Real-Time Strategy games are not in fashion anymore, and it's getting harder to find new titles where you can actually see this genre evolve. A few years ago, Age of Empires Definitive Edition showed us there's still an audience for this kind of games, bringing back the AoE trilogy with great success, and a couple of days ago, Firefly Studios' Stronghold series—another RTS behemoth—debuted Stronghold: Warlords, the ninth entry in the popular Stronghold franchise.
After 30 hours of gameplay and finishing the Campaign mode, here's what we have to say about it!
From East Asia, With Love
Stronghold has always been a historical saga, focusing on medieval armies and famous war leaders. Although the first games featured European maps and figures, Stronghold: Warlords takes us to East Asia for a Campaign mode starring several well-known warriors. For example, you can fight the Hung kingdom with Thuc Phan, starting when he assumed the leadership of the Thuc clan after the death of his father, but other storylines are featuring Japanese daimyo Hideyoshi Toyotomi, the notorious Mongol emperor Genghis Khan, and China's first emperor Qin Shi Huang in the wars of unification. To be completely honest, all these storylines are both fun and interesting from a historical perspective, but we would have liked them to be longer and more varied.
Fight, Conquer, but Don't Forget About Your People
Stronghold: Warlords offers you the possibility to play alone and follow the story, but you can also play it online—in fact, improving its online features was the reason for it to be delayed from January to March. Whatever your choice, it plays almost the same, with the only difference being how smart the opposing army plays... and in our experience, we're not so sure about human players being smarter than the AI.
One thing we must point out is that the game looks like a really nice game from the 2000s and doesn't really make use of modern graphical traits, but we found no bugs in our playtime. That being said, gameplay mechanics feel rather archaic and shallow once you dedicate enough time to it. If you're a casual RTS player looking for some quick matches, then Stronghold: Warlords appears as a great recommendation that will surely keep you hooked for several hours. However, hardcore fans of the genre will note that the core mechanics are not as enjoyable or exciting as they seem, and some options don't even make a difference whatsoever.
Your objective is to build a powerful army that's able to protect your kingdom while it gets bigger and more populated, so you can outnumber your enemies and bring them down in the most painful way. But creating more buildings and soldiers is not enough; they also need food and resources... and respect from their ruler. Higher taxes will make you less popular and your nation less attractive, but increasing your population and giving them a job is only one part of the equation as sooner than later, they will ask for better constructions, higher quality food, and better weapons and armors. That's our problem with Stronghold: Warlords: all these situations should make for a more complex game, but sometimes you find yourself just sacrificing your units and creating replacements without caring about the fine details.
I'm a Pacifist, Just Let Me Build!
If you don't care about the strategy aspects or find it too hard, then maybe it's time to try the Free Build mode, where you can dedicate all your time to building the most powerful yet beautiful nation without the fear of being vanquished. In this mode, you can carefully design the layout of your city. Will you focus on building an impressive fortified castle or just a peaceful village where farmers and gatherers can live a simple life? The only problem is that there are only 3 available maps, but that should be more than enough for most of you.
Stronghold: Warlords is an old-school RTS with okay-ish graphics but several unexplored mechanics and superficial features. In a game that puts so much weight on the figure of the warlords, it's weird to see how much you can do even if you totally ignore them, but that shouldn't stop you from playing it if you only need a new RTS in your life.
For what it's worth, it ultimately depends on your preferences, and Stronghold: Warlords at least gives us plenty of options for diverse playstyles.