Stronghold Crusader 2 Review

September 22, 2014 by

Raise an army, build a castle, and unleash war in this review of Firefly Studios’ first independent RTS, Stronghold Crusader 2. Start your Crusade and read on!

Developer: Firefly Studios
Publisher: Firefly Studios
Review Platform: PC (Steam)
Review Copy Provided By: Firefly Studios
Release Date: September 23, 2014

It would be hard to calculate just how many hours I’ve spent playing RTS-based games, and not just because I’m horrible with math. The Age of Empires series sucked up a good portion of my childhood sleep, and years later I still occasionally load it up and dominate a custom match. There’s just something extremely satisfying about using your brain (and a large number of peasants) instead of your brawn to defeat your virtual, mortal enemies, and in some cases it actually requires a certain amount of skill. Though usually victim to a player’s bout of frustration, simpleton AI, and a lack of visual charm, RTS games are unique in the sense that they offer an almost limitless number of gameplay options and outcomes, which is only slightly offset by their shortcomings. With that in mind I introduce Firefly Studios’ Stronghold Crusader 2, a state-of-the-art masterpiece boasting all of the strengths and very few of the weaknesses RTS games have to offer.

Let me first go on record stating that I should never be given control over anything, whether it be military power, political power, or even power of attorney. I’m simply too damn irresponsible. Take this game, for instance. My first venture into the Arabian Desert started off with directions to raise an army and destroy a fellow named “The Shah”. Yes, I had the resources and know-how to do this and yes it was the mission objective, but what do I end up doing? Well, I’m smart enough to know that armies offer protection, so of course I build up a huge contingency of knights and archers. I’m also smart enough to know that soldiers get thirsty, and the only way to solve this was to construct as many breweries as possible. The subsequent raise in mead rations (both in the game and out) was followed shortly after by flinging sacks of dead camel heads around with a trebuchet and finishing up by setting my own peasants ablaze during a lightning storm. Suffice to say, The Shah beat the ever-loving crap out of me and I lost. Like I said, I’m not good with power.

Pic 1
This is why I can’t have nice things

My point in all this is, by that description alone you should already be itching to play. However, if you still have doubts and need some nudging (I am absolutely the nudging type), let me tell you just a little bit more. The backbone of RTS games is obviously the utilization of strategy and the abundance of choice, and right from the start, Stronghold Crusader 2 is all too happy to offer plenty of both. With a PvE storyline, eight-person multiplayer, Skirmish mode, open Castle Sandbox, and Co-op mode, you’ll die of old age before you even think of being bored. Though the first few modes are standard for RTS, the last, Co-op, puts an interesting spin on traditional war-waging. With only one team, two players must share resources and control in order to defeat their enemy. Though Firefly Studios’ math is wrong (sharing one team with another player wouldn’t be twice the control, since your commands can be canceled), Co-op mode offers a unique way to either conquer or be conquered, depending on how much you like your partner.

Being the lonely person I am (don’t worry, I’ll always have Daniels, Walker, and Morgan), I immediately forwent the tutorial and headed straight into the PvE Crusader Campaign. This was a huge mistake. Having missed the first Stronghold Crusader, I was quickly reminded that I had no idea what was going on. The main string of missions, of which there are many, was admittedly created with seasoned players in mind, so stepping off to the side and educating yourself on the use of units and buildings is probably not the worst idea. When you finally get accustomed to the various functions of each asset, you can quickly progress back into the storyline and get your ass kicked while at least knowing why.

Pic 2
Ignorance of the beatdown does not exempt you from the beatdown

While on the topic of playable units, let me first say that I was utterly impressed by the variability and functionality of the available soldiers, war machines, and buildings. From assassins who can scale castle walls and cloak themselves, to fat slave drivers who force upon your walls a barrage of torch-wielding servants, the number of unique characters to command is astounding. You do, of course, have the standard archers, Templars, pikemen, and cavalry to work with, but the inclusion of unique soldiers certainly adds to the game’s ingenuity. Trebuchets, battering rams, and war wagons are also available to command, and how you use them is completely up for interpretation (see the aforementioned camel head launching escapades of my first playthrough). The abilities and weaknesses of each unit make for a well-balanced game, forcing you to employ multiple types of warriors in order to successfully defend or conquer.

Along with a great selection of soldiers comes an equally impressive array of buildings. The need to balance food consumption, taxes, housing, and defense will have you constructing wood mills, mines, hovels, and granaries, while at the same time raising up barracks, armories, and stone walls. This too, is perfectly balanced, and the construction of proper buildings is essential to success. Walling yourself in with towers and gatehouses (with which you can employ hot tar and various other traps) will ensure your survival as your peasants tirelessly harvest supplies. Gold is just scarce enough to necessitate trading and selling of goods, but if done properly, a completely self-sustainable society is achievable.

Pic 3
It’s fair to assume that by this point I understood the game well enough to beat some AI ass

Where before I said a common pitfall in RTS games is a lack of aestheticism, Stronghold Crusader 2 is the exact opposite. With a 360o rotation of the map, you’ll be stunned by just how beautiful the structures, environment, and soldiers can be. The rich colors and textures of every item in the game are simply breathtaking, and being able to view it all from any angle only adds to the realistic feel of the world you’re fighting in. With Havok’s Vision Engine, Stronghold Crusader 2 boasts real-time structure destruction, leaving me to smile every time a catapult launches a boulder into one of my towers, knocking rock and debris everywhere while at the same time chucking my archers from their positions to the unforgiving ground below. The animations of the soldier units, damage effects, and even the water is completely seamless, allowing you to utterly immerse yourself in the sandy oasis you struggle to defend. Though the clips of main characters (usually an opponent, such as The Shah) look like something from Veggie Tales, the rest of the game’s visuals are far from lacking.

Along with excellent visuals comes a fairly intelligent enemy AI and a rather finicky environment. Where Age of Empires would send the same battalion over and over to be slaughtered before my gates, Stronghold Crusader 2 actually seems to try different combinations of solider units, utilizing everything from war machines to assassins in a creepily human-like way. Though the game does employ an alliance system, I found that my allies were overly needy for supplies while enemy alliances each did their own thing, never really combing forces to overthrow my city. The environment you fight in is also intelligent (albeit in a horribly cruel way), and you’ll soon learn that lightning storms and locust swarms can easily muck up your best laid plans. Though a pain in the ass to deal with, the environmental factors keep you on your toes, forcing you to battle both the enemy and Mother Nature.

pic 4
It’s so real, I can feel my skin drying out…

Stronghold Crusader 2 is built upon the fundamentals of traditional RTS games, but at the same time offers unique forms of play, interesting units and buildings, and stunning graphics. This game has the potential to provide hundreds of hours of novel battles, and the multiple types of game modes can fight off even the most persistent boredom. The beauty of the game, the freedom to manage things as you see fit, and the attention to detail all make Stronghold Crusader 2 easily one of the best strategy games out on the market. Though the campaign may seem unforgivingly harsh, as long as you keep the breweries to a minimum and the carcass-catapulting under control, you’ll have a great time conquering the hostile desert.

Review Overview

4.5/5

With solid gameplay, beautiful visuals, and options galore, Stronghold Crusader 2 is bound to be the next RTS hit. Notable for its unique cast of warriors and interactive environment, this polished gem will command your utmost attention as you struggle to overthrow the competitive AI or compete with friends online. It’s difficult to find anything wrong with such a beautiful game, but it’s not hard to see that Firefly Studios outdid themselves with this latest feat of strategic creativity.

About Johnny Ohm

When his nose isn't diligently to the grindstone, Johnny can be found skulking around the dark corners of San Francisco's many pubs. You can contact Johnny via Twitter or ouija board.
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  • Mohseen Lala

    Hey
    John!

    So
    I’ve read your review and I feel like I must agree somewhat with
    other commentators who have pointed out that your review has
    seemingly fallen short of taking into account the game’s
    shortcomings. While there’s no such thing as a fault free game, I
    still feel that’s not a fact that should preclude the omission of said
    faults.

    While your opinion of the game is purely subjective, it’s bugs and issues
    are objective issues which any well informed reader should have the
    right to know. Is this a bribed review? I very seriously doubt so,
    but it does read like you failed to objectively appraise the game and
    simply gushed about it’s great aspects.

    I have no idea why I’ve written so formally today, usually I just spout
    random crap in comments. Either way, giving your readers a more
    inclusive view of various objective aspects of the game should be
    something you could strive towards when next reviewing a game.

    You could easily point out that bugs and glitches don’t necessarily make
    a game any less fun (goat simulator anyone?), which is exactly the situation with Stronghold Crusader 2, it’s a really fun traditional RTS with a few common bugs and glitches, plus a rather awful map.

    • John Wyma

      Hello Mohseen!

      I must say I didn’t expect to have my shortcomings on a lack of shortcomings be brought to the forefront, but it certainly is something worth looking at. You are completely right in that the issues of a game are as objective as its quantifiable strengths, and, based on the majority of the feedback I’ve received, I have let those fall through the floorboards.

      I do certainly agree that certain glitches add to a game’s characteristics, but in this case that was not the reason for my omission. The glitches I failed to mention here (at least to me) are observable in almost every game, since they all have certain limits that we can expect. That is in no way an excuse as to why I didn’t list any, that fault is purely mine, but it does explain the 4.5 vs a 5 rating that some have found confusing.

      As a reviewer, I would hate to cheat anyone into buying something they would ultimately end up hating. The community feedback (like yours!) has pointed out to me a few things that I will take into account during my next review, and I thank you and them for it. As for bribery, first and foremost, that is not something anyone with an ounce of ethics ever wants to be accused of, so you can understand my frustrations. And secondly, I am so under-the-radar, no one would bother bribing me (…yet).

      All in all, I apologize to those of you who were disappointed in my lack of reporting. I enjoyed the game and I hope you will as well. And keep the community activity up, feedback from our readers is how we improve, otherwise we just cower in our closets and drink/write till we pass out!

      • Mohseen Lala

        OMG! You’ve got a closet? I’m so jelly! All I have is a shitty bed to cry/pass out on :(

        Feedback works both ways, so thank you for you reply, I do sincerely appreciate it. “I didn’t expect to have my shortcomings on a lack of shortcomings be brought to the forefront”. Duuuuuuude, welcome to the internet! (I know you’re not new here, just always wanted to say that)

        Perhaps you’d like to give us your view of the game’s bugs and glitches in the comments? Kind of like a DLC to the proper review, I’m sure EA and Capcom would be proud of your example if you did that ;)

        At least people will see you have taken into account their feedback and provided some text addressing the bugs issue. But you’ve been really cool so far, so it’s a super optional step if feel so inclined.

        • John Wyma

          You know what, that sounds like a great idea! I happily accept your challenge (though I’ll have to begin at some point after work (real job)! Thanks for the suggestion, Mohseen!

  • George

    “you’ll be stunned by just how beautiful the structures, environment, and soldiers can be. The rich colors and textures of every item in the game are simply breathtaking” i don’t know what game your playing but i feel the graphics are barely acceptable, gameplays the only thing that saves this title.

    • John Wyma

      ” i don’t know what game your playing”

      …Could have sworn I included the title in the review…gosh I must be tired..

      “but i feel the graphics are barely acceptable”

      And that is well within your right. Maybe I should upgrade to 4k, yes?

      • George

        I sense alot of sarcasm and well that is in your right to be an arse, I just stated what i believed as i used to review to buy this game which now i regret coming here for.

        • John Wyma

          True, that did come off a bit facetious, and for that I do apologize. I think my issue here is that regardless of what is said, we’re both only saying what our opinions and experiences are, which will be completely subjective.

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  • Allan Borle

    So seriously, nothing negative about this game AT ALL? so it’s a perfect gem? Good God, John Wyma. Why give it 4.5/5 instead of 5.5/5?

    • John Wyma

      “Good God John Wyma”
      You can just call me John, my full name makes me blush.

      There are very few perfect gems, no matter what we’re talking about. I found very little wrong with this game (see above interaction with EO_XE), but that isn’t to say that others had the exact same experience as me. Since I could not, in good conscience, give any game 5 stars (unless of course I developed it), I have to go lower, taking into consideration what both what could be and the minor annoyances present in almost EVERY game (repetitious audio loops, clunky menu organization, etc.). These aforementioned issues are so common, it would be a waste of my limited word count to include them, when a seasoned gamer knows to already expect it.

  • Dragan

    I really hope you are right about this one…
    Stronghold Crusader 1 is one of my favorite games of all time,and this is Firefly’s last chance…

    • John Wyma

      “Firefly’s last chance…”

      Por que, not a fan of Space Colony?

  • Thomas Bronston

    Great perspective! Thank you. Can’t wait to play this one

    • John Wyma

      You’re welcome, thank you for reading! I hope you enjoy it!

  • EO_XE

    bribed review is bribed,

    not a single bad words, while others report bugs and crashes..

    • John Wyma

      I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy it

      • EO_XE

        i didn’t buy it, because other reviews criticize bad ai, bad balancing, bugs & crashes.
        Thus I just can’t believe that there’s supposedly nothing wrong at all.

        sources:
        http://www.pcgames.de/Stronghold-Crusader-2-PC-256249/Tests/Test-Sandbox-Modus-rettet-vor-dem-Burgeinsturz-1136845/

        http://www.gamestar.de/spiele/stronghold-crusader-2/news/stronghold_crusader_2,48773,3078577.html

        • John Wyma

          I would be horribly disappointed if you based your decision to buy a game at full price solely on my (or anyone else’s) review alone, since I am but one player out of many, and the experience varies accordingly.

          As far as being bribed….SHHHHH, be cool bro, you’ll foil my grand scheme of corporate videogame takeover if you say anything else!

          • EO_XE

            lets say bribed was an exaggeration (inspired by the recent scandal)

            it’s just very strange to not see any problems mentioned while multiple other sources state otherwise

          • John Wyma

            True, a near flawless game is hard to come by, but I could argue that they certainly exist.

            The important thing to keep in mind is that these sources are all opinion, and though you can use those opinions, the only opinion that really matters is yours (oh wait…and mine).

            Damn that sounded pretty Mister Rogers…sorry

        • Daryl Revok

          well..do what I do, run a pirate copy to see if it’s any good. If not, wipe it, if so….wipe it and go buy it.