Stronghold Crusader 2 (PC Review)

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Every now and then, a game I play reminds me of another, which is usually a good thing. Stronghold Crusader II definitely brings me back to playing Age of Empires II back when I first got my PC, making the game easy to jump into. Many sleepless nights were spent on AoE2 both online and against just my brother via LAN, and I can say that many sleepless nights were spent on Stronghold Crusader II. Though similar, Stronghold Crusader II is different enough to stand on its own and just as challenging.

A Blast from the Past

Once starting the game, a menu indicates the option for single or multiplayer gameplay. Single player has a tutorial meant to teach you how to play the game. Most veteran RTS gamers should pick this up quick without the need of a tutorial, as I did. ‘Learning Campaign’ throws you in several different scenarios which act as the main story of the game. You journey through the Crusades set in 1187AD and switch from a Crusador to an Arab. The main narrator of the game, the Scribe, acts as your guidance, giving you a second perspective in case you get focused on one thing (like running low on food or being attacked). As with most RTS games, the story is pretty simple in each map but as you progress you are thrown in much harder challenges that make you rethink certain strategies and develop new ones. As with the name of the gameplay, ‘Learning Campaign’ is the true tutorial of the game, giving you a strong feel of how to manage your castle and army while giving you a story along the way. From there, the ‘Skirmish Trails’ has you facing numerous challenges and setups against AI opponents. Each setup gets harder and harder as you complete each one, giving you the test of co-operative gameplay and multiple AI enemies. This is where you are put to the test and your true skill shines. Can you manage multiple encounters as well as an economy/food supply? All in all, the ‘Skirmish Trails’ is just the last test until you go up against real opponents online in the Multiplayer mode.

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One of my favorite strategies is funneling them like in 300, doesn’t work well against live opponents though

Multiplayer is the double-edged sword of the game, given that it’s completely unpredictable. On one hand, you can have an encounter that can last a few hours, and on the other you can have someone Zerg rush you and it’ll be over in a few minutes. That can be said with almost any RTS game, but with the right setup, it’s possible to prevent a Zerg rush with just a few archers. From there the real fun starts. The real challenge is surviving against a live opponent or opponents in team matches and keeping your castles economy and supplies up. Villagers can actually leave your castle if there is no food or taxes are too high, having you find the right balance to keeping it running while building your army. And like chess, all it takes is patiently waiting for the right moment to strike, since striking too early can cause your downfall or waiting too long can lead a huge army on your doorstep. While collecting resources you have to maintain an economy and government, which includes feeding your villagers. It seems easy at first, but based on your popularity level, the more satisfied the villagers, the more that will travel to your castle. Having just one set of food may not please the villagers which can be offset by another type such as meat or even introducing ale. Basically, the more villagers you have, the more workers you can train. The more resources you collect from the workers, the bigger army you can build, so keeping them happy is key.

Don’t Spend It All in One Place

One thing I really liked from Stronghold Crusader II is the active Market. Building a market, though expensive, can really help in the long run when resources become scarce. Some resources seem to never end, such as stone and iron, but once you run out of trees you’re out. Bows for archers take up wood, so one way to keep your wood levels up is to sell other resources. The Market allows you to actively sell if you harvest a lot of several resources. It can automatically sell a resource when reaching a certain amount and buy another when it’s too low. This can help you focus on attacking while knowing your resources are not too low. Since the game can have events take place that can affect your castle (like locusts affecting apple growth), being able to buy resources with a simple setup prevents you from accidentally running out.

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You can never have too many catapults.

The game itself is simple for veterans yet diverse enough to keep you pushing for the right mix. Given that there are several resources available and each soldier requires a different piece of equipment to hire, each scenario has you making quick decisions on which type of army to build. Whether dealing with a live opponent or an AI, building the wrong army or using too much resources quickly can yield disastrous results. Take the image above, seeing as I had way more than enough Catapults to tear down that wall. Up against a live opponent they could take advantage of the gold I spent allowing for a counter strike seeing as I may not be able to protect myself if they break through my walls. Catapults aren’t ideal against an army, but the AI would try to destroy them all if it came across it’s path. A live opponent may have some other tactic up their sleeve. All in all, the best experience is online since you never truly know your enemy until they attack.

Final Reaction

Nostalgia is strong with Stronghold Crusader II, bringing back some very fond memories. Jumping in is easy, staying awake after 2AM while playing is the hard part given that some matches can take hours to complete. My brother and I once played a match of Age of Empires II for 14 hours with one 1 hour break, so long matches are not foreign to me. The castle sim is fun with keeping it alive and running, but the fun starts when boulders and arrows start flying and swords are clashing. RTS fans shouldn’t pass this one up, and old school AoE players, rise up your swords and jump in!

Rating: 4/5 Atoms

NR 4 Atoms - B

Stronghold Crusader II is available on Steam and on the Stronghold Crusader II website.

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