Stronghold Warlords is a confident step in the right direction - but there's still much we don't know11 Nov 2019 0
Whom among us has not wanted to be the lord of his own castle, running a feudal economy to fuel his goals of conquest-for-conquest’s sake? That’s basically the winning formula for Stronghold games. Trouble is, that formula hasn’t worked since the last good game in the series, Stronghold: Crusader was released in 2002. Can Stronghold: Warlords recapture the magic of peasant oppression?
The previous titles in the series mucked around Europe, only daring to venture as far as Middle East for Crusader. Stronghold: Warlords yeets the tired old setting in favor of Asia. Granted, it’s kind of hard to apply 'Medieval Era' to Asia, so the campaigns that will ship with the full game will cover more than a thousand years of historical events, even taking you as far back as BC. You will be taking control of units inspired by the Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese and Mongolian histories.
But we only have the preview demo for now and that will have to do as far as the analysis of the game goes. You’re still the lord of the castle, a super combatant that spends most of his time safely away from the front lines. Your castle generates peasants while you have the housing capacity for them. Idle peasants can be permanently removed from the pool to work in economy or to be trained as soldiers, at which point a new peasant will take their place at the campfire.
Stronghold: Warlords retains the series’ reliance on (quite simple) economy chains to keep your people going. Rice and vegetables are two of the easiest foodstuffs to harvest, and they don’t need to be processed further to keep your peasants happy by keeping them from starving and providing them with two different foodstuffs (beriberi isn’t simulated in the game). The most complex chain in the demo is having a woodcutter cut down wood and a craftsman then turns into a bow. You then only need an idle peasant to produce a bowman. So far so good.
I’m expecting gunpowder to be one of the more demanding industrial chains in the finished game, as it’s a powerful new addition to the arsenal. Gunpowder mines replace pitch as the archer-activated defense measure, scattering enemy formations and killing troops. For a more mobile version, there are fire-oxen, the VBIEDs of the ancient world.
You can’t produce any melee troops in the demo, but that is a purposeful omission to introduce you to the Warlord system. Stronghold: Warlords will feature, well, Warlords; minor NPC settlements just camping it out on the map. Sway them to your side via diplomacy (by spending passively-generated diplomacy points) or by conquest, and you’ll be able to make demands according to their specialization.
In the demo, which requires you to hold out for 15 minutes, you have a Turtle Warlord, his castle situated right on the enemy axis of advance. You can spend diplomatic points to upgrade his castle defenses, adding thicker walls and towers. You will need to grab the Tiger warlord to get him to send you melee units. The demo will also insist that you grab the Ox Warlord as well, since he can be commanded to provide shipments of wood and stone… but you don’t really need them that much as long as you can keep the Turtle Lord secure by reinforcing him with bowmen and axemen.
The videos we’ve seen have gone deeper into the types of troops we can eventually expect to grace the game. Vietnamese spearmen and blow-pipes will be the barely armored raid troops you can expect to face early in the game - and to see raiding your unprotected farms and extraction sites. You’ll be facing waves of them in the demo. Meanwhile the Chinese troops will come in Auxiliary and Imperial varieties, with the later being better armored and more expensive to field.
Personally, I’d like to see how those extremely disparate types of units from across the Asian continent (and history) will mesh in the finished games, as the devs do not seem to be talking about having actual factions in the game (aside from the aforementioned Warlords).
Aside from the obvious novelties, the rest isn’t as front and centre in the game. The improved system for building walls is hard to notice - it is certainly easier to see that catapults no longer instakill troops that get thrown off a wall. The troop grouping into formations is nice, at least in the visual sense, and you don’t have that many instances of them just clipping into a single spot - except in extreme pathing cases.
As the demo is so pared down, it is hard to say how the other systems we have learned to love and expect from the main series will work. What natural disasters - fires and diseases - will we have to deal with in Asia? Will we have the peasant control systems akin to happiness and terror? How many hoops will we have to jump through to make the local beer equivalent?
At least we can be fairly certain that Stronghold: Warlords will be a decent-looking game. It doesn’t have the funds that, say, Creative Assembly can throw at a title. But as far as 3D Strongholds go, this one seems to be the best so far. At least, that is my assessment as a gamer who never had any issues with how Mount and Blade looked - your mileage might vary.
Stronghold: Warlords is, at the very least, a step in the right direction. This is refreshing as the series previously seemed to be stuck in the same spot. The more recent titles (new games and re-releases) have struggled in the face of the the original games' storied legacies, and generally left a sour taste in our mouths. Here’s hoping that Warlords will be the gulp of shochu that will cleanse the palate.
Stronghold: Warlords is available to wishlist on Steam, and is due to release some-time in 2020.