Stronghold HD Review
From a presentation standpoint, the game’s graphics are obviously dated, consisting of animated sprites in an isometric viewpoint, but that’s not a complaint. Within the context of a non-3D, decade-old game, Stronghold looks good. Trees blow in the wind, castle walls become visibly damaged, waterfalls cascade down into rivers, and everything but the soldiers is rendered with realistic textures. From an environment that is brought to life by wandering wolves, rabbits, deer, and bears that all behave and interact in a believable manner, to the level of detail placed in the individual castle elements, Stronghold’s realistic visuals help cement the sim aspect of the game and immerse the player. Traditional medieval music, coupled with the occasional Gregorian chant, sets an appropriate mood for the game while being pleasant to the ear.
The military campaign presents Stronghold’s story: you are a fresh-faced commander tasked with regaining control of the Kingdom, whose counties have been divided among four villainous lords with dastardly nicknames: The Rat, The Snake, The Pig, and The Wolf. The game does a fantastic job of introducing these antagonists early and often, vilifying them and rendering their eventual defeat all the sweeter. Each villain personifies his animalistic nickname, from The Rat’s lowly sniveling to The Pig’s gluttonous grunts. These characters are brought to life by decent voice acting that straddles the line between cartoony caricature and Bond villain.
Your advancement throughout the campaign is clearly displayed between missions by the map of England, color-coded for your convenience: every county you conquer adopts your color, granting you measurable progress and keeping the end in sight. Unfortunately, the campaign has little replay value, as you have no decisions to make that impact the story, and the AI in individual missions is programmed to follow the same pattern during every play-through.
Gameplay itself revolves around resource management, be it the wood, stone, and metal you need in order to construct buildings and weapons, the meat, cheese, and bread you need to keep your people fed, or the people themselves and how you decide to assign them jobs. Stronghold gets far more into sim territory than most RTS games — the city you build will look and function like a believable period settlement.
Weapons don’t poof into existence — lumberjacks chop down trees, carry the trunks to their workshop, work the raw material into lumber, then carry the lumber to the stockpile, where bowyers pick it up, bring it to their workshop, construct bows, then deliver them to your armory. Bread doesn’t just materialize from wheat — farmers grow and harvest their crop, then transport it to the stockpile, where it’s picked up my millers who transform it into flour before passing it off to bakers. The level of detail and realism is remarkable.