If you liked the original Stronghold, you're going to appreciate it a whole lot more after you play Stronghold 2.

Stronghold 2 is an inferior game in every sense of the word. The production values are awful and the game is full of bugs which will require you to download various patches. The game is basically broken and I won't recommend it. There are only so many things that can be fixed with patches. The problems run deeper than a simple patch fix - this game requires major surgery.

First I have to talk about the presentation. The interface is decent, but that's about all that I can say for the game. The story is hackneyed and the animation and voiceacting are terrible. I know that we don't need top-shelf, cinematic cutscenes for an old-school RTS but if you're going to compete with the big boys you've got to get into the 21st century. Of course all the production values in the world don't matter if the gameplay sucks but there's no reason not to have everything up to a basic standard. Stronghold 2 is definitely below any videogame standard - real or imagined.

I really liked the concept of this game and how it favors defense. It's more of a methodical approach although you have to get off your ass and aggressively conquer enemy territory in the Kingmaker mode. The fact that it forces reluctant gamers into action is a good thing since it attempts to give you a well-rounded experience.

You can choose the Path of War of the Path of Peace. In the Path of Peace you will build a walled city and cultivate a civilization from the ground up. Peasants are the backbone of your kingdom. They will labor for you providing food, beer, building materials and manpower to keep your citizens happy and healthy. The micromanagement issues aren't taxing but in keeping your citizens happy you can expect a lot of grief.

The way the happiness system is implemented is arbitrary and impossible to predict. When your citizens are unhappy they will not perform their duties and will eventually defect. Once they start leaving it's almost impossible to get them back and they leave by the wagonload. The only way to get them back is to offer them gold and that can be an expensive proposition leaving you with little cash reserves to improve or even maintain your city. That's when you have to start thinking about acquiring some of your enemy's resources.

One of the major problems with the happiness system is that while you're engaged in battle, your peasants will still be under the control of the happiness system. Instead of putting aside their differences and pitching in to protect their own asses from enemy attack they continue to pout and defect. Very unrealistic. As if this weren't bad enough, unhappy peasants turn to thieves and piss off more peasants in the process creating a vicious circle. You can't always determine why they turn to crime so you can't do much about it. Very frustrating.

Buildings can only be placed in specific areas, for what reason I don't know. You can't clear forests either. At least a top down view will let you see if your walls are connected. That's an improvement over the original.

Living like a Lord has its benefits. By taking a wife, putting on feasts and jousts, you will gain honor. This will result in money allowing you to purchase estates outside of the area and it will also let you incorporate the best knights into your unit giving you control of the most powerful unit in the game. The ability to ride a horse acts a shield of sorts as the horse will absorb the first few hits and die before you.

It's the AI that causes the game to crumble. They just don't react realistically and that's the greatest disappointment that you can experience in a RTS game. They are very easy to attack. If you approach their castle with siege units carrying trebuchets and catapults you can knock down the walls while they cower inside. Even when they defend themselves in other situations they will come outside and fight when they could easily ladder-up the walls and fight from the safety of their fortress. It just doesn't make sense.

I can see that there are some good ideas in this game but wasted potential "don't count for nothing." Perhaps more of these flaws will be addressed and fixed in the upcoming patches but I would wait another month or so to see what the developers have come up with before I waste my time with such a sloppy game.



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System: PC
Dev: FireFly Studios
Pub: 2K Games
Release: April 2005:
Review by Kelly