Years back there was a game named 'Castles', where you were to build and manage your medieval fort.
Stronghold from Firefly studios is pretty much like of a sequel to that game, a 'Godgame' with building, management of resources and of course battles.
Medieval knights and castles is a pretty cool idea to build a game on. But despite the fact that the developers certainly have done a good job on many parts of this game, Stronghold doesnt live up to expectations.
The good parts first, the graphics of the game and interface screens certainly is ok and adds to the game experience. Same goes for the cinematic screens in the campaign part of the game - though it isnt up to the standards of some of the major game producing guilds - er developers. Instead of filmed intermissions you get animated windows featuring voices and scrolling text between missions. It does work well for taking the storyline further and even adds to the feeling.
In the game itself you will see animated sprites and even trees. All units in your castle are clickable, soyoucan see what they think about you, even the chickens. :) A nice touch and something that shows that the developers have cared about details.
One such is that the game screen comes with a number of features such as zoom and rotate of the map, unusual detail that. There's also the option to flatten terrain to see things that might be hidden. Those certainly are features other game developers should study. Even though it isnt that useful to play at zoomed in, you are more likely to play all time at the widest view possible. With those one could almost begin to think that this is the medieval version of the command and conquer series of games.
You have the option to play economic games where you build your own castle and where you choose which way to build your economy and various options. But also go direct to the action on ready made defending and siege maps. And as mentioned you also find full fledged campaigns. One military and one economical one, for some odd reason I have a hunch most will choose to play the military one. Despite the fast that the game is graphic intense and have quite a number of processes running it doesnt eat memory at the rate that some recently released game from otherproducers. It isn't especially crashprone either, we only did see one single crash when the game shut down directly without error message so it hard to tell what caused it. This error happened in one of the later military campaign missions and seemed to be related to populationsize. Overall we must say that Stronghold is good in this respect compared to other releases.
So what about the cons then: One of the major problems is that the developers havnt done such a good job on the interface for giving orders.
When you are building in a peaceful situation this isn't too much of a problem, you can issue your order twice or several times before the unit do as told without problem. But during an attack, the slowness can be the difference between victory and defeat.
Buildings also tend to shield each other, so you are unable to click on a building further away when there's another in front - instead you get the infoscreen for the building in front. You can get around this by rotating or zooming in, yet that takes time, especially if you are in a hurried situation.
While in the menus, the buttons shows a unwillingness to get clicked - after a time one learns to click and hold the mouse button (Your supposed to use the hilt of the sword if you use that as a cursor) - yet this problem is so bad that it really stops you from having a great time playing this game.
The slowness of the interface made me play most missions on the slowest setting to be able to give the neccesary orders, and so the whole game felt like it was the brother of Snail-Pace Slim.
If you are under siege, and that's quite common in the first half of the military campaign to conquer England, you will find that the shortcomings of the interface cause quite a lot of frustration.
The AI isnt perfect either, once the enemytroops simply failed to attack, and it was possible to send out just two archers to and pick them off one by one without them doing anything about it. An easy victory indeed, yet hardly what the gamedevelopers might have intended. Yet it didnt happen when replaing the game and that particular nission several times even, so it isnt a major problem. Another detail is that its possible to fool the enemyunits to attack a single wall leading nowhere by building in front of your castle - giving you time to kill as many as possible before they cause any serious damage.
You can also exploit this by building a wooden gate just outside your castle and add just a single bowman there, the enemy will kill him and then spend time tearing the wooden gate down where they expose themselves to your arrows, bolts and macemen (no they aint doing battle with teargas, but a spiked club).
But when it does what it's supposed to, the AI got an overall good for giving the player a challenge. The attacking units will change their behaviour depending on how you have built your castle and deployed your units. So overall the AI gets the rating good without being outstanding.
Fans of this game will hate me for the verdict for this game, but with the interface problems combined with the in-game trouble of accessing buildings and units is a bit too much. Shame on one good idea, but cant give this game more than a 3, albeit a strong one. In short, its not a great buy at full prize. But if and when you're able to buy it used at swaps or e-bay it worth looking into, especially if you like medieval times.