Stronghold: Definitive Edition Preview - A Blast From the Past

Published: September 10, 2023 11:30 AM /

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Key art from Stronghold: Definitive Edition

I'm terrible -- absolutely terrible -- at real-time strategy games, but that doesn't stop me from playing them. Even if my skill is lacking, the fun they provide is more than sufficient. And while I've picked up and played a lot of RTS titles, one that has regretfully eluded me is Stronghold. With Stronghold: Definitive Edition playable at PAX West 2023, I had my chance.

And as it turns out, I'm also really bad at Stronghold: Definitive Edition. But I still had a blast, and that's a testament to the efforts of Firefly Studios in revitalizing game over two decades old. With new visuals, audio, and more, there really isn't a better time to try out Stronghold than now.

Stronghold Definitive Edition features enhanced visuals, as can be seen with this closeup.
I'm hoping I can get my town to thrive like this!

Back to the Basics in Stronghold: Definitive Edition

I'll go over my play session, comprising the tutorial and a preliminary story mission. The tutorial covers the basics of Stronghold: Definitive Edition, of course, and I found it to be an easy introduction. Essentially, it goes over building up your town and increasing its population. As the lord of your own town, you'll also have to please the people.

Indeed, unlike Age of Empires, the way the populace perceives you is integral to keeping a thriving town alive. You'll have to take into account taxation, food levels, and more to keep people happy. This is done through the placement of integral buildings for resource gathering and more. It's straightforward and simple, but my skills were soon put to the test.

The first story mission was similar as it asked me to establish a town, but I'd now have to account for enemy waves attacking it every so often. I don't think I was prepared for the amount of resources I needed to gather, nor the amount of soldiers I'd need in order to keep my town safe.

A look at castles in Stronghold: Definitive Edition.
At the ready, men.

There's a fine balancing act, figuring out how much food you'll need to account for your population, which you need to increase for more soldiers. Then you need to tax your people for gold, but they get unhappy when you increase the tax rate. It's a lot to manage, and on top of enemy waves attacking, let's just say I'm not the best under pressure.

That said, I managed to prevail by creating more bows to arm my soldiers, and then building a wall to block the enemy's advances. My soldiers shot with their bows and took down the waves, eventually securing my victory. With so much going on screen at once, the clarity of the new visuals and UI really helped me in this one; had they not gotten a facelift, I wouldn't have made it.

A look at the terrain in Stronghold: Definitive Edition with its new visuals.
Someone's probably about to have a bad day with those siege towers!

Revitalized Visuals with Stronghold: Definitive Edition

Indeed, the visuals for the original Stronghold appears to have aged gracefully. With the Definitive Edition on the way, Firefly Studios put in extensive work to revitalize and enhance the visuals, all the while staying true to the 2001 release's look and feel.

Talking with a few developers at PAX West 2023, as I understand it, Firefly had access to around 70 percent of the original game's assets, which were then used to make the enhanced visuals we see in the Definitive Edition. Their design philosophy was to deliberately stick to the same style as the original, but offer clear, HD artwork for players to enjoy.

Staying true to the feel of the original release is important, as Stronghold: Definitive Edition even has returning voice actors. From what I saw with my demo, it definitely has an old-school feel to it, but the new art assets look fantastic. I already have a love for this late 90s, early 2000s RTS art style, and it is recreated so darn well with Stronghold: Definitive Edition.

A look at the terrain in Stronghold: Definitive Edition with its new visuals.
You gotta love this old-school look.

Stronghold: Definitive Edition PAX West Preview | Final Thoughts

While I can't claim to be a longtime fan of the series, Firefly's definitely created a new admirer of their work with my demo for Stronghold: Definitive Edition. I won't presume to speak for those who've stuck around with the series for over two decades, but I am willing to bet this is going to be quite a nostalgia trip for many.

Stronghold: Definitive Edition was previewed at PAX West 2023.

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