Stronghold Crusader 2 Review – MOUSE n JOYPAD

Stronghold Crusader 2 Review




Ah, Stronghold Crusader. How many hours have I wasted just building amazing (messy), sprawling (overcrowded) cities (junkyards) just to have them razed by a rat-like bastard warlord. It was a masterfully realised game that handled its quirks nicely while delivering an amazing gameplay basis. Both in single player AND multiplayer, and you could play the bugger on a week-old slice of pizza. Alas, that was seemingly a one-hit wander for Firefly Studios, since their newer titles don’t seem to have that flair to them that made the original Crusader such a masterpiece. Granted, Crusader 2 is a huge improvement over Firefly’s last game, it just doesn’t quite reach the heights of its fatherly title. My thoughts on the matter are basically focused on the developer’s transition from 2D to 3D engine, which honestly doesn’t seem well suited to do the job it’s supposed to do perfectly. But let’s leave all of that behind now and focus on the game at hand instead.

Returning to the sands that spawned this offshoot of the Stronghold series, Crusader 2 tries to do the same thing Crusader did back in 2002. Obviously, you take control over one of the two warring sides and try your best to eradicate the enemy. It’s a pretty simple gameplay basis that sets the whole thing up nicely, and nothing is falling apart this time around. So you start building your castle, almost brick-by-brick, since you actually see foundations and such being raised in super-speed to craft a mighty tower/wall/granary for your citizens to use. The castle-building part of the gameplay is great. Too few RTS titles allow their players to rotate buildings and place them wherever they see fit, so this game might be what lite city-builders among us are looking for. It’s not like you can build roads, high-profile infrastructure or anything like that, but giving you the option of creating your own castle, as well as the surrounding buildings, is a great feature – and one that has been translated into the new Stronghold title masterfully. Once again, you will be able to build intricate building combos that boost your economy in one way or another, and prepare your defenses in whatever way you might want to have them work. Since this is the element that dragged me into the first Crusader, I applaud the developer’s choice to make it just as important as it used to be. Once the sh*t hits the fan and your enemies start assaulting your walls, you can actually see bricks flying around, debris falling on the streets as your emplacements fall before your enemy. It’s nothing but eye candy, but it’s nice nonetheless. The repairs are confusing, however, as these take no time at all to initiate and are completed in a matter of seconds. Even if you’re in open combat. Regardless, the city building gameplay is great, albeit a tad bit too focused on wood. Which makes other resources pale in comparison.

After you build your dream castle, you’ll want to mount an attack on your sword enemies. There’s a nice variety of units implemented, but I was expecting a bit more from a Stronghold Crusader title still. Not to mention the fact that the only unit you’ll want to use may very well be the archers, due to their range, cheap production and low maintenance cost. If you’re not into exploiting the game’s most useful unit, you’ll have to scout your enemy’s armies before making a move. Since the combat operates on a simple rock/paper/scissors system, you’ll have to prepare your armies according to what your target is. If you’re aiming to defend against a mounted army, you’ll want to train pikemen, while catapults and burning carts obviously do wonders against buildings and stuff like that. It’s all fairly logical and believable, aside from the central keep where your lord is. Understandably, your goal isn’t simply to kill off the enemy commander, but to raise his castle too, so it’s only natural that this unit should be well-protected and harder to kill than your usual grunt, but seeing catapult boulders fly through the bugger makes little sense. So you have to have a squad of high-end melee units at the ready to kill off the enemy lord after the rest of his army is destroyed. The archers would be an all too easy way to get rid of him without these artificial defenses, and while I certainly understand why these are in place, there probably was a way to protect the lord in a more… logical manner.

As far as visuals go, Stronghold Crusader 2 is looking just as bland as Stronghold 3 did, courtesy of the Firefly’ 3D engine. This time around, however, dynamic shadows look a bit nicer, and ragdoll-powered unit deaths make for a nice addition too. The greenery has also been replaced with good old sand, too, so it’s a different visual experience as far as colours go. Sadly, the game isn’t wonderfully optimized, which results is hefty frame rate drops when action really gets going. I’ve also experienced a couple of crashes, but the latest patches seem to have alleviated the crashing issue.

To summarize the review, Stronghold Crusader 2 is definitely not as good as the original Crusader was, back in the day. It is, however, moving in the right direction (as far away from Stronghold 3 as is humanely possible). I’d say the dev needs a brand new engine for the following Stronghold game, as this one simply isn’t cut out for the trick, and no diseased cow-catapulting can fix that. Thankfully, this game can easily ensnare an avid RTS player with its well-balanced combat and interesting city-building, so not everything is lost by using this engine. There’s some eye-candy to be found such as the ragdolls I’ve mentioned above, but don’t come expecting a beautiful game here. All in all, Firefly are getting better at making modern Stronghold titles, but haven’t quite reached their destination yet. Here’s hoping their next title becomes an instant-legend just as the the first Crusader did!