Stronghold Warlords transposes the classic strategy game onto a new East Asian setting. I have a bit of a soft spot for the Stronghold franchise. The hybrid of real-time strategy and city-builder has been a PC gaming comfort food since it debuted all the way back in 2001. Stronghold developer Firefly Studios never reinvents the wheel with new entries in the franchise. Instead, they take an iterative approach that changes settings and adds a few new features while preserving the core gameplay of the series.
“It’s our first new setting for Stronghold in seventeen years,” a Firefly representative told me. “We like to think of ourselves as the ultimate castle game.”
All of the game’s staples have changed for the east Asia setting. The staple food becomes rice, the beverages used to bribe the population into passivity is tea, wood is bamboo, and so on. The game allows players to explore campaigns rotating around four historical figures, including Vietnamese dynastic warlord An Dương Vương and Mongol leader Genghis Khan.
We walked through a guided tour of the building types like a saltpeter mine used to make gunpowder. Some ranged troops will carry cannon-type weapons resembling fireworks. One interesting unit is the new fire oxen. As the name suggests, it’s an ox bursting at the brim with explosives— a four-legged suicide bomber. It’s quite funny to watch it light up, rush into the heat of battle, and explode, taking out enemy troops. No animals were harmed during the making of this RTS.
“We want to facilitate how people play the game, not to force them down any specific route.” Recurring Stronghold staple unit laddermen prop up ladders onto castle walls and began rushing into the stronghold. A new feature in Warlords means that units will remain on castle walls as they’re slowly chipped away until the wall is completely destroyed, at which points the units finally fall.
An interesting addition to Warlords is the diplomacy system. Warlords can gain diplomacy points that allow them to buff their strategic capabilities. Warlords also have personality traits based around the Zodiac. Those with the Pig trait will gain benefits in battle, while the Horse garners economic benefits. It’s even possible to negotiate with neighboring warlords to try and confer their benefits onto the player.
There’s not a great deal to say about Stronghold Warlords. It’s more Stronghold, with a few changes and additions here and there, set in east Asia. Not much has fundamentally changed since series highlight Stronghold Crusader landed in 2002, but that’s fine. “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it,” seems to be Firefly’s motto.
Not even the graphics have changed much, and the game has a rather dated look. Not that it looks bad, mind you. It simply hasn’t had the level of graphical overhaul that a title like the recent Total War: Three Kingdoms has. If you’re a fan of the core Stronghold gameplay loop, you’ll probably enjoy Warlords.
But there’s not much here other than the setting to entice newcomers who weren’t interested in previous titles in the series. But, still, it looks like a polished, enjoyable RTS experience for people who crave that fusion of city-builder simulation and RTS. While it may be lacking in major innovations, Stronghold Warlords looks to be a solid entry in the long-running series.
Stronghold Warlords lands on PC in 2020.