The RTS genre is one that I admit I’m not too familiar with or skilled at. Yet, I do enjoy a few rounds of games such as Starcraft II or Command and Conquer 4. But what about Stronghold 3? Developed by Firefly Studios and sequel to Stronghold 2 released back in 2005, Stronghold 3 is unfortunately not an RTS you should pick up. Despite years of development, the gameplay is frustratingly boring and slow; what could have been a great game is buried under numerous design flaws.
Stronghold 3′s gameplay is quite simple to understand; perhaps this is why it is so boring. First you set down buildings for your peasants to work. Then you keep them happy and fed by setting taxes, rations, etc. as they harvest and process resources like wheat, wood, stone, and iron. Once your economy is established, those resources can be turned into a variety of weapons to equip your armies and fortifications for them to defend. Yet the problem is, you have no idea or way to control means of production; buildings take no time to construct and peasants automatically work any open slots. You can’t see how much each apple orchard or wood station is producing or if something is hindering production. All food resources go to your granary while other building resources like wood and stone go to your stockpile; thus, all your towns will look very similar. While many RTS games have correct build order, Stronghold 3 really only has one.
To make matters worse, Stronghold 3 does a terrible job explaining what to do. There is a tutorial, but it is hardly helpful besides telling you the most basic of gameplay elements. Everything else requires trial and error. I had no idea what an ox tether was; I would build many in a few missions hoping they would do something, but nothing ever happened. It wasn’t until I went to outside resources like wikis that I learned ox tethers can only be used to transport stone from quarries. Another building that had me perplexed was the well; I assumed it was for drinking water, but little did I know that it was used for putting fires out…which I learned when half my village was already burning ashes. Only then did the game tell me that I needed wells. Thanks a lot. Remember earlier where I said all building materials go to your stockpile? Well I also found out the hard way that in order to build spears, your worker had to travel from the spear station to the stockpile, grab a piece of wood, bring it back, and then place it in the armory, wherever you had built it. The first few times I had spaced these buildings so far apart, that it actually caused me to lose because I couldn’t build enough spearmen due to lack of spears.
If anything, combat should be the one saving grace. Right? Wrong. It’s awful; it’s a simple case of sending your units at other units and hoping for the best. There is little complexity, diversity, or balance among the units. Despite having gone through several patches, combat is still a chore. Units will get stuck and stand still after killing a unit even if there are other enemies around. And boy are they slow. Literally. It can take minutes for two opposing armies to finally engage in combat due to how slow they move. This is incredibly annoying. You’ll spend more time waiting and watching than actually fighting, and that’s a problem.
What about the game modes? Stronghold 3 offers two semi-linked campaigns, a military one and a economic one. As the title of each one suggests, you’ll be doing a lot of fighting in the military one and a lot of resource collecting in the economic one. However, the objectives are extremely repetitive and lack creativity. You’ll either have to hold out for a certain amount of time, kill a certain amount of units, or collect a certain amount of things. That’s about it. There’s little room for experimentation as there’s only way to solve each objective. Stronghold 3 will attempt to spice things up by sending in random events like fires, a pack of wolves, sunny days which grant extra happiness, etc. But the events aren’t randomized, so if you’ve played a mission before, you know what to expect.
Stronghold 3 has a few other modes as well. The Blackstaff Campaign is basically another military campaign. The Historical Sieges mode has you either attacking or defending a famous castle during a famous fight. While I had a little fun at first, I soon learned the secret to success: if you’re attacking, siege everything from afar and mop up the pathetic AI that remains. If you’re defending, gather all your units in the central tower and kill the enemies one by one as they’re forced into a bottleneck. Quite simple really. Sandbox mode has little to offer too; both maps are so small that you can’t build anything impressive even with effectively unlimited time and resources. Multiplayer is nonexistent; the only match I found was with a Russian, and that didn’t last too long.
Stronghold 3 is definitely not something you should entertain yourself with if you’re looking for a good RTS. It assumes too much of the user initially, doesn’t do enough to keep the village-building fresh and interesting, and has boring combat and game modes. I’m sure deep down Stronghold 3 is a great castle-building simulator, but there are just too many flaws to enjoy the game in any way.