Firefly has gone in a new direction with this title, the latest in the Stronghold saga. Traditionally Stronghold games have focused on attempting to recreate a semi realistic vision of medieval castle-based lifestyle and warfare, with flimsy plots surrounding a central focus. With Legends they have brought fantastic elements into the fray, mixing stone walls with dragons and magic. The result is a depiction of Arthurian legend and Germanic folklore wrapped around plausible battles and power plays, a game that attempts to mix fact with fantasy. Does it succeed? In our opinion, that’s a big positive.
First off we’ll talk about the raw improvement in graphical fidelity. There is a reason the game is not titled Stronghold 3, and it will be immediately apparent once you compare the graphics of this game with its predecessor. It’s hard to tell, but they may be mildly improved since Stronghold 2, with the terrain in particular getting a seemingly noticeable upgrade. Combat seems a little more visceral now, perhaps due to the added focus on this side of things that Legends has. But overall the game is very much the same, so don’t expect to be knocked off your seats in awe.
In terms of game play modifications, as mentioned the game has had a slight shift in focus since Stronghold 2. You will still need to establish a strong economy, things such as gong management and punishment have been removed and the whole food/resources/happiness/taxes process somewhat streamlined. The theme behind this seems to be a shift on focus towards battles and actual sieges, allowing a player to have more time to manage his battles and defences, without worrying that his economy is going to collapse under him. Micromanagement is still important, but requires a little less micro.
The most prominent feature of the game of course is the new factions. Rather than having a standard build tree and unit list which all players use, in Stronghold Legends there are three almost unique factions. First, you have Arthur and the legend of Camelot. He is the ‘good’ character, with a nice shiny castle, a round table, noble knights and the irascible Merlin.
Next is Siegfried, after the famous Germanic hero. He is the ‘ice’ character, with frosty walls and imposing monolithic towers. On top of the normal unit repertoire things like ravening wolves join his forces, and huge ice giants capable of smashing down walls. His faction could probably be classed as neutral.
Finally Vlad and his evil forces present quite a challenge to both play and beat. Accompanying his forces are creatures such as vampires and werewolves, with the latter being able to scale walls and turn the troops on top, while also being immune to arrows. All these factions present the same general gameplay but have subtle elements and strategies not available or present in the others.
In single-player play these factions are brought to life, with each being given a narrative roughly analogous to their mythological counterparts. There are three campaigns in ascending order of difficulty, and each is quite long which means that a lot of hours will need to be devoted to the game in order to finish it.
The storylines for each campaign take elements from the myths the factions are based on, while merging together at points in a seamless way, which in our opinion works quite well. The one criticism that becomes apparent is the difficulty. Even on the lowest setting on some maps you will need to reload multiple times, which swiftly grows frustrating. Sometimes on maps it seems that in order to beat them you need to play them until you have learnt the order and timing of the enemy spawns, or where the traps are, in order to win. This could have been done better, if a player’s personal merit played more into his chances of winning.
As regard to its general polish as far as bugs, so far we haven’t experienced any buggy play, although upon install no less than two patches were auto downloaded and installed. Stronghold 2 was incredibly problematic, and that was probably the harshest criticism we had to give. Despite having quite an enjoyable multiplayer experience, frequent and unpredictable crashes prevent the game from becoming popular. So far, Legends has not experienced these problems, perhaps reflecting the experience Firefly studios has gained since.
In conclusion, Stronghold Legends maintains the aspects of Stronghold 2 that made it great; complicated castle construction that makes every fortress a masterpiece, and detailed siege warfare that makes what has always been a trivial aspect of RTS games an enjoyable new focus that players can thrive on. The gameplay is also refined and generic combat expanded, correcting what may have been a deficiency in Legends’ predecessors. The single-player experience, while not fantastic, nevertheless shows a dedication sadly lacking in many of Legends’ peers, even though the difficulty was a little frustrating at times. Much of Firefly’s legacy of bugs and unfinished titles has been dispelled as well, much to our relief. Finally the new factions are well executed and detailed, making them a welcome addition to the games’ atmosphere. Stronghold Legends is a superb title for any armchair generals out there.