Stronghold Warlords Review – Test – Real-time strategy in ancient Asia

Stronghold Warlords Review
Real-time strategy in ancient Asia
Stronghold Warlords Review
Real-time strategy in ancient Asia

With Stronghold Warlords, the real-time strategy tradition series Stronghold celebrates its 20th birthday.

In this Stronghold Warlords review, you get a little insight into the gameplay of the new real-time strategy game with building and castle siege in ancient Asia. Stronghold Warlords was released in March 2021 for PC on Steam, which offers single-player, multiplayer, skirmish, and a build mode as well as a map editor.

German Version:

This article is available here as text, but also as a YouTube video (German voice-over, many subtitles). This way you can choose how you would like to enjoy it most.

Stronghold Warlords Review Video

German Voice-Over, many subtitles

English Version:

Stronghold Warlords Review – Intro

Hi there, this is the Zap. In this Stronghold Warlords review, you’ll get a sneak peek at the new real-time strategy game with building and castle siege in ancient Asia. I’ll tell you how it is played, what’s in it and at the end, you’ll get a rating from me. But most of all I want to give you all the info so you can decide for yourself if the game could be fun for you.

The game is developed and published by Firefly Studios from the UK. I received a free trial key, my thanks for that. However, this should have no bearing on my review, as I always test all games with the thought in the back of my mind, how would I feel if I had paid full price.

Stronghold – Background and History

Stronghold Warlords Review
 Background and History
Stronghold Warlords Review
Background and History

The Stronghold series has been a very well-known franchise for 20 years. You can say the game has tradition and history, not only because it involves battles of earlier history.

While Stronghold has always had a certain fan base, many parts were also often rather mediocre or just above it in the reviews. I’ve played almost all of the predecessors with a few exceptions, and some of them I really liked and played again and again. So let’s see how this new part will do. But first, a little Stronghold history, so that everyone can understand the whole context.

The first part was simply called “Stronghold” and came out back in 2001. Back then, it was basically all about building a medieval castle and providing defenses and supplies of food and building materials, then fighting off larger siege armies at the end.

Pikemen, archers, swordsmen, and catapults were our troops. Opponents had a similar selection, plus a few special siege units and usually a special leader with special abilities. In multiplayer games, players could also build multiple castles on a map and lay siege to each other.

With Crusader, Warchest, Stronghold 2, Stronghold Legends, Stronghold Crusader Extreme, and Stronghold 3, there were plenty of successors and with Stronghold HD even the original game has already been released again in a remastered version.

In 2012, Stronghold Kingdoms was also released, a kind of castle MMO where players from all over the world could besiege each other. Kingdoms was released as a Free2Play game with an item store, and still enjoys a certain amount of players to this day. The last spin-off of the original series then came in 2014 with Stronghold Crusader 2. The Crusader parts relied more on large troops and a little less buildup, similar to the Total War series.

So in 2021 Stronghold will be having its 20th birthday, so to speak, and this will be celebrated with a new installment in the series. All these years the game has always been developed by Firefly Studios from England and so it is also the case with the latest offshoot of the series called Stronghold: Warlords. With Warlords, the series wanders a bit in a new direction without losing the old principles.

Whereas the focus has been mostly on European and a bit of Arabian castle warfare, this time it’s off to Asia. The campaign starts in ancient China, also includes the Mongol invasion and the wars with Japan. Here we replay numerous different battles around more or less famous Asian and mostly Chinese war leaders and warlords.

Game Type – Real-Time Strategy

Stronghold Warlords Test
Real-time Strategy
Stronghold Warlords Test
Real-time Strategy

In the campaign missions, we almost always start with a small given village. The main thing here is to make clever use of the buildings and units already there and incorporate them into your tactics. In skirmish or multiplayer maps, we only have our main house and have to build everything from scratch and plan it precisely.

Our task will be either to equip ourselves to repel soon to arrive siege troops or to build up a siege army on our part. Very often it is then necessary to do both at the same time, and even in multiplayer, it is a matter of absolute domination of the map, which can only be done with attack and defense in equal measure.

To achieve our goal, we must first ensure the supply of all kinds of raw materials, such as wood, stone, food, gold. Above all, houses for more inhabitants decide strongly how well our people will stand their ground. Because no building can work without manpower and also soldiers can not be created out of thin air.

While doing this, it is important to keep a balance between the taxes we charge from our people and the supply of food, as well as luxuries like tea and vegetables. High rations make the people happy and high taxes make them unhappy, of course. But we can balance that to increase our tax revenue. How happy our people end up being in the process determines how quickly new residents are created. This is often a deciding factor because if people are constantly sacrificing their lives for our empire on the front lines, we need a steady supply.

Of course, such a great empire is nothing without proper troops. Sword and club fighters, archers and crossbowmen, and a more complex arsenal of siege equipment can make the difference between victory and defeat here. This is where the focus shifts from building to the real-time strategy part. Because the units not only have to be built but also skillfully controlled. Many troop units are helpless and quickly wasted if they are sent haphazardly to the enemy gates.

Another important point then becomes our fortifications, here there are various walls, towers, and gates, but also somewhat wackier superstructures for the walls, such as slingshots or fireworks launching ramps. Because once the Chinese have saltpeter, they can use it to train various fire and explosive units that are very sensitive, but also enormously effective at dealing damage. And then there are all sorts of special things, like wooden walls against archers, or booby traps and tiger cages.

Then there is another point, which hardly exists in a game of this kind. We cannot expand our buildable territory. The plot we have at the beginning will remain permanently as it is. But around it live so-called warlords in their fortresses. If we conquer these fortresses, we can call in favors from them for diplomacy points and thus get hold of goods that are not available on our starting land or have already been depleted.

These diplomacy points open the possibility to bring the warlords of the surrounding area to our side not only by fighting but also by negotiation. This way we can get them to support us, or even attack our opponents directly, depending on the type of warlord. In addition to diplomacy, trade is allowed in some missions, so we can sell surpluses and buy scarcity goods through it.

Overall, Stronghold Warlords offers a large arsenal of options around building and demolishing castles. And we should adapt our tactics to the available resources and especially to the terrain. Then we’ll be well on our way to stopping the enemy from tearing down our walls and can raze their strongholds to the ground.

Stronghold Warlords Gameplay – Story and Campaign

Stronghold Warlords Review -Test- Echtzeit Strategie im alten Asien 03 Story and Campaign - Story und Kampagne
Stronghold Warlords Gameplay
Story and Campaign – Story und Kampagne

Stronghold Warlords tells little stories here. In total there are five campaigns, which you have to unlock little by little. And each consists of 5 to 8 individual maps, but each tells the story of a leader and his journey into the history books in episodes.

This is done through introductory narratives but there are also small voice announcements throughout the level. Just don’t expect any real depth here. Most of the stories are about the “big hero messes with all the other lords in the area and makes sure he’s the only one left at the end,” period.

Ah well, it should be mentioned that 3 difficulty levels are offered in the campaign. So the single-player game is widely customizable for beginners as well as hardcore strategists.

One of the campaigns is special in that its focus is heavily on economics. Here, the goal is to make up for shortages of certain resources by producing more other resources than needed and then using trade to turn surpluses into gold and buy-in missing goods. Diplomacy also often takes an important position in these maps.

Very often the victory conditions here are that you must accumulate certain goods in a very narrow window of time, rather than defeating your opponents. This campaign is a nice break in the gameplay, and the missions are really tricky at times, as the time frames are quite tight.

Game-Modes: Skirmish, Multiplayer, Build-Mode, Map-Editor

Stronghold Warlords Review
Game Modes Skirmish, Multiplayer, Sandbox, Build-Mode, Map-Editor
Stronghold Warlords Review
Game Modes Skirmish, Multiplayer, Sandbox, Build-Mode, Map-Editor

Let’s move on to the features that can make Stronghold Warlords long-lasting fun. The game offers a kind of sandbox and scenario session with the Skirmish Mode. This can be played either with AIs only, or you can switch to multiplayer mode right away.

Both the multiplayer and the skirmish maps offer a choice of pre-set scenarios and freely selectable starting conditions. Then it goes to war with up to 8 Steam players or AI teams. At the beginning of a game you are allowed to form teams, so that co-op gameplay is possible.

In addition, there is a building mode, in which you can simply tinker with your fanciest castle ideas, without having to pay attention to enemies or resources. This is where beautiful builders get their money’s worth.

And because that can enrich such a game just again enormously and extend the life expectancy forever, Firefly has also remembered to build a map editor. So a comprehensive set of maps will probably soon be available via the Steam Workshop. Speaking of which, if you own Warlords and are wondering where the editor ended up, that’s an extra tool you’ll find in the Steam tools.

Tech, Graphics, Sound

Stronghold Warlords Review
Tech, Graphics, Sound, Engine, GFX, SFX
Stronghold Warlords Review
Tech, Graphics, Sound, Engine, GFX, SFX

Stronghold is built in the relatively old Vision Engine by Trinigy and Havoc, a real veteran of graphics engines. This one doesn’t allow many modern graphics effects but is at least quite stable. The game ran completely without crashes for me and there were no obvious bugs either.

However, you should not expect stunning graphic effects either. Warlords’ visuals are functional, but none of it is impressive. It’s not ugly, but it’s not outstandingly pretty in any way either. So in the graphics department, there’s more home cooking than delicacies.

The animations are technically okay, the game also runs smoothly on my mid-range RX580. Apart from the fact that after starting the game, nothing happens for a minute before the Stronghold window pops up. And that with a 12 core CPU and although the game is installed on an NVME SSD. There are also similar waiting times on the loading screens. So modern hardware is not required here, the game can’t do anything with that.

The options menu is kept very sparse, except for the resolution and a few graphics details and volume controls, there is not much to adjust there. It’s especially a shame that they didn’t at least make the keyboard defaults customizable.

The music consists of some songs that are probably based on Asian war songs, but sometimes reminded me more of New Zealand music. But perhaps the kinship of these cultures is also so close that it is reflected in the music.

In terms of languages, there is a luxury feature. Stronghold Warlords comes in 8 fully dubbed languages. And besides that, there are 7 more text translations on offer, so on-screen texts and subtitles are available in a total of 15 languages.

Stronghold Warlords Screenshots Ingame

Click or tap into the image for a larger view.
In the enlarged view, you can scroll right and left on the edges

Klicke oder Tippe auf eines der Bilder für eine größere Ansicht.
In der vergrößerten Ansicht kannst Du links und rechts am Rand umblättern

Stronghold Warlords Test – Opinion and Conclusion

Stronghold Warlords Review -Test- Echtzeit Strategie im alten Asien 06 Opinion and Conclusion - Meinung und Fazit
Stronghold Warlords Test
Opinion and Conclusion – Meinung und Fazit

A few points of criticism beforehand. Besides the rather old-fashioned graphics, there are a few things that annoyed me quite often. These quickly lead to problems in the gameplay, which is often not too easy anyway, and which could actually be avoided.

This starts with the fact that some houses have entrances. But you can place them so that they show as green and buildable when you build them, but in doing so, access is not controlled. So if you save resources forever to build the expensive building, and then do not look very closely, it may be that the workers can not enter the house and you may tear it down again. Which then sends half the resources to nirvana.

The pathfinding is okay for the most part, but from time to time it seems to drop out completely. Sometimes the enemy puts troops in front of the wall, within range of my archers, and then they gather, patter around, form up, and wait until the slowest troops have all arrived. Before they decide to run, my archers have often already eliminated 30-50% of the enemy. Would it be so hard to put the AI’s rally point outside the shooters’ range? At least that would seem less stupid.

Sometimes the troops also run strangely in front of the wall, against rocks, or into the water. These are rather rare problems, but they should simply not appear at all. In multiplayer, there is also a rather low unit limit, which was probably set to cover up performance problems. There is room for improvement here as well.

Some missions are still a bit weird in terms of balancing. As a particularly negative example, the 2nd mission of the economic campaign has remained in my memory. There you have to produce weapons and armor under time pressure on a map littered with ruins and then you are also getting attacked permanently. And because it is so beautiful, the resources on the map are by far not enough. So you have to deal with a lot of trade. That was a real chunk that I chewed on for a while, and that on medium difficulty. Here I was briefly at the frustration limit.

There are events like thunderstorms or droughts that can cause fires. There’s a kind of fire department for that. People who come running in with buckets and put out fires in houses. So far everything is fine. But what I found totally nonsensical was that the workers who work in the burning houses completely ignore the fire for the time being. As if nothing had happened, they traipse into their work and then come running out again, screaming like living torches, before they disintegrate into coal. Oops, we couldn’t see that the house was ablaze.

The same thing happens to transport units if their path happens to pass by a burning house or field. So you can then lose the valuable worker and also the goods he is carrying. This is just nonsensical and just annoying.

Besides that, the castle lords, your own warlords that you can also run around and fight with, are extremely slow and, unlike most of the predecessors, don’t have any special skills. This is also a bit disappointing, here more would have been possible to give these leaders a bit more dignity and respect.

Also, the amount of units is not quite what you would have wanted for old Asia. And overall it just seems a bit lacking in ideas. It offers just like its predecessors, a solid real-time strategy with siege battles, just with a slightly different setting. But there’s nothing special, nothing really new in the new Stronghold.

Coming to the positive points, I would like to tell you about a surprise that made me smile. It used to be common practice for games to come with a printed manual. Stronghold Warlords, being an old-school game, now comes with a manual as well.

In the game folder, you will find PDF files in 7 languages, each explaining all the game features and mechanics in 56 pages. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a boxed version with a properly printed manual.

Overall, Stronghold Warlords offers a well-rounded package. It comes with a long campaign for single-player, which is also not too easy. And with sandbox, multiplayer, and map editor, there is plenty of long-term motivation and replay value, so you will be able to get the game out again and again later.

However, the overall presentation makes it look more like a game from 2010, and with a base price of just under $39 or €35, it’s not exactly a complete bargain either. The graphics, which are no longer quite up to date, and the AI weaknesses then make the game seem a bit lackluster in parts.

Stronghold Warlords Review
Rating
Stronghold Warlords Review
Rating

Stronghold Warlords Review – Rating

Considering the fun offered by Warlords, I would like to give the game a base rating of 80%. With a more modern engine and more attention to detail, there would have been possible a much better result here. There is good mid-range gameplay here in a packaging that is getting rather outdated.

For small bugs, AI weaknesses, balancing problems, and other rough edges in the game design, I would then like to deduct 4%. And when I look at the price tag, I also have a bit of a stomach ache and think, with this offer, it could have been a tenner less. Which then leads to another 3% devaluation for the pricing.

This brings me to a final rating of 73% for Stronghold Warlords. With a few improvements through patches, I see the potential for up to 77%, and if the price drops, it might go even higher, but a real hit won’t come out of it then, unfortunately, even in the sale.

Stronghold Warlords Review
Rating with numbers 73 percent
Stronghold Warlords Review
Rating with numbers 73 percent

Stronghold Warlords

Zap from ZapZockt.de

Stronghold Warlords Review -Test- Echtzeit Strategie im alten Asien
With Stronghold Warlords, the real-time strategy tradition series Stronghold celebrates its 20th birthday.
In this Stronghold Warlords review, you get a little insight into the gameplay of the new real-time strategy game with building and castle siege in ancient Asia. Stronghold Warlords was released in March 2021 for PC on Steam, which offers single-player, multiplayer, skirmish, and a build mode as well as a map editor.
Graphics
Sound
Strategy
Scope
AI and Pathfinding
Game Variants
Price-performance-ratio

Rating

Considering the fun offered by Warlords, I would like to give the game a base rating of 80%. With a more modern engine and more attention to detail, there would have been possible a much better result here. There is good mid-range gameplay here in a packaging that is getting rather outdated.
For small bugs, AI weaknesses, balancing problems, and other rough edges in the game design, I would then like to deduct 4%. And when I look at the price tag, I also have a bit of a stomach ache and think, with this offer, it could have been a tenner less. Which then leads to another 3% devaluation for the pricing.
This brings me to a final rating of 73% for Stronghold Warlords. With a few improvements through patches, I see the potential for up to 77%, and if the price drops, it might go even higher, but a real hit won’t come out of it then, unfortunately, even in the sale.

3.6

Outro

Do you like tearing down castle walls and defending your own castle against the onrushing hordes? Or are Chinese firecrackers and outdated graphics nothing that makes you cheer? Feel free to write me your opinion in the comments or in the community discord.

More gaming news, game reviews, and guides can be found on the YouTube channel or here at https://zapzockt.de – clicking the thumbs up and subscribing at the youtube channel and sharing with friends certainly can’t hurt and then have a great day, ciao ciao, your Zap

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Zap

Dirk "Zap" von ZapZockt.de, 40+ Gamer, zockt seit 1980 vor allem Strategie Titel, MMOs und Rollenspiele. Schreibt Game Reviews, Gaming News und auch mal über Technik, Hardware und YouTube. Mehr Infos findest Du unter Mehr über Zap lesen ◄----------► Dirk "Zap" from ZapZockt.de, 40+ gamer, has been gaming since 1980, mainly strategy titles, MMOs and RPGs. Writes game reviews, gaming news and also sometimes about technology, hardware and YouTube. Click here, if you want to read more about Zap.

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