This is the first in a new series of articles I’ll be writing, which I’m calling the GOG spotlight. It will highlight some of the many “Good Old Games” available for purchase on GOG.com. I’ll be starting with Stronghold Crusader. Because of the way Stronghold Crusader is distributed here, I’ll be splitting up the spotlight into a couple of sections. This spotlight will be divided in two between Stronghold Crusader HD and Stronghold Crusader Extreme HD.
First off, Stronghold Crusader is an absolutely fantastic RTS game. If you like RTS games such as Age of Empires, Rise of Nations or Age of Mythology, you’ll absolutely love Stronghold Crusader. In it, you manage your kingdom in a variety of maps in which you strategically design your castle, manage your resources and create vast armies in an attempt to absolutely destroy your enemies.
What differs Stronghold Crusader from other RTS games such as Age of Empires are a variety of things, but I think one of the most prominent ways it separates itself is the food system. In it, you actually have to feed your kingdom, and in order to do so you must build farms on oasis and create hunters’ posts to hunt animals. There’s three types of food farms, which differ in cost, amount of space they take up, and speed at which they produce food. The best part about it is that you are also encouraged to feed your citizens multiple types of food instead of just one, in the form of a popularity bonus.
Which brings me to the next interesting thing about Stronghold Crusader. In it, you can’t just treat your citizens like trash like you can in Age of Empires, as if you do they will actually refuse to work and start to leave the kingdom. It’s all based on a popularity system. If you have a positive popularity, people will gladly serve you as you wish. If you have a negative popularity, people will begin to stop working and leave the castle. The system is relatively intuitive. For example, not taxing or paying your peasants will give you a popularity bonus, whereas taxing them will cause a popularity loss. Things could also be balanced out by doing something like giving your peasants extra rations, and then taxing them so you still have a positive popularity and are liked as a lord.
The actual need for food emulates that of what real life would have been like quite well, in that you can actually properly siege your enemies’ kingdoms by cutting them off from their food supply, starving them out. Of course, your adversary could also have lots of food stored in their granaries, so being cut off for a while might not be a problem for them.
Moving onto castle design, it’s actually quite an important part of the game. If you have a bad castle setup, then your enemies will easily be able to break through your defenses and kill you, but if you have a good one you could defend against large armies. You can build walls using either low or normal sized walls, the cost for low walls is less, but they are obviously not as good as regular walls. There’s also multiple types of towers. You could build lots of small but very tall towers, so that your archers can shoot a very long distance, or you could build using larger towers and put siege equipment like mangonels or ballistas to build up your defenses, or even use a mixture of both. You can also put braziers on the walls and towers so your archers shoot fire arrows, and even dig a moat around your walls to slow down and even stop enemy units from approaching. There’s also other defenses you can have, such as pitch ditches or killing pits, or boiling pitch to pour onto incoming enemy units to start fires.
As for soldiers, you have quite a bit of variety here. There’s lots of different military units you can use, that can come from two main locations. You can either hire mercenaries, which are fine, but also quite expensive. Or, you can make your own units at the barracks, but in order to do that you must have the required weapons. The units you make yourself are better than those you can hire and are cheaper, but since you must actually make the weapons yourself, you need to have the resources available to make the weapons and you produce them at a slower rate than you could by just hiring mercenaries.
Overall, I have few complaints about the game. One of them is that you cannot change alliances during the middle of a game. I really wish you could, as quite honestly, while allies are extremely helpful to have when you’re taking on multiple enemies in the beginning, once you’ve grown quite large they almost feel like a waste of space as they are no longer beneficial to you, because they manage their resources less efficiently than you can, and I think the ability to enter and terminate alliances at will would make the game a lot more interesting.
Another problem that I found with the game was the unstable multiplayer. While I was playing local multiplayer with a friend, it crashed pretty frequently, even on my friend’s high end laptop. I imagine this is because multiplayer is through gamespy, but It was still frustrating.
The only other problem that I had with the game until the release of the HD version was the very low resolution of it. The maximum resolution before the HD patch came out was a measly 1024×768, which made the game look pretty blurred due to the stretching involved. However, with the arrival of the HD version it can go to much larger resolutions and looks much better than it did previously.
So what makes the HD version better?
Well for one thing, the higher resolution of it greatly enhances the gameplay experience, and just generally allows you to see a lot more of what’s going on, and see it a lot more clearly. There’s also a new “battlefield view”, which apparently allows you to see the entire map when zoomed out on some maps, and even play the game like that if you wish, which is pretty neat.
Skip past the break to learn my thoughts on the Extreme version of Stronghold Crusader Extreme HD.
As you know by now if you’ve been reading the article up to this point, I absolutely love Stronghold Crusader. It’s one of the most strategic and in depth RTS games I’ve ever played, and one of my favourites as well. However, the Extreme version… not so much.
Stronghold Crusader Extreme is… Stronghold Crusader for impatient people. If you don’t like “wasting time” building up your armies, you’ll love the extreme version of the game. It involves a few differences from the normal version, including outposts that are created when you begin a game that spawn units. And not just a one time spawn of units, a continuous spawning of units. It’s not very realistic, or strategic. In most scenarios, you’ll start with three outposts, each spawning a different type of unit. In one scenario, I had one spawning mounted knights, knights on foot and catapults, another one spawning archers and another spawning spearmen. You’ll find that you will quickly have thousands of units on the map, which will obviously require higher system resources to run then a normal game of Stronghold Crusader would. I dislike this as due to the rate that units spawn, you are almost discouraged from creating your own army at all, as the outposts spawn units far faster than you would ever be able to create them yourself, and it costs you absolutely nothing, not even a peasant.
Another thing that they did which I feel negatively contributed to the gameplay was the addition of “tactical powers”. First of all, they are misnamed as they are not even remotely close to being tactical. Tactical powers are used after charging up a sort of power bar, which charges up over time. The tactical powers range from an arrow barrage, to spawning knights, to a rock barrage which basically kills all units and destroys pretty much everything in the radius of the “tactical power”. I really, really hate these powers as they’re basically god powers that have absolutely no cost and make defeating your enemies extremely easy.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, the new missions and increased unit cap (Increased to 10,000. WOW!) are quite welcome, but why did they have to ruin it by adding these “tactical powers” and unit spawners? I mean really, the game was perfectly fine as it was without those, but with the addition of tactical powers the game just becomes too crazy/easy. I try to use my armies in a siege strategically, so that I have few casualties while inflicting maximum damage to my enemy. However, in Stronghold Crusader Extreme what would usually be massive armies that I use to completely eliminate an enemy are simply reduced to battle fodder and become expendable. This is not Stronghold Crusader. This is something entirely different, and I absolutely hate it. I really, really dislike this game. I’d strongly caution players from spending any money on this game, as I don’t think that it’s worth it. Although as it comes free with Stronghold Crusader HD on GOG, It may be worth playing if you buy it from there, as you never know. You might like it. Personally I hated it, but you might actually like it.
It’s worth noting that the GOG version of Stronghold Crusader includes both the core game, the Stronghold Warchest expansion which includes 20 new missions and more AI adversaries, and a free upgrade including the Extreme version of Stronghold Crusader, as well as the free patch to the HD version of Extreme and normal Crusader. The GOG version also includes bonus content such as the manual, an HD wallpaper, a mini game and even the awesome soundtrack.