Citadels Review: Stick with Stronghold

Do you dream of playing a great medieval RTS that revolves around the Arthurian mythos? Well, keep dreaming, because Citadels isn’t it.

Yes, Citadels is an RTS set in Arthurian times, but it is a game so plagued with issues that I can hardly believe it was released.

Citadels
Platform: PC
Developer: Games Distillery s.r.o.
Publisher: bitComposer Games
Released: July 25, 2013
MSRP: $39.99

Citadels offers the standard RTS fare: Players mine and refine resources, build defensive structures, train troops, and attack enemies. However, the game’s two main features consist of first boring, and then frustrating, the player.

The issues begin with simple unit selection. Yes, the most basic feature of an RTS — a feature so basic that no one normally even thinks about or comments on it — is abysmally executed. What should be a smooth and transparent game element is clunky and inaccurate. To select a single unit, I found myself unable to simply click on the unit itself — it seems I’d have to counter-intuitively click a little off to the side. And God forbid I would try to drag a selection box in order to command a group of units — there’s a delay in the dragging, and it just feels clumsy.

Once you actually have a group of units selected and have ordered it to move or attack — commands for which there are no hotkeys, because apparently we are still in the early ’90s — you then get to watch them all clip together onto the same spot as they walk or when they eventually reach their destination. The models have no collision with each other, so you often find yourself wondering whether that is just one unit standing there, or 10.

That is assuming, of course, that the units even arrive at their destination. The pathing in Citadels is just as horrible as the selection — units will randomly get stuck on geometry and just give up. At some point, I sent a group of workers to mine some stone, only to discover 10 minutes later that all but one were standing idle a few feet away from the resource. Is there an option to select idle workers? Of course not — that would be far too convenient.

I can’t blame the workers for having a hard time finding the stone, because I had great difficulty doing so myself. Resources aren’t displayed on the minimap — you have to spot them by eye. Finding trees for wood isn’t an issue, but stone is another story entirely. Apparently, despite the fact that you see entire mountains made of stone, you can’t just mine wherever you want to — you must locate the tiny three-foot by three-foot patch of stone that is selectable as a mining resource, which blends in almost perfectly with the surrounding environment. If I wanted to test my visual acuity, I’d play “Where’s Waldo.”

The pathing and selection issues spill over into combat, which is dreadfully sluggish. You can forget about any real degree of micromanagement. By the time you select a unit to, say, move it away before it takes any more hits, it is already dead. Want to focus-fire down a certain enemy unit? Whoops, you’ve accidentally clicked on the ground instead, and your army is now advancing without attacking. While you can set your units’ behavior — aggressive, defensive, or passive — the game lacks even a simple “attack” button, forcing you to click on your enemy in order to issue the command.

Fortunately, the other aspect of the game — base-building and management — is just as tedious, so the combat doesn’t seem that out of place in comparison. When give your worker the build command, he must first run back to your town hall to collect the construction resources needed. It adds a level of tedium that can be argued is included in the name of realism, but realistically, a single worker does not carry the entire batch of resources needed to construct a building in one trip anyway. If you want realism, Citadels, then go all-out; otherwise, stick with the genre’s convention and stop messing with a formula that has worked for the past two decades.

Creating your army is equally tedious, as recruiting a soldier first entails creating a worker, then sending that peasant off to the barracks for training. Factor in the way that workers tend to bunch up on the same square, and you’re not sure how many you just sent to become soldiers. Fun!

Basic RTS amenities like hotkeys and tooltips are either absent altogether or severely lacking. You can’t even queue actions. Once a worker finishes constructing a building, he’ll wait around until you remember to check on him and issue another command.

That is assuming, of course, that you can even figure out what it is you’re meant to be doing. The game’s tutorial does as little as possible to help you out, and in-game instructions are spotty at best. During missions, I often found myself unsure of how to accomplish the listed goals. A new objective would briefly appear onscreen, telling me to “Train 9 soldiers and 9 archers.” But the only lasting text on the objective list stated “Train an army.” What if I didn’t remember the exact numbers? What if I had missed that brief notification altogether?

While this is barely worth mentioning given the larger problems, Citadels’ graphics are nothing impressive. I wouldn’t call the game ugly; the visuals are simply dated and unremarkable. The unit dialogue is all gibberish — or perhaps Celtic, who knows — so you can’t understand anything being said. Yes, perhaps this is in the name of historical accuracy, but I believe we would all appreciate the dialogue and voice acting much more if the words were coherent.

Since we may as well continue to pile on at this point, the options menu is also cumbersome. To adjust the volume, there are no sliders — if you want to go from 100% to 0% music volume, you must click the arrow and tick all the way through to 0%, a few percent at a time. The only settings available to customize are audio and video; Citadels lacks any form of gameplay options or key customization.

If Citadels had perhaps attempted to accomplish something original and failed, it could at least be lauded for trying. However, the game doesn’t try to change the RTS formula in any meaningful way, and in fact takes several steps back along the genre’s evolutionary path. The combination of missing strategy game features, AI and pathing issues, unit selection and command options, and mechanics that drag out the game for no justifiable reason result in an experience that feels more like a chore than a game. Everything — from establishing an economy to building an army to attacking the enemy — simply involves too many mundane and time-consuming steps. I find the very thought of playing again daunting as I mentally work through every laborious step I’ll have to take in any given mission. Every poor design decision and every technical failure combine to create an experience that you simply want to end.

Final verdict? Put it back in the oven; this game is not ready. Citadels is simply tedious to play. I never once found myself having any semblance of fun. Not only is Citadels not worth the $40 price tag it is somehow selling for, I couldn’t recommend this game even if it were free-to-play. Maybe if the developers had more time and a bigger budget, Citadels could have been salvaged into something at least half-decent. But as it stands, this is one of the worst games I’ve ever played — it simply fails in execution in just about every way imaginable.

Pros:

  • It did not install a virus on my computer
  • It only wasted 2.25 GB of space on my hard drive
  • It feels great to stop playing
  • It makes me remember how great Stronghold was

Cons:

  • Pathing issues
  • Lacks basic RTS features
  • Controls are barely responsive
  • Tedious combat and base-building
  • Poor in-game instructions

Final Score: 21/100


Game Front employs a 100-point scale when reviewing games to be as accurate about the experience as possible. Read the full rundown of what our review scores mean.


Read more of CJ Miozzi’s work here, and follow him and Game Front on Twitter: @rhykker and @gamefrontcom.

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1 Comment on Citadels Review: Stick with Stronghold

quicktooth

On August 7, 2013 at 10:45 pm

Mad props to Gamefront for delving into the almost-uneard-of scoring territory of the 20% range. I don’t even remember ever seeing any game rated there. Seeing as most of the industry is on a four-point scale anyway (from “7″ to “10″), this is a major sign that Gamefront is serious about it’s Games Journalism. I think I might have seen a score in the 0-49 range in the last fifteen years that isn’t this game… I think…