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Stronghold 2 (v1.2)
(hx) 11:43 PM CEST - Jun,05 2005

Stronghold 2 is the sequel to Stronghold, a very entertaining castle-building 2D real-time strategy game that let you build your own custom castle, and then defend it from rival lords. Depending on the type of game you choose to play, you will have to manage the economy of your village, trying to keep your peasants happy, gaining honor throughout the land, gathering resources, building walls and towers to protect your property, and raising an army to lay siege to your opponent's castles.

The Stronghold series are one of the only examples of a mix between a strategy and simulation. This game is no exception. The object of the game is basically to build up a castle, while keeping your populace happy and managing intricate economic system. There're three important buildings: the Stockpile, the Granary, and the Lord's Kitchen. The Stockpile holds all the materials your peasants gather from the surrounding environment, and bring it into the storehouse until it is used. The Granary stores all the food that your peasants will harvest, including apples, meat, dairy, and wheat and the Lord's Kitchen is the storage house for the finer foods of back in the day, such as pigs, eel, geese, wine/grapes, and vegetables. Using the Lord's Kitchen, you can hold feasts in your name, thus increasing your honor. All these buildings require employees, some more primitive raw material producers and materials to build them, generally wood and stone for which you have to have more facilities to gather these resources and so on. Keeping your peasants happy is a must to avoid them buggering off, and this can be achieved by feeding them a reasonable variety of foods, keeping taxes low, and later on erecting such salubrious constructions as inns. In addition to happiness, players must also gather Honor which is a new resource in the game. You can gain honor by living like a lord. Some of the ways you can acquire it are through jousting tournaments, holding feasts (feast is prepared in the Lord's kitchen), marriage, musicians guild (having a musicians guild will recruit a jester and troubadour to play at your feasts), monastery (if you have a monastery in your estate the monks will slowly start producing manuscripts), church, granary, statues and of course punishments! Yeah, most punishments used to rehabilitate or execute prisoners (Stocks, Donkey Mask, Gibbet, Torture Wheel, Flogging Post, Stretching Rack, Branding Chair Burning Post, Executioners Block, Gallows) will give a small honor bonus at the end of the punishment time.

The game offers two different gameplay modes within the single player campaign: the path of peace and the path of war. When playing the path of peace there are three major options for you: free build, sim campaign and custom maps. In the path of war there is: campaign, king maker (skirmish with up to seven A.I. opponents on the map), siege and once again custom maps. Whichever route you choose, the primary and ongoing goal is to keep your castle and surrounding land in good order. The main objective in these missions is usually to build an army and defend or siege against various enemies. The first few stages are pretty simple, and it gives you a feel for the game, however, the later stages will prove difficult. If you chose the military route, your castle will concentrate more on creating units to fight against your enemies. If you chose the economical route, you'll focus on making your castle a bustling center of economic activity, creating enough food to feed your people with, as well as gathering resources to build up an army to attack or defend against invaders. The Skirmish mode is more fun - here you can battle with up to seven other AI-controlled opponents on teams or deathmatch-style. In the Free Build mode, you're able to just create your castle and watch it bloom. There is also a Multiplayer mode and the ability to play user-created maps made by the in-game map editor.

The gameplay in Stronghold is generally very impressive. The sieges are much more interesting than in the last game, mostly due to the simple fact that soldiers cannot knock down stone walls. This means that instead of an easy rush with macemen, you must now use catapults and other siege weapons to win. In terms of defensive, there are many new ways to burn, perforate, flatten, slice and shatter those that would hurl themselves against your walls. Besides the pitch ditches (which can be set aflame to torch your enemies,) boiling oil and spike pits, there're heavy logs are mounted on the side of castle walls which can be released to cause physics mayhem on the poor approaching enemies.

Overall, I would recommend everyone to upgrade Stronghold 2 to version 1.2 (or newer) to get the maximum out of the game. Without this patch the game's score would be much lower - 60% or less!! But with the 1.2 patch the single-player game is really good in my opinion and well worth buying the game for. The multiplayer side though still has some major connection problems that hopefully will be fixed in the next patch which developer has said they are working on. This game also has a lower starting price mark ($39.99), which is never a bad thing.

related links: demo+maps, homepage, Stronghold Heaven (fansite), patch v1.2, cheats, trainer v1.2 +6, German demo (374MB)

System requirements:
Minimum: 1.4GHz CPU, 256MB RAM, graphic card with 32MB (GeForce2 MX upwards), 2.5GB free disk space
Recommended: 2GHz CPU, 512MB RAM, graphic card with 64MB, Internet play Broadband connection for multiplayer

snd: 4/5 - solid effects and music, voice acting could have been a bit better
gfx: 3/5 - not bad, but nothing insanely awesome, nice special effects (pitch fires, rolling logs, fire arrows, catapults smashing castle walls)
playability: 4/5 - very addictive, two challenging campaigns, map editor, slight AI issues, slowdowns during large-scale sieges, zillion bugs (especially in the initial release)
genre: castle-building RTS
release: April 2005
developer: Firefly Studios
publisher: 2k Games
Overall: 82%

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