Stronghold is a self-described "kingdom simulator," based on TSR's popular Dungeons & Dragons franchise, as you strive to build a kingdom while managing scarce resources in a world filled with monsters. Depending on the level selected, your goal is to either (1) achieve the rank of Emperor by being popular with your subjects, constructing a specific number of buildings and defeating a few monsters; (2) destroy every monster; or (3) achieve both objectives. While the third choice seems like a daunting task, and may actually have you drooling with excitement over the strategic possibilities, let me make one thing clear: it is far too easy to accomplish both objectives.
Part of the problem lies with the monsters that inhabit the world. Although all have varying degrees of strength and intelligence (from lowly giant ants to deadly red dragons), they do not increase in levels at any time during play. Thus, it largely becomes just a waiting game as you patiently build training centers and watch your troops automatically gain experience over time. When they reach a high enough level, you can go on a march that would have General William T. Sherman himself green with envy; it is quite easy to destroy all monsters on the map with a single trip!
One way to offset this problem would be if some of the more intelligent armies would develop a strategy for attacking your stronghold, but even the "highly intelligent" dragons and evil clerics avoid attacking in groups. Every now and then a lone skeleton or dragon will venture near your kingdom (seemingly by accident), but there is never any semblance of an organized campaign. This is especially puzzling when most of your army is out attacking different monster lairs!
The graphics of the various structures are colorful and highly detailed, although characters are tiny and simply animated. While not winning any awards for beauty, each race and class can be recognized by sight alone. Nice touches include buildings showing various stages of neglect should you not have enough money to support them, different seasons changing the look of the landscape, and characters' uniforms changing color as they gain experience.
The virtual non-existence of computer intelligence could be forgiven if two players were supported, but sadly it is one-player only. Considering the appealing graphics, great sound effects, variety of monsters and building options, this becomes a frustrating experience of what could have been a strategy classic. Please make a sequel!
Graphics: While the characters are roughly the size of ants, the buildings and landscape are nicely detailed. Animation could be a bit better, but the game looks great considering the release date.
Sound: The clashes of steel and magical blasts are all well represented during the combat scenes. I love the creaking sound of neglected buildings whenever you click on them!
Enjoyment: The game would have rated five stars if more time was spent on developing the monster intelligence. In addition, the enemy characters should be able to build multiple structures and gain experience like you can. While the evil clerics have a few huts, they certainly can't compare to the towering castles in your kingdom! Of course, most monsters wouldn't need castles, but still....
Replay Value: Stronghold offers a random map and lets you customize all of the monsters in the game. One problem: it's too darn easy! The game is still fun as a kingdom builder, but you quickly become bored knowing you can always win the game.
Mixing the gameplay of Civilization and similar games into real-time and with a 3D view, players must build up a small village in the Dungeons and Dragons fantasy universe into a Stronghold. How much micro-management you wish to do is up to you; the computer can take care of much of it.
You recruit and train Fighters, Thieves, Clerics and Magic Users to venture out and claim more land and resources, which include removing hostile forces. Take control of food supply and the production and management of buildings including castles, markets and magic schools.
Your victory condition is based on your alignment: Lawful players must advance to the rank of Emperor, Chaotic players must destroy all enemy strongholds, and Neutral players must do both!
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