Stronghold HD Review

Unfortunately, Stronghold’s combat aspect doesn’t rise to the same standard as its base-building aspect. Unit responsiveness is sluggish, and when issued a command, it’s a crapshoot whether or not they move exactly where I want them to and in the manner I expect. There are a number of mechanics that are left opaque to the player — being on high ground apparently confers an advantage upon archers, but how much of an advantage? Do archers have greater difficulty hitting enemies that are hiding in forests? Do enemies gain cover from your own walls, and if so, how much? How is it measured?

Worse yet was the fact that I eventually found myself trying to exploit the weaknesses of the AI and the given mission’s pattern of attack rather than actually strategize in a meaningful way that would be effective against a human opponent. I was no longer a feudal lord building up a defensible castle; I was just trying to outsmart a computer, which killed what was an otherwise immersive experience.

To further complicate matters, when building defensive walls, it’s not always clear whether enemy units can path through certain geographical features, yet using terrain to complete your wall is a great tactic — until you realize you misjudged a tile of terrain and the enemy is pouring into your settlement.

I will credit Stronghold for allowing the player to rotate the game’s isometric view in 90 degree increments — for a non-3D game, I found this impressive. However, it was more useful as an aid for building placement than wall placement.

All things considered, Stronghold remains an entertaining — and even educational — experience, a robust medieval castle sim with dated combat and strategy elements. It lacks some of the amenities we’ve come to expect from a modern RTS, like control groups, rally points, and simple hotkeys, but also reminds us of the good old days, when a game that came with map editor wasn’t the exception to the rule. That map editor, along with a Free Build mode, multiplayer, various different mission types, and two different campaigns, gives Stronghold enough content and replay value to keep you engaged longer than most of today’s AAA titles.

Pros:

  • Entertaining story
  • Two campaigns plus several game types offer a bounty of content
  • Robust but simple-to-use map editor adds replay value
  • Pleasant visuals and music
  • Fantastic castle sim aspects

Cons:

  • RTS aspect shows its age, lacks amenities we’ve come to expect from the genre
  • Moving units can be tedious
  • Combat is subpar for an RTS
  • Walls and pathing can cause headaches

Final Score: 80/100

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