For 20 years now, the Stronghold collection has fortified itself in an fascinating place someplace between a metropolis builder and a extra conventional real-time technique. Stronghold Warlords continues this custom with a brand new taste because it takes us, for the primary time within the collection, to the battlefields of historic and medieval East Asia. However as an RTS, it feels prefer it’s nonetheless dwelling within the mists of the previous. And town constructing, whereas it may be an fascinating and virtually zen little puzzle, usually feels at odds with the purpose of straightforwardly conquering your enemies.
The most important, usually refreshing distinction between a Stronghold recreation and, say, Warcraft or StarCraft, is in the way it pushes you to consider area. You are going to be turning an open plot of land into a formidable, thriving walled metropolis… assuming nobody razes it to the bottom first. And it isn’t simply the provision of pure assets you must fear about. Choices like inserting your most important stockpile near useful resource assortment areas can have an enormous impact on the effectivity of your financial system, and conserving your individuals completely satisfied afterward will partly rely on what number of of your buildings are within the radius of temples. You actually need to attempt to image how all the things goes to suit collectively, on high of constructing out your defenses to maximise your house area benefit. It does an excellent job of scratching that Tetris-y itch and making long-term planning repay.
That’s been true of the collection as an entire, however Warlords has added a brand new wrinkle in that you would be able to select whether or not to maintain your individuals in line by way of love or worry. One constructing chain will allow you to assemble torture racks and different unsubtle symbols of oppression, which make your staff work quicker however demoralize your armies and cut back your recognition. The opposite provides creature comforts that may encourage the troops and endear you within the hearts of the commoners, but in addition lowers their useful resource output since they’re spending an excessive amount of time enjoying garden darts or no matter. I loved the strain this created as a result of I may see how a lot productiveness I may squeeze out of my individuals and in addition preserve every new stronghold from feeling like a repeat of the final.
Preserving happiness not less than considerably optimistic is vital as a result of it is the one manner your inhabitants will develop, and elevating taxes to afford higher-tier items is barely attainable if you happen to’re giving one thing again in return, like extra rice rations or fancy new silk duds. This helps your cities really feel like a bit greater than only a assortment of peasants dumping gold in a pile to fund your armies like in a standard RTS. However as soon as these armies get on the transfer, that is type of all it boils right down to.
Fight in Stronghold Warlords is at its finest throughout sieges, whether or not you are on the attacking or the defending aspect. All of the modular items you possibly can assemble your partitions and towers from enable for some fascinating and intelligent set-ups to maximise your benefits towards a bigger power, particularly if you understand a factor or two about how actual castles had been designed in these eras. And determining the right way to tackle an enemy fortress, probing for weak spots and selecting your alternatives fastidiously, will be thrilling as effectively. Discipline battles simply aren’t as fascinating, although.
There’s a large hole in motion pace between lower-tier skirmishers and the tanky imperial troops you may get later within the tech tree, which does enable a savvy commander to outmaneuver a stronger military and win the day. However total, these fights are very old-school Age of Empires of their pacing and scale. It is not horrible, it simply feels very behind the occasions in comparison with more moderen RTSes like Northgard or Complete Warfare. And the artwork does not assist. Whereas the grand retains and shining pagodas are detailed and enticing, these low polygon, flat-looking unit fashions could possibly be outshone by one thing like the unique Firm of Heroes, which got here out virtually 15 years in the past.
Every of the six single-player campaigns, that are round six to 10 hours lengthy, take you to a special time and place in historical past, they solely appear to be distinct factions as a result of most missions restrict what you possibly can construct. In multiplayer and skirmish vs AI, then again, that distinction is misplaced: not solely are the unit rosters similar for every military, your Imperial Swordsmen will at all times converse Chinese language even if you happen to’re enjoying because the Vietnamese. Genghis Khan can rent Ninja and Samurai items simply as simply as his rival, the shogun, can get Mongol horse archers. There’s slightly little bit of visible variation in structure, however total, it is all a weirdly homogenous abstraction of a setting that spans a complete continent and over a thousand years of historical past.
A few of the voice performing is unquestionably fairly iffy, too. The primary advisor character within the marketing campaign, particularly, seems like a extremely cartoonish, doubtlessly offensive stereotype of a fussy Chinese language bureaucrat. It is related in tone to the considerably over-the-top and playful depictions of historic figures the collection has dabbled with beforehand, however when it is utilized to a non-European character, it is exhausting to not wince any time he opens his mouth. The leaders themselves, whereas exaggerated, not less than do not sound like caricatures.At the very least the mission targets have good selection and nod to some fascinating historic battles. They positively play quick and free with historical past, however preserve it fascinating by alternating between extra conventional base constructing, just a few that have you ever attempting to take down a citadel with a set military and no capability to replenish troops, and a few which might be purely targeted on build up your financial system whereas defending a citadel. These final ones are probably the most enjoyable, particularly when mixed with the system of militarily or diplomatically vassalizing AI warlords on every map to grant you numerous bonuses. It made me want there was some sort of horde mode for skirmish or multiplayer, which may have taken the strongest a part of Warlords and made it endlessly replayable.