Stronghold 3 Review: Beware Enraged Bears
UPDATE: Firefly Studios released a patch for Stronghold 3 as this article was being published. It adds an option to speed up gameplay, and promises to correct the problems with unit selection and AI. While this does not excuse the unfinished state the game was released in, or affect its final score, those still interested in purchasing the game after reading the below review should take these changes into account.
Even when the design of a game goes horribly wrong, you expect some things to come out unscathed. The numbers, for instance. As long as the developers can handle some simple math, the software should be able to take care of the rest.
Stronghold 3 is a game about building castles. To build castles, you need stone, painstakingly harvested. Throw down one end of a mighty wall, drag the the mouse to lengthen it, and a counter will appear, showing how much stone you have, and how much the wall will cost.
I had 60 stone. I wanted to build a 60-stone wall. I clicked and clicked. And there was the counter, reading “60/60,” but with the first number in rage-inducing red. In Stronghold 3, you need 61 stone to build a 60-stone wall. It doesn’t even get the numbers right.
Game: Stronghold 3
Platforms: PC (Reviewed)
Developer: Firefly Studios
Publisher: SouthPeak Games
Released: October 25th, 2011
The game, from developers Firefly Studios, puts reviewers in an awkward position. It has some endearing qualities, including an earnest narrator who sounds like Sir Hiss from Disney’s Robin Hood. “Quit Strrronghold Thrrrreee, sire?” he trills every time you want to leave the program. But no amount of silly voice acting can paper over the fact that the game shipped in such poor condition that it’s almost unplayable. After 10 hours with the game, I decided that I had had quite enough.
Stronghold 3 is a game about castle-building in which some units occasionally shoot through walls. Despite its sudden, unexpected difficulty spikes, the game has no quicksave, and no autosave — even the manual save doesn’t work as intended.
Sure, it starts out innocuously enough. Stronghold 3′s economy resembles the Tropico series, basing itself on the immigration or emigration of “peasants” who act as the game’s most important resource. Peasants arrive at your castle if conditions are good — if there’s sufficient food and shelter, frequent religious services, and a low tax burden. They’ll even come more often when the weather’s nice.
Once ensconced within the castle, the peasantry forms the backbone of your economy. Build them the appropriate buildings to work in, and they’ll farm pigs, milk cows, cut down trees, quarry stone, and shape wood into bows and pikes. These actions are performed at an absolutely glacial pace — I spent my first ten minutes with Stronghold 3 trying to find the button to increase the game speed. With no way to invigorate or even directly control your leadfooted labor force, managing the economy consists of setting the system in motion, cracking open a good book, and hoping that you have the right resources on hand when the going gets tough.
Stronghold 3 provides a wide range of different buildings, though it isn’t particularly interested in explaining what each one is for. More troubling is the fact that it is impossible to assign peasants to particular buildings. If you go on a construction binge, they’re equally likely to start working your extra pig farms as they are your crucial new iron mine.