Posted April 1, 2014 by Peter in EGX

EGX Rezzed: Stronghold Crusader 2 hands-on

Stronghold Crusader 2 logo
Stronghold Crusader 2 logo

The sub-heading to Stronghold Crusader 2‘s alpha version is memorable – “bleeding edge. Bugs. Unbalanced”. In fairness, the pre-alpha on display at EGX last year had the same description, and having gotten hands-on both times it’s clear that both the bugs and the balance have been improved in the last few months.

Playing a quick game of the medieval RTS with Paul Harris of developer Firefly Studios, there seemed to be fewer moments of “was it meant to do that?” from six months ago (instant wall repairs were making siege attacks a nigh-on infinite process then, for example), and the beast that is the dervish mercenary can still wreck an attacking force solo but has had its price increased and felt more vulnerable to archers (and is likely to be balanced more for the final release). There were also new units added, and while the demo started with the same pre-built castle and army the whole thing seems to flow better now.
Stronghold Crusader 2 screen
The original Stronghold Crusader was released in 2002, and part of the problem Harris explained in making the sequel was that the original “got a lot right.” Technical constraints may have changed – Crusader 2 will be the first game in the series in 3D – but Crusader was well received, with Harris telling me of players who prefer the skirmish-based gameplay of Crusader over the more narrative based Stronghold series. In the time we spoke at both EGX and Rezzed, this seems to be borne out by the number of people passing by and saying nostalgic things about playing the original, often with surprise that a sequel is due after so long.

Harris tells me some will still go back to the game even now to challenge themselves in custom skirmishes vs the AI. With the difference in the internet between 2002 and now, this was one of the main game modes, and while online multiplayer is far more the aim of the game this time around the AI are also returning for players who prefer solo sessions.

Each AI will have their own personality, reflecting on their play style – some may try to be sneaky, or to harass their opponents, or to turtle inside their castle until they have built up an attacking force, and learning how they play will allow the player to adjust skirmishes to suit the challenge they’re after – or to pad out the numbers in a multiplayer game.
Stronghold Crusader 2 screen
Other game modes are planned as being a campaign-cum-tutorial mode, the return of the skirmish trail (setting up a pre-defined path through the AI to increase in difficulty), and a free-build mode. This last one may hold an appeal for a lot of players – Harris telling me of some who play Stronghold‘s MMO offshoot Stronghold Kingdoms and never attack other players, simply content to build their ideal village.

In freebuild mode, players are left unharassed, allowed to build their ideal castle as they want it. Of course, a castle for a castle’s sake is just a lot of stone, and having built your dream defences you can then choose to trigger an enemy siege, holding out as variable strength forces come at you.

The original games in the series were not demoed in public, but Harris tells me that having taken Stronghold Crusader 2 to EGX it received a good response. Showing it at Rezzed was clearly getting responses too, some of those being a little surprising – as we finish speaking, he is approached by a history teacher explaining that the game (and the original, which is more likely to run on school PCs) would make good teaching tools on castle-building.

Certainly, the game’s realism – at least, within the limits of being a game – is felt to be part of its appeal. According to Harris, when a lot of games go for a medieval theme there is the need to add elements of fantasy to it which some find off-putting, whereas the Stronghold series go for something that is more historically accurate.
Stronghold Crusader 2 screen
Our match finishes, showing the post-match breakdown which currently only has the basics of kills, deaths and the like. However, this is planned to be further expanded and have graphs showing expenditure at certain points, letting you see when an opponent may have begun building an attack or where you held too many unspent resources. This has appeal to players who might want to refine their approach – the analogy made in conversation is to the Civilization series, after the game being able to consider ways of refining your progress to make the next game more decisive.

Overall, Stronghold Crusader 2 looks to be moving the right way in appealing to existing fans, and Firefly is clearly optimistic that the game will draw in new players unaware of the 12-year-old original.

Stronghold Crusader 2 is currently in an alpha; final release is currently planned via Steam for the summer of 2014.


Peter can be described as an old, hairy gamer, a survivor of the console wars of the 1990s, and a part-time MMO addict. He has an especial fondness for retro gaming and observing the progressions in long running gaming series. When scandalously not caught gaming, he can also be found reading comics and fantasy fiction, or practising terrible photography.