Stronghold Crusader

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a game by FireFly Studios Ltd.
Platform: PC (2002)
Editor Rating: 8.3/10, based on 2 reviews, 3 reviews are shown
User Rating: 8.7/10 - 6 votes
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See also: Best RTS Games

As one of the most popular strategy game series of all-time, Stronghold has become a household name. one of the most beloved releases came in the early 2000s, when Stronghold: Crusader was released in 2002. Developed by Firefly Studios, the game was a massive success and tended to provide a much greater range of improvements, features, and opportunities compared to its predecessor, the original Stronghold. With the best part of 20 years since it was released, though, how does Stronghold: Crusader feel today?

An intriguing, old-school strategy title

Similar in vein to many games of the era such as Age of Empires (at least in terms of aesthetic), Stronghold: Crusader was a game where you took part in the Middle East in the middle of the Crusades. You take charge of attacking or defending a stronghold, using your pre-built army to charge in, take over, or fend off the attacking forces.

Alongside an enjoyable campaign feature, players could take part in single-player skirmishes that would allow for bespoke battles against the AI, offering greater opportunity to mess around and experiment with the gluttony of different units you could play with.

An updated version of Crusader was released in 2008, though many still to this day prefer to play the classic castle sim original.

A classic that was ahead of its time

Upon release, Stronghold: Crusader was met with largely positive responses. At the time it was praised for its graphics (though obviously dated by todays standards), and most found it to be an intriguing title that improved on more or less every part of the original game in terms of its style.

The game was well loved because it provided a simple way to enjoy either a siege as the attacker, or holding off your fort from being overtaken. The campaign was well-liked, too, with enough variety in the levels to help keep things interesting enough from level to level.

The game itself also was rated because it provided a range of interesting Lords to pick from, all of which could provide a slightly different kind of experience compared to the others.

For its time, Stronghold offered a move away from the general rinse-repeat of base building that was so common in RTS games of the era. For that reason, it tends to hold a pretty large place in the hearts of many gamers of the era who enjoys its more bombastic, aggressive style and stone.


Though it can feel a touch slow and dated today, for a release in 2002 it helped to add an extra layer of intrigue and invention. Given many strategy games since have followed the removal of traditional base building, too, this was an intriguing change.


  • Easy to play, with variety in the units and factions to play as
  • Engaging gameplay that often led to action instead of waiting around
  • Impressive graphics and playing style for the era


  • A little hard to play today on modern hardware
  • Not as modernised or as refreshed as recent Stronghold releases

Download Stronghold Crusader


System requirements:

  • PC compatible
  • Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP

Game Reviews

I once correctly identified that a PCZ caller was playing Stronghold by hearing the gentle mooing of cows in the background. This told me a) I'd been playing the game for far too long, b) so had he. and c) that it was all the little details that made Stronghold such an entertaining RTS. A bacon sandwich RTS, as I like to call them - one that isn't overburdened by micromanagement, allowing you you take time to sit back and munch your plate of bacon sarnies. And perhaps drink a pot of tea.

Stronghold: Crusader, on the other hand, is more of a Pot Noodle RTS. requiring more consistent attention and non-greasy fingers, as it revolves around multiple opponents and frantic skirmish gameplay. "We always wanted to do an awesome skirmish game," explains Simon Bradbury, director at Firefly Studios. "But as back in 1998 we wanted to do a really good castle sim game to come out in 2001, we couldn't do the skirmish side as well because it would have taken an extra year of work and budgeting. So we thought we'd try and do Stronghold in two parts, and Crusader is effectively part two."

The Second Coming

And part two is the best description for it, because Crusader is much more than an expansion, yet doesn't add quite enough to qualify as a new game altogether. Graphically, and to a large extent in its economic system, it's the same as its predecessor, but in this case the action takes place in the harsh Syrian deserts on the path of the Crusades rather than on the green fields of home.

Twenty missions divided into four chapters make up the campaign mode, which allows you to play as both the European and Arabian sides, as well as teaching you to master the sneaky yet vulnerable new Arabic units. But it's the skirmish options that make up the real meat of the game with a 50-mission 'skirmish trail' where you play through increasingly difficult scenarios, forming alliances and defeating multiple enemies along the way.

Although you'll be using many of the same economic units, the desert environment means that fertile land suitable for farming is pretty scarce and controlling the oases - where the best land is found - is essential for mounting a successful campaign. Fire is also an ever-present danger, as well as being a primary weapon of the Arabian forces.

Eastern Promise

Previously, skirmish mode has been something of an afterthought with strategy titles, frequently tagged onto the end of a game as an optional extra. Stronghold: Crusader looks like it's going to redress the balance, and produce a game that thrives on epic battles with multiple-opponents. Whereas the first Stronghold title might have seemed too much of a sim/building game for hardcore strategists, Stronghold: Crusader combines glorious depictions of medieval life with full-on, slap-in-the-face strategy. It's not just about pretty Lego castles. This time it's war.

Before I Played Stronghold for this review, the only thing I knew about it was that you could catapult dead cows over the walls of a castle, causing disease and despair within if the corpse was left rotting for awhile. In fact, I was tempted to give the game a good mark just for that But what I found was a genuinely decent strategy game.

Crusader uses the tried-and-tested Stronghold gameplay of building a castle and defending it against repeated attacks and seiges, while constructing a thriving community within your fortress' walls. The twist with this edition is the action takes place the Middle East, making Saracens and Sassanids the foes you must face.

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