Stronghold Collection Not Going Very Strong and Fails to Hold Attention
I remember playing the first Stronghold and having a lot of fun with it, despite some of its shortcomings, like the AI’s penchant for troop rushing and building flawless estates (communities plus castle), thus ensuring the computer was never assailed by the sort of social and logistical problems that players run into. These shortcomings meant that, despite the fun I initially had with the game, I grew tired of it quickly and moved on to greater and greener RTS pastures.
Not much has changed, really.
The Stronghold Collection includes the first (2001) Stronghold release, Stronghold Crusader (taking you to the Medieval Middle-East), Stronghold Crusader: Extreme (an add-on and upgrade to the previous version), Stronghold Legends (adding mythic campaigns, such as that of the Arthurian legends), and Stronghold 2. Of these, the first stronghold is so dated at this point as to only have nostalgic value. I also found it odd that Firefly Studios (the games’ producer) didn’t unify the two Crusader games considering that’s what was done when Extreme was released, but it was likely a matter of marketing (“Hey, look! We’re giving you five games rather than four!”) Still, one can’t really complain that this choice is wasteful considering all five games fit onto a single DVD, a fact that is itself very telling regarding how out of touch they are with recent releases that utilize graphics and game engines necessitating more space.
Despite all the issues I’ve had with the various iterations of the Stronghold franchise through the years—graphics that fall well short of the then-current industry standard, choppy animations that make your units seem to shimmer as they move, overbearing AIs, an incredibly high screen brightness that can’t be adjusted in-game (to the point of losing graphic details and definition), too much micro-management (such as having to build facilities for removing an estate’s feces)—I can’t say I didn’t give the collection a try without knowing what to expect. Still, in today’s competitive video game market I was disappointed to see Firefly Studios didn’t do anything beyond repackaging the old games together.
There is no effort made to boost the graphics or engine to meet today’s capabilities and standards, for instance, nor to even elevate the earlier releases to the standards of the latest (Stronghold 2), as other companies have done when re-releasing their earliest classics (Valve’s upgraded release of Half-life using the Half-Life 2 engine comes to mind.) There are no additional patches or the like to tweak the commonly known game play, feature, and AI problems that have been around for years, and there were no special additions available solely with the collection, such as so much as a soundtrack CD (which is a shame, as I always considered Stronghold’s soundtrack to be one of its stronger attributes.) I was especially annoyed to see the older games weren’t upgraded to at least get rid of the desktop resolution change that happens when exiting the game to accommodate today’s available screen resolutions (I was playing on a 22” widescreen LCD at 1680×1050 resolution), thus leaving your desktop displaying the game’s resolution rather than reverting to your own settings. Nope, the Stronghold Collection is just all five games pressed onto a single DVD (without any hard copies of so much as one of the manuals, I might add—all the manuals are on the disk in PDF format, making learning the game more inconvenient to newcomers) and nothing else.
So, what else is there to say here? While I give Firefly Studios two thumbs up for putting everything together at a great price for newcomers looking to try their hand at the Stronghold franchise, I have to turn one of those thumbs back down because of how they chose to do so. I admit to squeezing several hours of enjoyment from the Stronghold Collection, but the games’ failure to impress me with anything new or special made me turn away from it again fairly quick, and so I find myself giving this Firefly Studios’ release a mere 5 out of 10.