Firefly Studios’ 2002 title “Stronghold Crusader” is a real-time strategy (rts) game for the PC that has really stood the test of time. The game is billed as a “castle simulator” which is not too far-fetched. The player takes on the role of a European lord during the Crusades in 1095-1291 A.D. in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The basic objective is to gather resources from the landscape including wood, stone, iron and food to effectively build a castle and stable army and defeat opponents. What makes the game stand out is that the people the player rules over can be quite fickle. If the player does not have a good amount of food coming in as well as other positive factors to counteract the negatives such as high taxes, the player’s lord will lose popularity and their people will leave. The key strategy to the game is to find the ideal balance between army production and keeping people happy in order to keep production high. The real strategical secrets of the game are difficult to describe as the combinations are endless.
One negative aspect of the game is the soundtrack. While the messages you get from the “scribe” character that inform of incoming attacks and unhappiness in the castle are helpful, they are often drowned out by an overzealous song that sounds like someone wailing. This, however, can be remedied in the sound options of the game by turning down the ambient music. Another sound issue, though, is the frequent messages the player gets from their opponents. Since the single player campaign is fought against computer generated opponents, the developers tried to spice up that isolation by adding short, full- motion videos that taunt the player. This would be an acceptable feature if there was more variety to them. Since some campaign stages can take a few real-world days to complete, hearing the same messages over and over again can be annoying. That being said, some of the opposing lord characters are actually quite humorous and entertaining at first. Many of them are named after, resemble and behave like various animals such as the Pig and the Rat.
Despite the audio shortcomings, the game offers hours of entertainment with a decent level of difficulty. The game received a 78 percent on Metacritic. Be ready for the long haul, however, as this game can take quite a bit of time to complete.