Although there is exactly zero footage from the upcoming game with the working title Stronghold: Next by FireFly Studios, there is quite a lot of data that can be milked out of their developer videos on YouTube that have gradually revealed more and more information since the start of 2018, despite their original idea to save all the info for the reveal trailer that kept getting delayed and is now expected to come out in early 2019.
Here is a massive info-dump what we’ve been able to gather so far. If you don’t feel like reading that much, don’t worry, as there is also a TL;DR version at the bottom of the article.
At gamescom 2015, Stronghold: Next was announced alongside the iOS port of the free-to-p(l)ay game Stronghold Kingdoms, but unlike the latter, it did not have any footage shown whatsoever.
It was still in early phases of re-imagining be the next gamescom (2016) without much serious work done on it, as the studio was focusing on Stronghold Kingdoms updates, the Steam Edition of Stronghold Legends, and, as it would be revealed in March 2017, Metamorph: Dungeon Creatures.
In April 2017, FireFly started to seriously open up on their creative processes and make weekly videos for the community, in the forms of Q&As, reaction videos to Steam reviews, community spotlights, developer interviews, etc. However, Stronghold: Next was not mentioned until way later on 9 November 2017, when FireFly Studios co-founder Simon Bradbury merely stated that the game would full production in the next year, but art assets were heavily in the works. The next announcement on the game was to reveal the game's real title, setting, and the features. He announced that the game would have the core Stronghold gameplay, but with a new gameplay mechanic.
On 11 January 2018, the studio’s marketing director Nick Tannahill announced that Stronghold: Next was in full production, and that it would be shown on one of the gaming conventions (one they had visited before, likely hinting at gamescom) that summer, but this ultimately did not occur.
Although the gameplay reveal was ultimately not shown in 2018, and community manager Aaron Hayden announced its delay for early 2019 due to certain features not being ready to show to the public just two weeks ago, this year we’ve seen a lot of Q&As and developer interviews that answered some, for the lack of a better term, “non-spoiler” questions about the game without revealing the setting, name, exact units, or the gameplay mechanic. So here is what we know from those videos.
In the first-ever “Community Spotlight” video from 15 March 2018, Hayden kicked off small Q&As from the community, including Stronghold: Next questions. He denied any Switch ports for Stronghold: Next and conventional upgrade systems (i.e. upgrading units and structures), but said that there would be a change in the way castles are built, and economy and estates (a slippedly-confirmed returning feature) are managed. While misunderstanding the question on whether or not it will have a ranking system (the person who asked it meant leaderboards), he confirmed the return of the “greatest lord” system from the Crusader spin-offs. He refused to answer a question regarding the engine, as the studio wishes to show as many major things as possible in the reveal trailer. He also denied that Stronghold: Next would have any ships or naval combat, but confirmed the presence of new units, and the ability to use multiple (presumably same) buildings to train units.
At PAX East 2018, the studio’s lead programmer Tony DeLibero revealed that the game would not be Crusader III, Legends II, or a Game of Thrones licensee, and that the setting may or may not have been seen already (meaning he did not exclude the possibility of using the mainline Stronghold setting, i.e. making it a Stronghold 4 of sorts). He confirmed that the studio was looking at older titles in the series to pick up on mechanics, small details, and quirky bits that the fans loved and made classic Stronghold what it was, and that the focus would be on the castle construction and management (which is presumably a reaction to criticism on the combat focus of Crusader II), but also sieging and some new ways to do so. Old and new siege equipment was announced, but DeLibero possibly slipped and mentioned the dark ages’ technological level when speaking of inspiration for the siege mechanics. “Prominently”, the gong system from Stronghold 2 was stated not to be in Stronghold: Next. Only new characters were confirmed to be in the game, while fans of “very particular game modes” would not be disappointed, with skirmish also being confirmed. DeLibero revealed that the studio is following fan feedback, and that they aim to recapture the feelings of both turtling up and launching massive attacks alike, as well as improve upon the UI working up from Crusader II.
A mere week later, Hayden’s mini-Q&A revealed the following: day/night cycles are not planned for Stronghold: Next but may or may not come up in future titles; Steam Workshop is confirmed (but Hayden’s exact answer appears to equate modding with mapping) to be in the game from “at least day 1, maybe a bit earlier”; and new voiceovers are hoped to be included.
After a 2+ month hiatus of discussing the subject, FireFly released Tannahill’s list of things people need to know about the game, among which the following are important and were not mentioned before:
- a fantasy setting is firmly denied and everything the game is based on or inspired by historical facts;
- the setting is confirmed to be completely new (debunking the earlier possibility for a “mainline” Stronghold 4) and will bring its own siege equipment, units, and even historical figures;
- the new core mechanic is described with an apparent oxymoron that it would be familiar enough to existing Stronghold players to grasp it quickly while being “fresh to the RTS genre” for newcomers simultaneously (good luck with explaining that after the full reveal, Nick...);
- no console versions will be released, with only Steam being mentioned as a distribution method and content updates planned for the year[sic] after release;
- no lootboxes will be in the game because, and this is an actual quote, “lootboxes simply didn’t exist in the feudal era!” (another setting timeframe hint?);
- it is not an MMO title;
- multiplayer is confirmed;
- and visuals will be improved compared to those from Crusader II.
Then came the Mega Q&As hosted by Tannahill again. The first and second parts (the only ones that were originally planned) were released in late August, while the third and fourth parts were released in mid-October.
The first “half” of the Mega Q&As had the following things revealed:
- the game might have a colon in the title (trust me, cling on to that detail);
- upping the player count in skirmish and multiplayer modes may occur for future titles;
- a futuristic setting is also denied;
- modding (properly understood this time) is not on FireFly’s radar, but Steam Workshop and map editor support (with extra-large maps) once again confirmed to be there much earlier than with Crusader II;
- free-to-p(l)ay model denied;
- the new gameplay mechanic will tie in to diplomacy in some way in tandem with trading, and will somehow “increase the longevity of the skirmish mode”;
- castle management and war efforts come first in terms of focus while micromanagement comes second;
- the game’s release date is not set in stone as they wish to polish it before release;
- the setting of ancient Rome is denied because it would mean managing a city instead of a castle and having little combat (hints at the Caesar series and CivCity: Rome), but the option is open for IPs outside Stronghold;
- gamescom 2018 presence was denied outside of sending a “spy” there but looking to be there at full force in 2019;
- 12 languages will be supported, most with both text and audio;
- entirely new soundtrack fitting the new setting and time period confirmed;
- the reveal trailer is held back because it is intended as a big event, and was intended to show gameplay as opposed to just a logo or CGI footage;
- multiple historical singleplayer campaigns confirmed;
- a retail/collector’s version is something they are trying to make happen but cannot confirm yet;
- crowdfunding is not planned unlike the failed attempt for Crusader II;
- leaderboards are mentioned as an internal stretch goal, but the subject is quickly shifted to post-game statistics and ranking;
- a beta version may be released but not promised;
- having Mac and Linux ports will depend on how well the game does at launch;
- “something” will be able to get upgrades, which will be a strategic choice that will tie in to the new mechanic, and will not be along the lines of upgrading a unit to get extra firepower;
- completely new animations announced;
- crime mechanics from Stronghold 2 do not fit well with the new setting, but new and old sim mechanics are announced.
A filler Q&A of sorts was released in late September with Hayden’s fifth Community Spotlight. He denied once again the presence of controllable ships, but did not leave out the possibility of having them as a cosmetic addition; the question of 4K support was evaded but a wide variety of resolutions is confirmed; the status of cosmetic items like flags, gardens etc. is unclear as they are focusing on the sim gameplay and general graphical polish but the developers are sympathetic to the demand for such things; and they are aiming to recapture the humour and charm from earlier titles.
The second “half” of the Mega Q&As, after the aforementioned disheartening announcement on the reveal trailer’s delay, brought us the following info:
- the reveal trailer will have live action footage in addition to the gameplay showcase;
- at least one female character confirmed;
- lord greetings in the menu like in Stronghold 1 and Stronghold 2 that depend on the name the player gives (including the humourous ones) are confirmed, but whether or not dialogue lines will change depending on the player’s selected gender is still in the air;
- the singleplayer campaign will stretch across multiple characters, each with their own stories, as opposed to Trails from the Crusader titles – good and evil paths like in Stronghold 2 will not make a return;
- return of the free build mode confirmed, including the sandbox options like those from later titles;
- tournament modes are deemed inappropriate due to the length of Stronghold matches as opposed to other RTS titles, but not ruled out if it somehow manages to become an eSports game;
- the colon in the title (remember it from earlier?) is stated to, get this, be a clue on what kind of game to expect. On Reddit, it is speculated to mean that the setting will be in the colonial era;
- formations will return, while unit stances like the ones for pikemen in Crusader II is a suggestion that Tannahill thanked the asking fan for without confirming or denying;
- new resources and systems, as well as additions to the trading system confirmed;
- co-op and the Invasion mode confirmed;
- the specific question on wandering mothers with children like in the older titles was avoided, but such details are looked into for a return;
- public demos at events confirmed, but online-downloadable demos are not set in stone (Nick: “Aww, I love demos...”), though they want to do a beta phase after all;
- developer diaries will also return after the reveal trailer;
- army colors will be selectable like in Crusader II, but will also change the overall look of the castle;
- the cow Bessy will return (fans will understand);
- micromanagement is aimed to be a mix between the complexity of Stronghold 2 and familiarity of the original Stronghold;
- difficulty settings in skirmish confirmed;
- buildings will again be able to be built along the castle walls;
- they are keen on supporting content creators, Twitch features may or may not end up cut, while tournament-oriented features are not in the focus, while the general gameplay is, “but keep an eye out on future Stronghold titles for those kind of features”;
- achievements confirmed, at an approximate number of those in Crusader II (around 40 are mentioned, but the DLC for Crusader II cranked it to 81);
- alliances system to be added both in Stronghold: Next and future titles.
From the available information, Stronghold: Next wishes to both re-capture the essence of classic Stronghold titles while bringing something new to the table, without turning scummy and going for a free-to-p(l)ay model, including lootboxes, or becoming an MMO. Set a completely new setting (the statements on which contradict each other, but there is a reason to speculate it’s in the colonial era, thank you Nick for the wordplay!), it will feature a new mechanic that will somehow both integrate with the economy and prolong the lifespan of the skirmish mode, new units with a stress on siege equipment, and a focus on the castle building aspect as opposed to the combat like in Crusader II. The charm that was lost along the way since Stronghold 2 appears to be a priority again, and extensive singleplayer campaigns are to be expected. The economic system will have massive additions and finally an alliances system, but certain aspects from Stronghold 2 like crime and the infamous gong system will be left out. It will once again be a PC-exclusive title, and finally, we won’t be looking at recycled Stronghold 2/3 visuals, at least according to the developers.
The developers are listening to fan feedback (although that sounds “strangely familiar” from Crusader II developer diaries and Q&As from 2013 and 2014) and are actively looking at multiple channels of social media. As a long-time fan of the classic Stronghold titles, I sincerely hope that they can make something that isn’t a semi-product this time around, as they definitely have the love for the series, but Stronghold: Next will put their skills to the ultimate test, since there’s more than one reason why the fans of classic Stronghold titles are not necessarily fans of the newer iterations.
5 August 2015 - Stronghold Kingdoms - Announcement Trailer (iOS/Android)
16 August 2016 - Live Q&A - Firefly Studios @ Gamescom 2016
9 November 2017 - DEV UPDATE! (Stronghold Next, MetaMorph & Stronghold Kingdoms)
11 January 2018 - Stronghold in 2018 (Stronghold Next Update!)
15 March 2018 - Community Spotlight - Episode 1
19 April 2018 - Stronghold Next - Dev Interview (PAX East 2018)
26 April 2018 - Community Spotlight - Episode 2
5 July 2018 - Stronghold Next - 13 Things You Need To Know
23 August 2018 - Stronghold Next - Mega Q&A (Part 1)
30 August 2018 - Stronghold Next - Mega Q&A (Part 2)
27 September 2018 - Community Spotlight - Episode 5
11 October 2018 - Stronghold Next - Mega Q&A (Part 3)
18 October 2018 - Stronghold Next - Mega Q&A (Part 4)