Stronghold 2 Updated Hands-On - The Path of Peace

You'll have your hands full in Stronghold 2, even when you're not at war. We play around with a new build of the game to find out why.

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Contrary to Hollywood movies, life in the Middle Ages was hardly idyllic, even during the best of times. Sure, there was always the chance of seeing your village burned down during the decade-long wars of the era, but even when you weren't dodging arrows, you were trying to eke out a living off the land. Stronghold 2, the sequel to the popular castle-building games by FireFly Studios, will seek to recognize this when it ships next month. That's because in addition to a traditional campaign where your job is to build up a medieval economy and army so you can crush your opponents, the game will also ship with a peaceful campaign where your job is simply to build up a medieval economy. However, "simple" may not be the right word for what you'll be up against.

You can build bakeries, tanners, blacksmiths, and gong pits. But, no, there are no shrubberies.
You can build bakeries, tanners, blacksmiths, and gong pits. But, no, there are no shrubberies.

Even though you don't have to worry about marauding armies, you'll have your hands full building up a complex and interconnected medieval economy. The path of peace mode in Stronghold 2 will let you do so by taking part in a scripted campaign that gives you a series of progressively more-difficult missions, a free build mode that lets you just tinker on a series of premade maps, and the ability to play on custom, user-made maps.

The economy in Stronghold 2 is a fair bit of old mixed in with a little new. Many of the remaining structures and economic chains remain unchanged. For example, a hops farmer raises hops that a brewer turns to beer. In turn, the innkeeper sells the beer at the tavern, making your peasants happy. Similarly, the wheat farmer grows wheat, which the mill boys turn to flour, which the baker turns to bread. This is all pretty much par for the course for the Stronghold games. There are a few new chains, though. For example, waste is a problem because piles of it can cause disease and attract rats. To rectify that, you can hire a gong farmer to cart the dung away, as well as hire a falconer to kill the rats.

A notable new addition to the overall game, though, is crime, as high levels of it can scare away workers and make the population unhappy. It can also lead to theft from your granaries if the criminals are so bold. To combat this, there's the courthouse, where you can see criminals tried and then punished by being chained to dungeon walls. There's also a torturer's guild, where the hooded guys can relax between dishing out beatings. Plus, you can adorn your towns with all sorts of pleasant reminders of how crime doesn't pay, namely in the form of stocks, gallows, and even a burning pole. Still, it's apparent that keeping your citizenry in line is going to be one of the challenges of the game.

Keeping your citizens happy will be another task, though this was one of the goals in the original Stronghold games as well. Basically, you want to keep your citizens happy or else they'll desert you for happier provinces. Good ways of doing so include making sure there's food to eat (with bonuses for a greater variety of food), building churches so their spiritual needs are taken care of, constructing taverns so they can drink, and so on. Of course, there are plenty of things that can drive morale down, including high taxes, plagues of rats, high crime, and piles of gong.

Whatever you do, don't call your citizens 'the village people.'
Whatever you do, don't call your citizens 'the village people.'

There's also a whole new level of infrastructure at work in Stronghold 2 thanks to the fact that you can now live the high life of a medieval lord. Throwing elaborate feasts requires a lot of new types of foods that weren't available in the first two Stronghold games, such as pork, geese, fish, and vegetables, all of which require new kinds of structures to be built, from fish ponds to vegetable gardens. Then there are the new sheep farms, which provide wool that is turned into cloth, which in turn lets the lady of the manor sew fancy new dresses. You can also create a musicians guild to turn peasants into minstrels to entertain you.

Stronghold 2 continues to shape up very nicely, and the game's solid economic system, along with its new 3D engine, should satisfy fans of the series...as well as perhaps attract new ones. The game is edging closer to completion, and the version we just played was leaps and bounds better than the previous version we played. That said, Stronghold 2 still needs more time in the bug-killing department, but we should see it ship next month.

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