Classic Stronghold gameplay goes freemium, and loses a lot of its appeal in the process
Ah, Stronghold. Back at the start of the millennium, this medieval real-time strategy game was an enjoyable pastime, thanks to a lengthy single-player campaign and a multiplayer mode for storming your friends’ castles. More than ten years later, we have a freemium online multiplayer version of the game, and the majority of the visuals, soundtrack and core concepts are intact from the 2001 release.
The big change in Stronghold Kingdoms is that “freemium” bit, as every action you do in the game will take a good while to complete – sometimes up to 24 hours. It’s an interesting direction to take the game in, and while a lot of it works, there’s also a lot that doesn’t.
The objective of Stronghold Kingdoms is to build your town and castle into a bustling sea of people, commerce and defence. You start off my choosing your real-world country, county and town – the game takes place on a map of the real world, and you can defend the honor of your real-life hometown if you so wish.
The game starts off slowly as many strategy games do, with woodcutters bringing in wood and quarries bringing in stone. Soon you’ll be farming animals, trading with nearby towns and going to war with neighboring counties, in a bid to make your parish the greatest and your city the capital of the entire country.
What makes Stronghold Kingdoms different to your average strategy game, and indeed, different to the original release, is that every action you do takes real time to complete. Choose to build a woodcutter, for example, and it may well take 15 minutes to be ready. In this way, it’s a much calmer and more relaxed experience than usual strategy games, with the idea to have the game running in the background while you go about your everyday routine.
That’s not to say it isn’t a seriously deep venture. You’ve got your economy to think about, the happiness of your people, your rank in the world, defending yourself from attackers, sending scouts out to find resources, building your castle up, founding new villages, researching new tactics and items… the list goes on and on, and you’ll be playing for many weeks before you see everything available.
Initially however, it’s rather difficult to get into, as not much is explained, and you can find yourself in many sticky situations with no idea how to break free. Fortunately, there is an extensive Wiki available online which thoroughly explains exactly how it all works. In fact, using the Wiki makes playing Stronghold a much more comfortable experience.
While Stronghold has made a decent transition to freemium, it currently has a lot of issues. When you begin, you’re given a premium account for 2 days. This allows you to queue up building jobs, research, and set automatic trade routes and the like up.
Without these features, however, the game becomes far more difficult, so essentially, you need to pay for a premium account. We’re not huge fans of freemium games which practically force you to put money down, so Stronghold Kingdoms‘ formula definitely rubs us wrong way–especially since it gives you a taste of how the premium version of the game plays, and then snatches it away from you. It’s just a little bit too cheeky.
There are also playing cards that can be put into effect during play to gain an advantage over enemies, but these are extremely rare unless–you guessed it–put real money down to purchase some. It quickly becomes apparent that if you’re not paying money for Stronghold Kingdoms, you might as well not bother playing.
The kicker is that Stronghold Kingdoms is meant to be an online social game, with players working together to take on neighboring parishes, and trading items with each other. We attempted to talk to plenty of players, but in the end heard back from just a single person – everyone else around us had either started a game and then stopped playing, or ignored us. For a social game, it feels very lonely and isolated.
Then there’s the issue of the game and its visuals feeling very outdated. Since it uses graphics and sounds from over 10 years ago, Stronghold Kingdoms is not exactly a looker. The menus and UI for the game even use standard buttons that look like they’ve been taken from Windows 98. We don’t know why Firefly chose to use these old visuals instead of simply drawing up new art.
Finally, Stronghold Kingdoms is currently in beta, and therefore comes with a few technical issues here and there. We experienced several crashes during play, and we had to completely restart the game a number of times to make it work properly again.
Overall, there are plenty of improvements we’d like to see before Stronghold Kingdoms launches fully. You can sign up to play the game for free now.