I’ve been playing Stronghold Legends for nearly three weeks now, and I still can’t decide whether it sits on the right, or wrong side of nostalgia. I’m struggling to work out whether or not the old school resource collection, build-em-up and paper-scissors-stone gameplay is still relevant. After all, this is a genre that has been completely redefined by squad based strategy games like Company of Heroes and grander strategic simulators such as the Total War series.
I’m also struggling with the fact that regardless of whether it offers a relevant style of play or not, Stronghold Legends tows the line of mediocrity very closely, with moments of excitement and interest few and far between. That’s not to say it’s awful by any means, but the fact that it is basically a remastered version of a very old series means that it has a mountain to climb if it is to draw in a younger gaming audience that are seeking a more immediate experience.
Mechanically, the game represents its old school inspirations admirably. I haven’t experienced a user interface that felt quite so much like it belonged in 1999 since Age of Empires HD, and even that provided a considerable graphical upgrade to the original. Assuming that you will eventually become used to accessing whatever tab or building that is needed to achieve whatever it is that you want to, the game will begin to show a little more depth.
For those who actually want to see out the kind of nostalgic experience I’ve been writing about, there’s no doubt that Stronghold Legends has tons of content included within the package. There are multiple campaign and skirmish modes to play through, the latter of which has numerous customisation options that enable more or less challenging situations. There is also a kind of tutorial campaign; but I found it to be God-awful, with terrible pacing and scenarios to play through that border on the condescendingly straightforward.
The main interest for most people (and for me it must be said) undoubtedly comes in the form of the multiplayer mode, which is much more fun than the solo mode, even against multiple AI opponents. Stronghold (and now Stronghold Legends) has an incredibly dedicated, highly capable fan base, and venturing online is a daunting experience. I died quickly in the first ten games that I played before I finally began to learn how to establish a viable foothold. From that position, I was in fact able to spend an hour or two playing online that I would consider to be quite enjoyable, on average.
Stronghold has always been about building a fortification and then defending it whilst attacking those of one or more enemies. That is still true of Stronghold Legends for the most part, and it is undoubtedly satisfying to build up from the fundamentals of a thriving medieval community to an imposing castle with multiple layers of fortification. I might even go so far as to say that there is some subtlety to the way this happens, but that would be overselling it. Stronghold Legends is all about basic resource management and city building at the start, as you hoover up all the nearby resources with an unrealistic number of lumber camps. Later, that part of the game simply gives way to exploration and expansion, then ultimately all out war.
Stronghold Legends is not a good-looking game, nor does it sound especially good either, albeit true that this remastered edition is undoubtedly an upgrade in comparison to the much, much older game that it is based on. It features basic three-dimensional structures, units and environmental features, but the textures are very, very basic. As a line in the sand, it looks as if it could have been released at least five years ago and wouldn’t have troubled PC hardware at the time. The music is OK, but the sound effects and unit voice acting is all quite forgettable, and much of it borders on the annoying.
In summary, I really can’t recommend Stronghold Legends to everyone, but referring back to my previous statement about towing the line of mediocrity, I’ve decided to make a decision and award the game a 6. Why? Because once I had established my approach to online play, I did have a lot of fun despite the archaic approach to gameplay overall. Other people might just as easily score it a 4 if they didn’t want to invest as much time in it as I feel I’ve had to, but we all know scoring it a 5 is a cop-out, right?
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