Stronghold Crusader 2

$50.42

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Description

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Complete Review & Description

I really enjoy real-time strategy games. I’m not particularly good at them, but I enjoy them nonetheless. StarCraft, Warcraft, Dawn of War – the genre is rich with fantastic entries. It’s also awash with long forgotten ones. Stronghold Crusader is one of those series. Unfortunately, the latest entry also serves to remind us why a lot of those dormant franchises were forgotten – because their underpinnings just don’t translate well to modern expectations.

Developed and published by Firefly Studios, Stronghold Crusader 2 is a sequel to the original 2002 release. In that 12 year gap, nearly every title they’ve released has had the word ‘Stronghold’ in there somewhere. Given that they’re pretty old hands at this, you’d think Firefly would have enough forethought to handle the sequel with the reverence it deserves – with some introspection, and forward-thinking ideas. Instead, a lot of the game feels couched in what it was and ends up feeling like that one weird uncle that tries to ‘youth it up’ at family gatherings.

Like most RTS’s, the core of the game is about accruing resources, building development, and unit management. You’ll build hovels to encourage peasants to move into your town, and then they’ll automatically take up positions in the appropriate buildings to generate resources. While it’s nice not having to micro-manage your workers, and putting up buildings is immediate, that’s about all that Stronghold Crusader 2 does to offset the amount of obfuscation that exists in the moment-to-moment gameplay.

One of my favourite parts of strategy games is amassing huge armies, and then sending them off to their doom – comfortable in the knowledge that when they all die, I can just pump out some more. While the amount of troops you can throw at your enemy is satisfying, the process of generating all of them is laborious. Want to make a footman? Ok, just build barracks, and make sure you have a free peasant to take up that role. Sounds easy enough.

Want to make an archer? Well then you’ll have to:

Build barracks

Make sure you have a free peasant

Make sure you also have another free peasant to man a fletchery

Wait for your other peasants to generate the wood necessary

Wait for them to take that wood to your stockpile

Wait for your fletcher to make a bow

Wait for him to walk it over to your armoury

Then finally, make sure you have enough gold to actually buy the archer you just spent an inordinate amount of time generating multiple other resources for

The game also has no real tech-tree, which makes skirmishes all descend into similar territory. The majority of my strategy was to accrue as many resources as I could, then just pump out basic archers and melee units, and catapults. I’d take down the archers on enemy walls with my own, and then I’d use catapults to take down said walls. I’d then funnel whatever units I had left into the enemy lord’s keep. Rinse, repeat. The matches have no momentum to them, because there’s nothing gating your access to unit and building creation – other than time, and resources generated. Tech-trees give strategy games a natural flow. Without them, they’re directionless.

Presentation-wise, the game is all over the place. It’s fantastic when you see walls crumbling after you’ve been hammering them with catapults. Seeing the enemy’s archers just rag-doll off the ramparts after harassing them with waves of arrows is awesome. But hearing every unit under your control cracking wise with some of the worst voice acting imaginable is irritating. Watching sub-par CG portraits of enemy lords animating is visually repugnant. Having to constantly click on your stockpiles to figure out how many resources you have (rather than just surfacing them on the UI) is maddening.

Firefly Studios should know that people liked their series for the crazy stuff – like flinging diseased animals over an enemy’s castle walls. While those things exist in Stronghold Crusader 2, the amount of minutiae involved in setting them up detracts from the overall experience. The game is an anachronism, proving that transposing ideas from the past (without thinking critically about how they should be represented in the present) doesn’t always work.

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