Stronghold Crusader II: Like a castle in the sand

Stronghold Crusader 2 is the sequel to the 2002 real-time strategy game. The player has to build a fortress, protect it from attacking armies and destroy the enemy base. You can play solo against the computer, take on human opponents, or ally yourself with friends against the computer. Softonic got a first look at an early preview version at Gamescom 2013.

Stronghold Crusader 2 is much like many other economic strategy games: the player sets up his camp, gathers resources, and builds increasingly better buildings in the middle of the desert. Ultimately, the idea is to destroy the enemy’s settlements with an army.

The difference between it and many similar strategy games is the missing fantasy element. There’s no magic, no priests, no dragons, witches, or the like. The game environment is kept as faithful to the Middle Ages as possible and is limited to weapons, troops, and buildings that actually existed at the time.

“Like Stronghold Crusader, only better”

In a meeting with Softonic, producer Paul Harris emphasized that at its core, Stronghold Crusader 2 is the same game that Stronghold Crusader always was. It has been updated to match today’s technical standards and will be getting new units with improved game balance.

One of the innovations is ground troops that no longer scrape at enemy fortifications with weapons, such as swords or arrows, but grab pickaxes and break down walls piece by piece.

Powerful weapons have been added, like an arrow catapult that causes a gigantic storm of arrows to rain down on the enemy. In the preview, this weapon was still much too powerful. Only one shot broke through a dense enemy line. We were assured that the destructive force will be adjusted by the release date.

The new units will include a camouflaged saboteur who uses a grapple to scale over enemy walls unseen and opens the stronghold’s gate from inside – a huge tactical advantage for a charging army.

Measured game balance for attack and defense

Moreover, there is a suitable counterpart for every offensive unit. In its predecessor, mounted archers in the enemy camp incurred devastating damage because there was hardly any unit that could keep up with them. That type of imbalance is not supposed to be repeated in Stronghold Crusader 2. To ensure that it doesn’t, there is a mounted unit with burst speed that can cover a lot of distance very quickly – but not for long – and intercept fast attackers.

Stronghold Crusader 2 strategists are well-advised to have appropriate defenders ready in the background to act as counterweights to the offensive units.

Skirmish mode

Besides the offline campaign, castle lords can take on up to seven other players in skirmish mode. They can be bots controlled by the game, human competitors, or allies. Bots have their own characteristics. Some act more aggressively, others ensure active commerce and supply resources.

The player can take advantage of the strengths and weaknesses of Bots and seek out strong allies for waging war or trading partners through diplomacy. Computer opponents pursue their own goals and should also be able to doublecross the player.

Honors for the successful stronghold builder

The skirmish mode doesn’t support local network multiplayer, but runs exclusively online via Steam. You can also connect with other players using Steam and collect Steam achievements.

No-frills 3D graphics

The biggest difference between Stronghold Crusader and its predecessor is the 3D view. The camera can be rotated, and zooms in and out of the action. Weather effects leave visible damage on your side. With their rotating winds, tornadoes quickly transform entire rows of buildings into heaps of rubble.

In spite of the 3D graphics, you build new rows of buildings or walls in eight directions via a grid. A continuously rotating camera perspective isn’t planned. On the other hand, you can connect walls to natural barriers, such as mountains.

The figures still seem somewhat crude. The buildings – at least as they are shown in the preview version – also can’t hold a candle to currently popular strategy games like Company of Heroes or Command & Conquer in terms of wealth of detail.

Outlook: Strategy game with a rich tradition for fans of castles and the Middle Ages

Stronghold Crusader 2 doesn’t reinvent the strategy game, but serves the loyal Crusader fan base well with a game that borrows much from its predecessor. Cautiously updated elements combined with the new units in familiar surroundings promise many hours of gaming enjoyment. The skirmish mode in particular should be counted as one of them.

The graphics appear to be somewhat rough. The scope of the functions hasn’t increased. It is precisely this omission that is a tribute to game veterans and rewards the predecessor’s core players with a pure strategy game that takes place in the Middle Ages as usual, and stays true to that environment.

Stronghold Crusader 2 is tentatively scheduled for release in March 2014, provided the developers give the go-ahead.

Original article by Jan-Hendrik Fleischer, published on Softonic DE.

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