Originally released back in 2001 the Stronghold series has spanned quite a few games over the years. What has always been unique about the series is its emphasis on building and storming castles which distinguished it from most other RTS games. The last game to be released in the series was back in 2014. Finally the series has returned today with the latest game Stronghold: Warlords. Stronghold: Warlords takes the series to southeast Asia and introduces a new Warlords mechanic to the game. Honestly I have never played a game from the Stronghold series before, but I was intrigued by Stronghold: Warlords as I have always liked RTS games. Stronghold: Warlords is an interesting and fun take on the traditional RTS genre even though it is considerably more fun defending than attacking.
At its core Stronghold: Warlords is a RTS. Thus the ultimate goal of most missions/battles is to defeat your opponent’s leader. You will be able to hire/recruit various types of soldiers that will help you defend/attack your opponents. These range from basic foot soldiers to ranged units and even siege weapons. The game is built around castles which is important to both defense and offense. Building walls will help hold back enemy units while you attack them with ranged units. While attacking you will need to deal with the walls which can either be done by scaling them with ladders or tearing them down. The ultimate goal is to kill the opposition leader in order to eliminate them from the game.
Anyone that has read my review of other RTS games here on Geeky Hobbies will probably know that I have always had kind of a weird take on the RTS genre. While most people love the combat element of RTS games, I honestly have never been a huge fan of it. I have never been a huge fan of micromanaging units and creating teams of units whose strengths and weaknesses compliment one another. Honestly my strategy in most RTS games has been to build up a strong enough economy where I can just pump out enough units that I can eventually overwhelm my opponent. In addition I have always preferred playing defense over offense as this relies on less micromanaging of units.
I wanted to bring this up as my feelings about the combat in Stronghold: Warlords is pretty heavily influenced by this. As a fan of playing defense I thought the emphasis on building walls to protect your base was good. If you want to you can build strong defenses to hold back a large invading force. Some of my favorite moments in RTS games have come from missions that required you to try to survive for as long as possible. I really liked this element of Stronghold: Warlords. It is fun trying to defend your city against a siege. This emphasis on building castles and walls does require quite a bit more micromanaging of units when you go on offense though. I wasn’t a huge fan of this. I did think it was kind of fun storming castles and making your way through several layers of walls as it is more satisfying than just killing a bunch of units. I just thought attacking was not nearly as satisfying as defending though.
Attacking and defending is just one element of the game though. To create those units to attack and defend, you need to build up your city in order to provide you with the needed resources. You will be gathering various resources from stockpiles scattered around the map. You will construct buildings which can be used by your citizens in order to extract the corresponding resources. They will then transport the goods they acquire to the corresponding storage buildings. These resources are then used to construct various buildings or troops. Unlike a lot of RTS games, in order to create most of the units you need to create workshops to craft the weapons that they need before they can be recruited.
The main area where this element of the game differentiates from most other RTS games is that it has an emphasis on citizens. Citizens really drive the whole economy. Without citizens you will have no one to gather resources for you or to recruit as soldiers. Thus maintaining a large population will help you build the army that you will need in order to defeat your opponents. Basically you need to keep your citizens happy in order to attract more people to your city. If you have a net positive approval you will attract new citizens, but if people are unhappy they will leave. To make citizens happy you can give them better housing, more food, luxury goods, or other things to generally make their lives better. There is also the option of making your citizens fear you which has the same desired outcome with some potential side effects. In addition to having more citizens to use for resource gathering, a high popularity allows you to tax your citizens more which is needed to fund your military operations.
This was honestly the element of Stronghold: Warlords that I enjoyed the most. This was probably partially due to the fact that I have always been more interested in the building aspect of this genre over the destruction/combat. What I found really interesting about this element of the game was that in a way it kind of felt like a giant puzzle. You are only given a limited amount of space so you can’t build everything that you want. Thus you need to figure out the best layout for your city. There is a lot of things that you need to keep in mind when building. Storage locations need to be placed near their corresponding gathering buildings in order to reduce the amount of travel time. There are also buildings that need to be placed next to your residential buildings in order to maximize their benefits. While you could place buildings basically wherever you want, to make the most efficient city to support your military actions you need to create a well run city where all of the buildings work well together. I found this element of the game to be really intriguing as each city can have its own unique feel to it.
The final main mechanic in Stronghold: Warlords is the Warlords mechanic. Basically throughout the map there will be neutral factions not aligned with any of the main factions. These factions can be conquered either militarily or diplomatically in order to have them join your empire. Once you gain control over the faction they will provide you with various benefits which you can use to either provide you with extra resources or other bonuses. You have to defend these factions though as your opponents could easily take control of them and use them to their own benefit.
I liked the Warlord mechanic as it adds some interesting elements to the game. In a way these factions feel like little kingdoms that owe their allegiance to you. The resources and other benefits they provide you with can really help you build your city and army. In exchange though you need to defend them which can spread your military units a little thin. If you don’t keep an eye on all of them, an enemy can easily sneak in and take over. I wasn’t a huge fan of having to sometimes micromanage them to make sure they weren’t conquered, but otherwise I thought they were a nice addition to the game.
At this point Stronghold: Warlords has a number of different game modes to play through. The game includes a campaign that features 31 missions that take you through five or six different mission chains based in different areas of southeast Asia. The length and objectives of the various missions differ. Some missions require you to build an army to capture the enemy’s leader, while others give you a pre-built army with no way of replenishing it. Other missions focus on resource gathering or defending yourself against waves of enemies sent to attack your city. Of all of the missions I generally preferred the more defensive missions as I just found it to be more satisfying to defend than attack. The single player game also features a free build mode which allows you to build the city of your desires without having to worry about being attacked. You can honestly get quite a bit out of just the single player elements of Stronghold: Warlords.
Like most RTS games a majority of your time with the game will likely come from the multiplayer though. The game features a few different multiplayer modes, but they mostly boil down to your typical deathmatch where you have to defeat your opponent’s leader. The game allows players to play by themselves or you could play in teams. The game also includes bots so you can create a team to take on a group of AI opponents. The game features a number of different groups/tribes that you can play as, but they all have access to the same units so outside of cosmetics they don’t really play all that differently. I had fun with the multiplayer as I thought it was fun teaming up with another player. I don’t know how much of an online player base that the game is going to develop (as I played the game before its release), but like most RTS games the multiplayer could add a lot of replay value to Stronghold: Warlords. I can see a lot of different ways of approaching the game which should lead to some interesting strategies.
As for the game’s atmosphere I had some mixed feelings. Parts of the game look pretty good and other elements feel a little outdated. Basically if you are zoomed out pretty far the game looks pretty good. If you zoom in quite a bit though you start to notice the elements that seem kind of outdated. Because of this I was a little surprised by how taxing the game was at times on my PC as it was higher than the recommended settings in all areas. Thus I had to lower some settings below where I would normally have to. I mostly bring this up since if your PC is closer to the minimum settings you may need to settle for the lower settings unless there is a patch that optimizes the game. As for the overall story, I honestly don’t know much about the history of the region where the game takes place. In some ways the game seems to have tried to remain true to history, but it has also taken some liberties as well. Finally the audio is pretty mixed. I thought the background music was pretty good. I will say that the voice acting relies pretty heavily on caricatures of people from southeast Asia though. In particular your advisor is kind of annoying and some people will find him to be offensive/racist.
Despite no prior experience with the Stronghold franchise I was intrigued by Stronghold: Warlords. There are a lot of things that I liked about the game, but there were a few things that I think could have been a little better. What initially intrigued me about the game was the castle building mechanics as I have always been a bigger fan of playing defense than offense in RTS games. I thought this element of the game was strong as it is really satisfying defending your castle against an invading force. The city building element is also quite interesting as you have to try and keep your people happy in order to keep them productive to expand your city and grow your army. In a way the city builder aspect of the game kind of feels like a puzzle. The main problem that I had with the game is that attacking is just not as satisfying as hunkering down and defending yourself. It is kind of fun raiding castles, but some of the combat mechanics feel kind of dated.
If you have never really cared for the RTS genre or are more the type of player that likes to attack, Stronghold: Warlords may not be for you. Fans of the Stronghold franchise or those that think the premise sounds interesting though, should enjoy Stronghold: Warlords and consider picking it up.
Buy Stronghold: Warlords online: Steam
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank FireFly Studios for the review copy of Stronghold: Warlords used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.