Stronghold 2 sees you taking control of a medieval land in an attempt to bring to heel different warring factions for the greater glory of your king. Along the way, you'll have to manage your castle's economy, keep your lowly peasants happy and gainfully employed, build up your fortifications and armies, and wage battles ye olde school style.
Players have two play options to choose from -- the Path of Peace and the Path of War. The first one focuses on creating a good economy for your King and features very little fuss on the military side of things. You have the option of finishing certain tasks given to you under Sim Campaign. There is limited access to building types and features under this option but it increases as you progress through the campaign. Under the Free Build Mode, players are given a blank slate with a choice of several types of land to choose from (tropical island, rocky terrain, surrounded by rivers etc.). This mode will allow players to just build and build and build, with no specific goals and without enemies (press F1 if you want to shake things up a bit).
The Path of War lets players pick between the Campaign mode and the Kingmaker mode. The "Lost King" campaign allows the players to go through a series of tasks, allowing them to familiarise themselves with the different features of the game. It includes some sieges, buildings (both economy and army) and, of course, special missions. Kingmaker, on the other hand, allows players to go play a battle game set against various enemies. Aside from building castles and making your own economy work, the Kingmaker mode also has a promotion system that will allow the player to advance in rank by spending the honour your Lord accumulates. As you go up in rank, other buildings, troops and defences will become available. However, getting a promotion has no effect on the upgrade of your troops.
To say that you micro manage your community is an understatement. But for those control freaks who like their sim communities just the way they like it, this is the game for you (with a medieval twist to it). Like humans in real life, medieval townspeople can be tricky to satisfy. First of all, your granary must be full of enough food to feed the hungry masses. While apples are the fastest to make, peasants would soon get bored. You'll have to give them wheat for bread, vegetables, pigs, rabbits, deer (by putting hunter's posts), and so on.
You also have to make sure no "gong" and rats pollute your domain, otherwise, people will start leaving. Gong is pretty much a combination of all the smelly, gross stuff that comes out of animals and humans. A gong pit will solve the problem for you, and a Falconer's post will do the job for the rats.
Don't' forget to consider taxes, rations, gaining honour through holding jousts, getting married, putting up a church, and deciding how many masses you should hold -- is that enough micro management for you? The bottom line is that if your people are unhappy, they will start leaving the castle and most of the time, it's hard to get people back in.
There were some AI issues that we found annoying, with a particular one being that peasants could turn into criminals at any time and start stealing from you. Even when there were no idle peasants (which the game manual states is when theft is most likely to occur), stocks in the granary and treasury would go missing. Installing guard posts in several sites seemed to fix the problem, however.
Another gripe is that players have no control over peasants or where they work. For instance, you might consider the gong pit more essential than the vegetable farm. However, if your gong pit farmer suddenly leaves, you can't uproot the vegetable farmer to replace the gong pit farmer. Therefore, you are left with gong and rats all over the place.
The war campaign, on the other hand, gives you missions where you are required to build your economy and maintain defence and offence. The storyline of the war campaign is not worth an Oscar nomination (that includes the voice acting as well) but the missions are not too bad. While other strategy games require the player to keep rebuilding the community, Stronghold 2 allows the player to retain the extensions made to the castle from previous missions and therefore expands the castle through every mission.
Don't expect the combat mode to be anything spectacular. It is quite difficult to control individual soldiers and there isn't really much to see in the fight scenes. Cut scenes and attack sequences aside, the graphics for Stronghold 2 are not too bad. The background music fits the ambience as well. Players can zoom in or out, change view perspectives and go inside houses to see what's going on. Specs-wise, Stronghold 2 isn't a complete system chewer - it asks for a minimum 1.4Ghz processor, 256MB of RAM and a 32MB graphics card.
Overall, control freaks who want to keep a handle on everything will love the nitty gritty details of running this Middle Ages-era game. If you enjoyed the first one, you will probably like the second one as well.
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