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.
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.
Download Stronghold Crusader
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
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.