Stronghold 2 review

PC Gamer holds fort in Take Two's latest RTS sequel

Stronghold 2, the castle-building RTS sequel, offers you two paths: one is the path of war, the other, the path of peace.

Pit the defences of the 3D fortress you've built against swarms of invaders, or just make it the heart of a well-run agrarian economy. A peaceful castle sim, in other words. Isn't that ridiculous? Well, actually, no.

During my varied Kentish upbringing there was one constant: I hated Dover Castle. Strategically, historically, architecturally, it should have been very interesting, but I hated it, because it was a virgin.

No one had ever laid siege to it, there had never been a battle. And, therefore, it was boring. As far as I was concerned, Dover might as well not have existed.

But that was a younger and a more naive me. Playing the peaceful strand of Stronghold 2 today suggests something that I'd not really considered: even without invading armies, running a castle is tough, challenging, perhaps even interesting.

Actually, when we really start to get stuck into the sack of home truths that we're currently in the process of spilling, I have to admit that I've taken far more pride in taming the simple yet recalcitrant economy than I have in winning any battles.

Watching my settlement prosper through careful management of food supplies and trade, followed by thrifty use of gold to procure a gigantic, multi-tiered monstro-fortress, is actually a far more enjoyable experience than breaking out the boiling oil and polishing up the ballistae.

This is Stronghold 2's great failing, ultimately. The sieges (particularly the historical sieges supplied for your entertainment) are diverting, but are also rather crude.

The limitations of soldiers make tactical thinking a dull pastime, while many of the scenarios are too difficult to ever be appealing.

Played once and failed, you feel little urge to return. While the campaign really should have been the backbone of the game, it's actually fairly spineless.

In fact, and I really didn't want to have to say it, the sieges in Medieval and Rome are still more entertaining than this, a specialised castle-warfare game. If you want battles done well then this isn't the first place you should be looking.

Nevertheless, it's a fair improvement on the original Stronghold game, and while the 3D engine is poor for war, it makes castle-construction a delight. You can edit your own maps, set up for a siege, or simply reap resources and build for pleasure, like a micro-managed SimCastle.

Stronghold 2 is packed with options for your edification, so whether you want to follow the story-driven campaign to return the King to his throne, or simply reconstruct the motte and bailey delights of Dover Castle, you'll be hard pressed to unearth an RTS that plays for keeps quite as well as this.

Stronghold 2 is available for PC now

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