Stronghold 2 Hands-On - Final Thoughts

We take one last look at the upcoming Stronghold 2 in this exclusive hands-on preview.

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We've had the opportunity to check out Stronghold 2 twice now, but each of these times we played with very early versions of the game. Apparently, the third time is a charm, because we've been playing with a new version of Stronghold 2 that's 99 percent complete, which is a good thing too, considering that the game is supposed to ship in a couple of weeks.

The peaceful campaign in Stronghold 2 is still pretty violent, as you must defend yourself against wolves and bandits.
The peaceful campaign in Stronghold 2 is still pretty violent, as you must defend yourself against wolves and bandits.

Stronghold 2 is the third game in the castle-building and medieval warfare series, following the successful Stronghold and Stronghold: Crusader. However, the new game represents the first major overhaul of the franchise. The game updates the series to a full 3D graphics engine, and it introduces a variety of new gameplay modes, including the Path of Peace, an economic campaign, as well as the Path of War, which is a combat-intensive campaign.

The biggest new addition, in terms of gameplay, is the Path of Peace. However, don't let the name fool you. Even though you don't have to worry about battling rivals in the Path of Peace campaign, it will still prove quite challenging. While it's technically correct to say that you don't have to worry about crushing major opponents, you still have to defend your towns against nature, in the form of predatory wolf packs, as well as bandits, who have a nasty habit of razing your buildings to the ground. This means you have to build up a small army of spearmen and archers, as well as build up defenses such as walls and towers. You also have to worry about fire, which can be a huge issue, especially in developed towns and villages. To combat this, you must place wells strategically throughout your territory, so that a fire won't rage too long before it can be doused. And, of course, you have to attend to the many different needs of your peasants and villagers, which we've discussed in our previous coverage.

Juggling the multiple territories in your kingdom is going to be a challenge as well. One of the new features in Stronghold 2 is the ability to control numerous territories at the same time. This means that in addition to your primary stronghold, you can have vassal territories that supply you with resources and revenue. You can then have carter posts (horse carts) deliver resources from one territory to another. This is important, since one territory might not have the stone needed to build up castles and other critical buildings, which means you have to import it from another territory. Still, there are a few annoyances in this system. For example, workers will still deliver the stone from a distant quarry to the territory's stockpile, even if another stockpile lies just across the territory-dividing line from the quarry.

The Path of War campaign will suit those looking for a more traditional Stronghold challenge, as you once again have to go up against a successive string of evildoers in order to restore peace and harmony to the land. The campaign lasts about 12 chapters, but again, these take place on fairly large maps with multiple mission objectives on them. The game also ships with the kingmaker mode, a skirmish mode that will let you battle with up to seven computer opponents on a variety of maps, including one of Australia and one of the United States. Stronghold 2 will also ship with a large number of prebuilt siege battles that allow you to play as defender or besieger. All the siege battles feature well-known and famous castles throughout Europe, including England's Warrick and the Tower of London, as well as Germany's Wartburg. The sieges are fairly challenging, but you'll probably have a tougher time as the attacker than as the defender, which makes sense. It can be a lot of fun to play as the defender, especially when you light burning pitch on fire and watch whole formations of enemies go up in flames. Other new defensive tricks include rolling logs down from the wall, which is a great way to take out those pesky knights, and dumping large rocks on top of their heads.

Siege battles will quickly satisfy any of your pitch-burning needs.
Siege battles will quickly satisfy any of your pitch-burning needs.

You can also create your own custom maps and missions using the built-in map editor. It's even possible to create your own campaigns for the paths of both war and peace. The editor is fairly straightforward to use, and it works just like the tile-based editors found in most other games. In terms of system requirements, it doesn't appear that Stronghold 2 will require a cutting-edge machine, which is good news for gamers with older systems. Buildings and objects have a solid feel to them, but at the same time they're not too intricately detailed, which should help out on the frame rate. Peasants and soldiers themselves are a little blocky up close, but that's not too noticeable when you pull the camera back.

Stronghold 2 has made great strides since the last time we saw the game, and it's looking pretty good. Fans of the series have a lot to look forward to in the many new building options, the new gameplay modes, and the new graphics engine, while newcomers will likely discover a challenging and interesting game about medieval life. Stronghold 2 will ship to stores later this month.

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