Stronghold 3 is a sequel in the long-running, castle-building, real-time strategy franchise created by FireFly Studios. Basic tenets of its gameplay include constructing awe-inspiring castles and witnessing glorious displays of brutal medieval sieges. If you are at all familiar with the series then you would know that it has been suffering from a constant decline in quality and popularity with every subsequent release, culminating in its abandonment by publisher 2K Games. Now that it’s been picked up by 7Sixty Games and SouthPeak Interactive, this newest Stronghold release promises a return to the first game’s brilliance – six games and ten years later.
Set in medieval Europe, Stronghold 3
revolves around building a small village and growing it into a successful kingdom. You begin by creating buildings that collect resources from the surrounding lands, with the major ones being wood, stone, and food. There’s also the measurement of population happiness to contend with; like the Tropico
series of management sims, your population grows or shrinks according to how happy your peasants are. You need to expand by building hovels and additional farms, which in turn attract more peasants to recruit workers and soldiers from. Eventually you will have accrued enough resources to start building stone fortifications and get into the real meat of the game.
There are two single-player campaigns: the first is a continuation of Stronghold 2
’s storyline concerning war and the second is all about peace-time economic management. The plot is pretty meaningless, however, and requires having played Stronghold 2
to have any idea about what’s going on. Even if you are an attentive fan of video game fiction, you will be hard-pressed to care about the clichéd medieval melodrama and hastily-drawn “graphic novel” cut-scenes.
The campaign could be called an extended tutorial, as it slowly introduces you to new gameplay concepts and units, especially when you consider that the actual “tutorial” is as brief and uninformative as it gets. Unfortunately, either by design or because of bugs, the campaign is brutal and unforgiving, without doing a very good job of easing you into things. But that’s alright, you just want to build a big-ass castle and recreate the Siege of Minas Tirith, right? If only the developers had included a skirmish mode...
As it stands, you can only play the two campaigns, four pre-made siege scenario maps, and three free-build maps. The siege scenario maps allow you to assault or defend real castles but don’t offer the ability to build units or arrange your forces. It’s the RTS version of an on-rails shooter where two forces merely collide and the winner is whoever has the best luck with their unit’s path-finding (which is usually the AI, it seems). The free-build maps are basically small maps in which you can build whatever you want without being bothered – which also means no AI to compete against or any actual point to playing. Did I also mention that the maps are rather small?