RTS Classic done right
I've always been a fan of Stronghold. Through the thick and the thin, at some point I managed to grab a copy of every game in the series. However, I always loved the original best. Maybe it's nostalgia, maybe it really just is the best, but whatever the case, I always enjoyed it more than the others. When I heard there was a chance to check out Stronghold: Warlords, the newest entry in the series that focuses on Asia, I jumped at it. After seeing it, I'm really glad I did.
The developers walked me through a simple skirmish map. They had a mostly finished castle at their disposal and quickly set about showing me how infrastructure worked. If you played the original Stronghold, then Warlords shouldn't look that different here. You'll have to send peasants out to work the field, cut down bamboo trees, mine iron, and more. The economy works almost the same, with materials like wood, iron, and stone making a return. In addition, there's a new material in the form of gunpowder, which you need for some of the game's new units. There's some surprisingly intricate animations, and there's a certain joy watching a lumberjack cut down bamboo stalks, cut them into smaller pieces, bundle them up, and deliver them to your warehouse.
As the work continued, I couldn't help but notice how insanely colorful Stronghold: Warlords is. The developers mentioned that the base game takes place in Europe, and the Crusader spin-offs in the Middle East, and both make it hard to do a diverse color pallet. However, with Warlords taking place in Asia, they got a chance to use more bright greens, blues, and pinks. In addition, they said the buildings and units were all based off of historical sketches they found from the time period to help lend even more authenticity.
They also used this time to build some walls to finish their castle. I was told that the wall building was closer to that of the original game, using a simple grid system. The price of the walls have been adjusted so that each piece of wall is exactly one stone, making it easier to actually tell what you'll need to owe. In addition, walls can now be built up and down hills, meaning you won't have strange gaps or bulges to avoid them. Walls are also stronger now, which means your defenses should hold up a lot better against enemy armies.
Enemy armies like the one that began to invade our castle. With the walls done, the developers sent archers to the top and attempted to hold back the invasion force. Formation played an important role here, and by having shield units in the front, our archers had a tougher time hitting the squishy units in the back. Enemies with ladders ran up to place them on the walls, but we countered with flamethrower troops that burnt them as they climbed. Despite our best efforts, the walls fell, enemies invaded, and ultimately they were able to kill our lord, causing the skirmish to end in defeat.
However, there's a new feature in the game, one that saw our second attempt go much better. This is the titular warlord feature. Each map is populated with several neutral castles, each led by different factions. You can earn diplomacy points to try to recruit these castles, and then trade with them for supplies. You can also spend these diplomacy points for favors. For example, this time around we asked a nearby warlord to provide a relief force during the assault. Sure enough, a group of spearmen and soldiers rushed out, hitting the enemy force in the side and distracting them in the middle of combat. We also had a new tool of our own. By throwing gunpowder bombs onto ox and lighting their tails on fire, they would rush out into the enemy forces, exploding and taking out whole swaths of troops. This time, we won the fight.
After the demo I got to learn a little more about the game. The warlord I got to see was a tiger warlord, which meant he had stronger troops. I was told there would be eight different kinds of warlords, each of whom would have different strengths and weaknesses. As you trade and do things with these warlords, they would level up and become more useful than before. I also learned that the good lord/bad lord system would return, letting you be a good lord for stronger troops in exchange for slower production, or a bad lord that reverses that. Also little details, like buildings that actually lean on castle walls, have returned.
In addition to this, I was told the game would have a 24 mission campaign. It would follow four different historical settings starting with Vietnam, moving to China, then Japan, then end with you playing as Genghis Khan. The campaign will be loosely based on historical events. In addition there will be multiplayer and "other modes," though what exactly hasn't been decided on yet. I've also learned that Firefly has been working on the game for a little over a year so far.
I came out of my Stronghold: Warlords demo super impressed. While I may not have gotten hands-on time, this appears to be exactly what the series needed. Closer to the classic games than I could have expected, but still with its own unique flare, Warlords is really everything I could have hoped for.
Stronghold: Warlords will be launching some time in the first half of 2020 for PC.
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