Stronghold 3 First Look

The Middle Ages were a scary time for anyone, but it helps when you can build a castle fortress with the click of a mouse.

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If you've ever wanted a game that combines strategic city management and throwing dead cows at bad guys, Stronghold 3 may just be the game for you. This hybrid of city-builder and real-time strategy tasks you with constructing a medieval fortress and then defending it from enemy forces. We've just had the chance to see it in action here at Gamescom 2010, so let's take a look at what to expect.

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Stronghold 3 designer Simon Bradbury guided us through a look at some of the new features that have been introduced since Stronghold 2, a game that he readily admitted took a few steps back from the well-received first game. The big one is that developer FireFly Studios has done away with the time-consuming process of creating a game engine entirely from scratch, going with a middleware solution that has given them the time to focus on the core gameplay as well as add their own technical bells and whistles. Among those tech upgrades is a new physics engine that renders fully destructible buildings as well as soldiers capable of getting knocked back over a cliff or tower wall from a strong arrow strike. There's also a full day/night cycle that creates a dark and ominous fog of war for nighttime battles that you have to cut through using torches (thanks to the new real-time lighting model).

In addition to tech and engine upgrades, the strategic gameplay has also seen a number of tweaks. Bradbury was very frank about what FireFly did wrong with Stronghold 2. After the first game launched to critical and commercial success, they took the approach that if people loved the strategy elements of city-building in the original, they would love having even more strategy in there as well. The result, he said, was a dense, cumbersome game that lost the strategic balance that a lot of people enjoyed about the first game. So one of the big changes in Stronghold 3 is almost addition by subtraction--getting rid of many of those obtuse mechanics (like the string of buildings you'd have to build to escort a single criminal through the justice system). Bradbury says Stronghold 3 now plays much more like the original game.

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It's not all stuff that has been taken out, though. One of the new features is the ability to place a building anywhere you want, not just on some grid-based map. If you want to build your keep at an odd angle on a hill facing away from the main road, by all means do so--it's entirely up to you. You can also build castle walls either along a straight line or by using the cursor as a sort of brush to make free-flowing shapes with the wall-building tool. In terms of combat, there are new and gruesome ways to deal medieval justice to your enemies. One is the ability to choose the number and type of dead animals to catapult into an enemy castle in order to spread disease, which creates the risk-reward scenario of do you launch one cow and leave a single big fog of death, or a bunch of dead sheep to create a number of smaller disease fogs? There are also traps you can set in anticipation of your enemy's approach, like hidden oil pots that your archers can shoot with fire arrows that cause the enemies to burst into flames.

Right now, FireFly is aiming for an April 2011 release. You can expect to see the game released in stores and on Steam right around then.

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