncompromising difficulty.
Stronghold 3 provides nothing to attract newcomers to the series and fails to achieve the game that the series’ fans have long been hoping for.