Stronghold Kingdoms - Review
Posted by Guest Writer on Tue, 24 Jul 2012.
It's well known by fellow Jitty editors I'm a fan of MMORTS games, especially when they're free, but there are tonnes of these out in the wild, especially the browser based ones. And that "free" bit of course may be true technically, but the reality can be a little different. I've played quite a bit of the Stronghold series from Firefly, so was naturally intrigued by the concept of this being delivered online. Has it kept most of the features that made it so damned addictive? Yes and no.
The first Alpha test began in 2009 and was open only to 150 players, and at the moment, the game is still in "beta". The first thing to note about Stronghold Kingdoms is that the game is not browser based, but has it's own client software. It is fairly large, but thankfully, it's reasonably quick over a decent internet connection. The second point to note is that this differs from your typical MMORTS in that it's focus is castle building, in fact that's always been the focus of the whole series of games, and as a result Firefly have done pretty well out of it.
You start all alone, with a solitary village, amongst a host of other players, with not a lot. The tutorial is ok, but there are things that are left for you to discover, which is all well and good if you're into working things out for yourself. If you like to be spoonfed everything though, you may be left a little frustrated by the number of things that weren't explained. A visit to the Stronghold Kingdoms Wiki is highly recommended!
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The main elements of the game are building your village, building your castle, building your army, carrying out research, resource management, and of course, expanding your empire. Everything is done in "real time", which can be frustrating, but for a more casual gaming experience that doesn't interfere with life, I find the pace quite nice. The building of the village is pretty straightforward, at first the placement of buildings seems to make little difference, but as you gain a bit more experience of the game you'll realise that that couldn't be further from the truth. The time taken to complete each building in your village increases as the size of your village increases. So building the first will take something like 10 seconds, building the second will take 20 seconds, building the third might take 40 seconds, and so on. When your village is looking pretty full, you can expect a building to take something like 10 hours to complete. Slightly frustrating? Oh yes. And that's where the catch is, because you'd like those things to complete sooner wouldn't you? Of course you would! And it's at that point you may be tempted to pay some money out on the game, just to give you that edge.
This is the big bone of contention amongst online PC gamers. They'll argue that it's not worth playing because you can't compete against people paying if you're not paying yourself, and that it's not fair. To some extent they're right, but only some. You're not playing computers though, you're playing people. This means that although the player next to you is paying a lot of money into the game and could easily crush you within thirty seconds of them clicking their mouse, you do have the options of becoming their friend and joining their faction. If that's not to your taste find a bigger player and become their friend and join their faction. If that doesn't appeal, there are subversive ways of playing them off against each other, and they don't need game mechanics either. I've played a number of MMORTS' and I have always, consistently been in the top 100 players in every game, and these games have tens of thousands of players in some cases. How do I do it? Well that's for me to know, and you to find out. Suffice to say, I don't pay for these games, never really have, and have done very well.
So building your castle! This is the part that really makes Stronghold stand out, but be warned, it's not quite like the previous single player games. There are less options available, and making pretty castles is really not the way to go. Should you play the game, and the first attack ends up with the enemy waltzing through your wall with ease, you'll quickly realise that your castle should just be a mass of walls and "Great Towers", with as many archers as possible on them. So if you think you're going to recreate Warwick Castle, or St Michael's Mount, then you need to lower your expectations. The mechanics of building your castle are fairly straightforward though, but it suffers from the same issues as building your village, and that is, time. And of course you can speed it up if you pay money! I've found that some of my castles have taken over 24 days to complete. Yes, you read that correctly. 24 days. Money or patience. You choose.
The building of the army is pretty easy too. You are able to recruit "Armed Peasants", "Archers", "Pikemen", "Swordsmen", "Catapults" and "Captains". At most your army can only reach a maximum of 500 in size in one castle. There is a way to increase your army size "controlled" by one castle, and that is to have vassals. Basically you can store 500 troops in a "Vassals" city, and then recruit another 500 for your own city. "Let slip the dogs of war!!! RAWR!!! What do you mean 'Sire we don't have enough bows?". Oh yes, I forgot to mention, to recruit your army, you have to build / craft their weapons, and that's done by having certain buildings in your village, being of a sufficient rank, and having carried out the required research. Yes, research.
To help you gain superiority over your enemies, you'll need to do research. Lots of it. As you increase in rank, you get given research points. When all said and done, at the end, you're all going to have researched the same things, but the order in which you do them, now that is important. When you first start the game you do have some "noob" protection for a few days, use it wisely. Personally, I went for maxing out resource gathering and archers. It seemed to work, but I'm sure some of the more experienced gamers on there will have worked out the perfect path to take. Ah, resource management. The primary resources are "Wood", "Stone", "Iron" and "Gold". Asides from that you have "Faith Points" too, as well as "Pitch", "Bread", "Apples" and so on. And you need a variety of food, because the more diverse the diet of your villagers, the happier they are. The happier they are, the more flock to you to join your cause.
Expanding your empire. Or rather "To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women". You are allowed, given the correct research and rank, up to 15 villages, although recently the latest update has added a new rank of Crown Prince / Princess allowing you to rule up to 25 villages.
So what about the mechanics of the game? Visually, it's ok, just ok, nothing more. Some people have aired their views that they think the graphics should be updated as they haven't really changed since the original Stronghold first launched way back in 2001. The client is a little resource hungry, with modern PC's / Laptops able to cope well, but with slightly older machines possibly struggling. The chat mechanics within the game tend to be overlooked, and although they work fine, they are hardly used by the game community. Music has been added, instantly recognisable by long time players of the Stronghold Series. The interfaces are fine, with my only criticism being that there are some bits of text that people may struggle to read. All in all, it's an ok game with a slightly different approach to the genre. Worth a look.