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Stronghold Legends Review

Stronghold Legends pack shot
Developer:FireFly Studios
Publisher:2k Games
Genre:City Builder / Strategy
Official Site:http://www.strongholdlegends.com/
Release Date:October 13th, 2006 (UK)
Reviewer:Duncan Lawson (sinna01)

Stonghold: Legends is the third in a quietly successful series of castle building and management sims published by 2K Games and developed by FireFly Studios. The series particular angle was that of castle micromanagement, with the military aspects dealt with much like any of the other commodities of food or material that the budding feudal lord might encounter.

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Legends predecessors main concern was with the economics and supply systems of running your peasant masses, which all looked suspiciously like a medieval craft fair, and this was actually more rewarding that it first sounds. The goal in each level was to achieve a certain level of prosperity, or a stockpile of a certain good. These games turned out to be deceptively complicated and involved, with very fine balances to be struck between population levels, taxation levels, and how to keep the peasant masses distracted from their misery with either religion, booze, or both. It also happened that they were as hard as nails, and a single miscalculation could send your settlement into a downward spiral that you could spend an hour fighting to correct, ultimately futilely. This had the effect of frustrating the casual gamer, but pleasing the hardcore management fans enough to keep the titles on the shelves for longer than many of their peers. The military aspects were more like the disaster events in SimCity than a tactical experience, and were won by planning, stock management and damage control, whereupon the player could go back to his peaceful apple farming existence.

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So, after several years of dependable, unremarkable service Stronghold goes and has the development of the midlife crisis. It throws aside its wheat farming, sheep rearing dependable ways, and runs off to try and hang out with the younger games and get itself a macho new combat system. And just like anyone else perusing a midlife crisis, they're crap at it, and end up not only sucking at their new direction, but neglecting the old. Legends really should have just bought a motorcycle or dated a game half its age.

Back in the press release, Firefly designer Simon Bradbury described the game a 'city builder at heart with RTS elements', but it is clear that nearly all of the city building management has been either dropped or simplified to the point of being ignorable, and really has no more management depth than your old Warcraft or Command and Conquer favorites did.

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An early indication to the wary that Legends had lost the Stronghold plot is the sudden inclusion of dwarves, vampires, dragons and all other manner of Tolkien refugees. The fairly excruciating plot is the battle for supremacy between three forces that the developers looked up under 'castles' in a big book of fairy tales. King Arthur was the most obvious choice; complete with compliment of Knights of the Round and fairly traditional siege weapon options. With his horde of ghouls, vampires and werewolves is Vlad Tepes, whose special power appears to be lisping. And then there is the forces of ice giants and valkeries lead by Teutonic nancy boy Siegfried, whose power is presumably making a white tiger disappear four nights a week, matinee on Sunday. The voice acting is so unbelievably camp that at times you are left fractionally unsure that you are in fact not simply missing the joke and the whole games like this on purpose. The castle building system is one of the central concepts of the game, which is based around building layers of walls around and between hub towers and siege engines. Unfortunately nearly exactly the same system had already been used in LOTR : Battle for Middle Earth, only better in nearly every respect.

It would, from a certain point of view, be uncharitable to call the graphics bad. They would have been quite acceptable back in about '98 or so, and would have stood up nicely if it had been contemporary with, say, Total Annihilation. Compared to its modern competitors, it visuals look flat and empty. This is not just a matter of having the largest texture files possible, and games such as Company of Heroes and Rise of Legends showed that great effect can be obtained by a little intelligent design without punishing the smaller systems. In the pursuit of journalistic truth and justice, its must be acknowledged that Stronghold Legends certainly wont punish the older system, with smooth camera rotation and frame rates even at the 'height' of the battles. Not that you'll really bother watching, as a complete lack of useful group creation, tactical implementation, or even formation commands mean that an assault or holding action is a matter of drag-selecting, clicking on attack, and waiting to die or not. Maybe hoping to die. Depends on how long you've been playing.


Stronghold Legends is set in the days of yore, but is actually more successful in representing a huge leap back in the gaming state of the art. This game's progenitors were never the most exciting games on the shelf, and would have never achieved more than a mediocre commercial success. However, they were good at what they did, and distinctive in their style. The developers could have probably continued to crank out another sequel or expansion at about one a year, and enjoyed a continual fan base, maybe even building on and finessing the system until something really good emerged. As it was, Legends just tried to replicate the features that were making RTS games sell about five years ago, failed to implement them effectively, and scrapped whatever elements that could have made it another quiet success. An undeserving epitaph to an otherwise respectable series.

The bottom line
4.5 / 10

Good stuff

  • Low system demands
  • Less difficult than previous Stronghold titles
  • Not particularly long
  • Funny Welsh accents

Not so good stuff

  • Simply poorly designed
  • Lack of original concepts
  • Abandonment of core values
  • Poor sound
  • Unappealing multi-player
  • Very dated graphics

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