Stronghold 2 PC CD-ROM
Published by 2K Games
Developed by Firefly Studios
Release Date: Out Now
Stronghold 2, an introduction.
With strategy games containing less and less resource management in recent years it was great to see Firefly Studios' Stronghold. The game offered both a solid resource management system and enjoyable battles. You could choose to play an economic or military campaign and on the whole it was an enjoyable experience. Stronghold Crusader, a standalone expansion pack offered a refined game experience and was no less impressive. Finally though we have the true sequel, Stronghold 2.
What's the game about?
Stronghold 2 once again sees us back in medieval times and as before you have a variety of economic and combat based missions to tackle. In Stronghold 2, as before, you'll be in charge of the running of the castle. You'll have to make sure the peasants have enough food to eat, that they pay their taxes etc. and in addition you'll have to maintain a strong military to act as a deterrent to possible rivals. The game is split down the middle with one section being called 'The Path of Peace', and the other being 'The Path of War'. 'The Path of Peace' offers a campaign, free build and custom maps options whilst 'The Path of War' offers a campaign, a custom map mode, a Kingmaker mode (which is essentially a skirmish mode against a collection of AI rivals and it's quite enjoyable) and the popular Siege mode. If you've played the Siege mode in the previous Stronghold games you'll know it offers a choice of defending a castle or laying siege to it. There's a variety of castles for the Siege mode and as before it's a challenging task. You'll also find a map editor to create custom maps with which you can use in either the peace or war sections of the game. Finally you can also play multiplayer games involving up to 8 players if you wish.
What's good about the game?
Like the previous Stronghold games there's a lot of variety in the game and the campaigns alone will offer you 20 plus hours and these are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what the game has to offer. Once you're done with the campaigns you can spend hours in the Free Build mode and thanks to the new 3D game engine it's prettier to look at. If Free Build's not for you and you fancy some combat then you have a choice of Siege or the new Kingmaker mode. Whilst you can play the Kingmaker mode against the AI, it's a much better experience against human opposition thanks to the AI not being the most intelligent we've seen.
What's not so good about the game?
Being 3D, Stronghold 2 is naturally more of a demanding game and you'll need a good specification PC in order to be able to play the game in high resolutions with high details. I've taken a look at quite a few reviews for the game and many have commented on the game (the battles in particular) causing the game to temporarily pause. In all honesty the game doesn't do this for me but then I am playing the game using an ATi X800XT graphics card. This is a strong graphics card that has 256MB RAM which is a lot more than average PC user would have so maybe that's the reason performance has been OK for me. However it's worth bearing in mind that you probably won't be in for a smooth ride if your graphics card doesn't pack a punch.
Probable performance issues aside (my only complaint would be that the game takes a silly amount of time to load), I didn't find the campaigns as good as in the previous Stronghold games. Sometimes you're asked to do certain tasks that haven't been explained to you in the tutorial and things can feel like trial and error at times. Some of the scenarios feel a little uninteresting too which is a little disappointing. It would have also been good if the peaceful campaign had actually meant you were free from conflict but it still crops up although not in a major way. The game was released with some critical bugs that caused instability. At the time of writing 2 patches have been released which make the game more playable. The interface doesn't feel as user friendly this time around. I'm not saying there's anything terribly wrong with it only that after playing Stronghold again, I preferred the way it was in the original game.
How does it look?
Stronghold 2 makes the leap from 2D to 3D and on the whole it looks as good as most 3D RTS games out there. Being 3D means you can rotate the map and zoom in. In fairness though there's no real need to zoom in or out and the moving units don't look that impressive close up anyway. The environments on the whole look quite detailed and the water effects in particular are quite impressive. There are some animation problems with the units though and if you watch them close up they will occasionally slide rather than walk which looks a little odd. The thing you have to consider with Stronghold 2 being 3D is that you're going to need a capable graphics card in order to play the game at the maximum details. If you're the kind of gamer who plays the latest FPS games without any speed issues, you should be fine but if strategy is your sole genre then performance could be an issue.
How deaf gamer friendly is the game?
Stronghold 2, for the most part, is OK for deaf gamers. There are a few areas where it could have been better. The intro movie isn't subtitled. The intro to the campaigns isn't subtitled either. Whilst you're playing the scenarios you'll have verbal hints of what to do from time to time and these aren't subtitled. The tutorial is mostly subtitled but there is some speech when you are being shown the objectives screen that isn't subtitled, which is a little sloppy. Briefings, hints and objectives are shown in text and objectives can be recalled at any given time which is always useful. The responses that your units give when you issue an order to them are not shown in text.
Stronghold was a success for Firefly Studios and I daresay that a lot of gamers have been eagerly awaiting this sequel. Whilst Stronghold 2 is a good game in its own right I can't help feel a little disappointed with the game. The graphics engine looks good although for a lot of gamers there probably will be performance issues, (make sure you patch the game as the 1.2 patch fixes a memory leak problem) as a result of the move away from 2D. There are certainly plenty of modes to enjoy too and the addition of the Kingmaker mode is a welcome one. However the enemy AI in battles is a little too predictable and I do wish the campaigns had been more interesting. With all this in mind though it's still a game fans of Stronghold and Stronghold Crusader will enjoy but do make sure you install the patches before playing the game.
Overall Game Rating: 7.0/10
Deaf Gamers Classification
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Stronghold 2 isn't quite the sequel fans of the original game would have hoped for. The 3D game engine looks good but it will take it's toll on less than stellar PC's. The campaigns lack the sparkle of those found in the previous Stronghold games. The game isn't as deaf gamer friendly could be.