May 2, 2021

It's Time to Part Ways, My Lord - Stronghold: Warlords PC Review

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Firefly Studios is like an old girlfriend. No matter how tumultuous things get, she still keeps trying to keep us together even though I’ve moved on to greener gaming pastures. Firefly Studios, I love you and you've given me many happy moments in the past, but times have changed and your latest offering, Stronghold: Warlords just doesn’t do anything for me anymore. And yet, you keep insisting I give you one more chance. Ok, I’ll give it a go one more time to see if I’m missing out on anything special, but after that, I'm out.

Graphically, very little has changed. The graphics engine used in 2002’s Stronghold Crusaders has clearly been left untouched. As a result, units once considered charming and charismatic can now be seen as lifeless and blurred. However, even though fragments of the game's appearance haven’t aged well, the gameplay is still able to push out some interesting moments. Also, gradually growing your economy and population is rewarding and the feeling that you are getting something accomplished is never tarnished. Add the addition of working online multi-player features means you can whoop it up with friends in some bare-knuckle excitement. But that's really where Warlord's strengths end.

Firefly Studios, I love you, but times have changed and your latest offering, Stronghold Warlords just doesn’t do anything for me anymore.

No Longer a Stronghold

If you’ve never played a Stronghold game the premise is simple: build castles and a thriving community and a big army to defend it. The settlement management system is robust but not as deep as previous Stronghold games but it does add to the economic and cultural diversity set in the East Asian world. The biggest addition to this version is the inclusion of Warlords who are powerful influencers you use to conquer opposing factions over vast historical campaigns. Each warlord under your command possesses distinct perks and abilities that can change the tide of war.

The castle building element which was once the core element in the Stronghold series seems to be more of an afterthought here. While the array of fortifications that you can add to your castle is solid, it isn't spectacular, with simple walls, towers, gates, and a slew of defensive and offensive weapons at your disposal.

The major issue I have with the game, however, is when the combat starts and it’s here that Warlords shows its faults. For one, when two armies clash they blend together into one giant mishmash of pixels that bear no resemblance at all to that of fighting soldiers. Second, enemy Warlords sit around waiting to be attacked instead of going on the offensive which leads to many encounters becoming one-sided. And finally, the game is riddled with AI bugs and crashes that Firefly knew about but still shipped the game with the promise of patching the game post-release. Rarely have I ever come across developers that openly admit to such egregious practices, and while the core gameplay might provide some flashes of value, the game mechanics and frustrating AI movements are simply too dated to ever feel like time and money with the game is well spent.

Sure, newcomers to the series will find some enjoyment here, but for the rest of us, there’s little chance to rekindle our relationship with Firefly Studios.

Something That I Use to Love

Unless you’re the kind of person who clutches their Stronghold games in high admiration, you’ll probably find yourself completely and utterly underwhelmed by Warlords. Sure, newcomers to the series will find some enjoyment here, but for the rest of us who have stuck around supporting the franchise, there’s little chance to rekindle our relationship with Firefly Studios.

We’ve been through this for two decades and time after time, they still do not openly listen to the community feedback, and yet they attempt to lure us in with promises of something new and improved. And just like any relationship, sometimes you just have to cut your losses, part ways, and move on. So please Firefly Studios, stop trying to ask me back because I won't.

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