Stronghold: Crusader 2’s Nefarious AIs

Smashing castles down must have been bloody great. Look, ignore the horror of medival warfare, the starvation of sieges, the chaos of battle with poor communication. Pull back from the awfulness and it was essentially about blowing up somebody else’s carefully constructed Lego. Finding the largest possible rocks to throw at your enemy’s walls, inventing ever more ingenious ways to apply blunt force to a reinforced door. Plus: elves actually existed back then.

The Stronghold series and particularly its incoming iteration Crusader 2 are all about that (except the elves, for some reason). In the run up to the delayed release on September 23rd, Firefly Studios have been showing off the various AI characters who will command the opposing forces in its singleplayer skirmish and campaign modes.

The Wolf is a throwback to the first Stronghold game, where he was the main antagonist, and the third where he returned healthily from falling off a tower with a sword through him. Sort of a badass, really, and the series’ final boss. It’ll take a mighty army to pry him out once he’s entrenched.

Crusader 2 also brings the series’ first female commander, the Sultana. She uses small numbers of specialised units to get the job done, which Firefly hope will teach players to deploy counter units rather than trying to spam generically powerful ones.

I’ve never tried the series–always seeming a little on the hardcore-realism side for my StarCraft-addled brain–but these trailers make it look pretty fun. Castle building and layout plays a significant part, rather than just being something to do before you can build an army. Besieging said fortresses looks tactically interesting and spectacularly physics-y too. Plus, honestly, the combination of voice over and background music in this one just made me laugh.

37 Comments

  1. Loyal_Viggo says:

    I think there should be more villains with food-names.

    The Sultana is good, but a ‘female sultan’ is not the first thing I think of when I hear that.

    Imagine the fear when you learn your opponent is The Broccoli! or The Gazpacho Soup!

    • eggy toast says:

      In North America no one knows of a food called sultanas.

      • Loyal_Viggo says:

        Well my friend, let me educate you.

        A sultana is a dried white seedless grape, which in the US the grape variety is called ‘Thompson Seedless’.

        In the UK, Canada, New Zealand and Australia a dried white grape is called a ‘sultana’, and a dried red grape is called a ‘raisin’.

        So I suppose you should qualify your statement and say, “in the United States we are too lazy to distinguish between types of dried grape, and only have one name (raisin)”, but fear not because in Canada and the rest of the English speaking world we know what a sultana is.

        End of lesson.

        • eggy toast says:

          Yes, I wiki’d it in 2 seconds and remembered that I’ve heard the term before.

          Canada by and large uses raisin for all sorts, as well, by the way.

        • Jeremy says:

          You must be loads of fun at parties.

          • Loyal_Viggo says:

            You must be an American.

          • HauntedQuiche says:

            Apparently he really is! Or at least, so I heard on the grapevine…

          • Coming Second says:

            Keep digging like this and you may very well end up in America.

          • Jeremy says:

            The verdict is still out, and it doesn’t seem we’ll reach a concord anytime soon.

    • Serenegoose says:

      Knowing that one of Iron Man’s most famous villains is ‘The Mandarin’ is always a delight to any 8 year old.

      Or me.

    • Leb says:

      In Arabic, female sultan is sultana. So I’m not sure what else you could propose to name her.

  2. eggy toast says:

    Well those videos did look pretty neat, but I don’t know anything about the game or series either, how do they play?

    eta: I like city building and strategy but hate having to speed from group to group

  3. tormos says:

    My friends and I discovered the Stronghold games in grade school, and Stronghold Crusader (along with Civ etc) is probably one of the Games That Made Me and thus I am wildly underprepared to talk about it objectively but

    Oh my god play Stronghold
    It’s a game with a hundred neat ideas that all kind of stack on top of each other. It’s a game where your fully integrated and supply chain using medieval agrarian economy actually is secretly this weird adjunct to the actual business of building whack ass huge castles and then attacking and or defending them. It’s a game that can actually make you feel like you’re under siege, like unless you can drive the invaders back NOW TODAY THIS INSTANT your crops will fail again and your fiefdom will wither away into nothingness. It’s a game where you can build dancing bears. It’s a game where instead of messing with all that you can have massive “historical” sieges of a scale and intensity sufficient to permanently ruin your enjoyment of the Total War series or BUILD YOUR OWN CASTLES and let your friends siege them for bragging rights (on a budget of sieging troops that is determined by how expensive your fortifications were) and annoyingly rub into your face the next morning during math enrichment that you totally forgot to provide adequate protection against undermining in the strategic lowlands that formed what would eventually become a critical breach in your walls. It’s a game with an entire economic campaign that, to my knowledge, no one in the history of time (or at least the history of bookish 12 year old boys desperate to be medieval commanders) has ever played. It’s a game which can be appreciated by said 12 year old boys but that will also entice and entertain your mild mannered yet serious, collared shirt wearing father into spending many nights hunched around your family’s aging Compaq as you watch him frenziedly build infrastructure and throw back sieges in levels too difficult for you to even feverishly dream of unlocking. It’s a beautiful game and if this one is anything like a successor to the name then it’s absolutely a game that everyone should own and play until you have to get another disk due to an unfortunate dog and orange juice based incident.

    • eggy toast says:

      Active pause? Micro management?

    • LuckyLuigi says:

      *applause*

      The original Stronghold was a delight. I loved those mission where you had to defend your castle against seemingly impossible odds but it was possible if you used the right tactics (not unit spamming but thinking).

      I will never forget the mission when the walls fell and I set the town on fire using my last troops fatally thinning the enemy ranks so that my lord could defeat their last man with 1% health remaining. Glorious.

    • Myrdinn says:

      Paragraphs dude. But since you’re a sincere fan of the series, what (Stronghold) game do you regard as best? They sure sound interesting conceptually.

      • tormos says:

        I think you’re probably best served with either Stronghold (the original) or Stronghold Crusader (a standalone sequel/expansion). Deciding between them is largely a matter of personal taste. Crusader is a more “complete” experience in that there’s more units, more buildings etc (although the economic component is almost exactly the same, there’s just an added ability to purchase Arab mercenaries (e.g. horse archers, slingers, torch wielding slaves etc) that complement and interact with the European units in interesting ways) Stronghold itself has a better campaign (it eases you into the process of building and managing your castles very gently as opposed to assuming that you already kind of know what you’re doing) with an entertaining narrative to follow etc, whereas Crusader offered a longer but narrativeless (and largely instructionless from what I recall) “Skirmish Trail” which, while obviously lacking in structure, did allow its sublimely characterful AI to shine to its fullest extent.

        • tormos says:

          Basically if you are comfortable winging things and figuring things out to a serious extent I would buy Crusader but if not I would buy Stronghold. Stronghold 2 is also quite good but in my opinion added a lot of needless mechanical bloat and took too much emphasis off of the battles. We do not speak of Stronghold 3.

      • tormos says:

        also re paragraphs this is what happens when you have a somewhat traumatic breakup and then get really drunk and then remember that you had a paper due at 2 PM and then open up a tab for RPS around 5 local time and realize/remember that MORE STRONGHOLD IS HAPPENING

    • Vacuity729 says:

      I own Stronghold Crusader HD and Stronghold Crusader Extreme HD, and they’ve both been sitting in my pile of shame since I picked them up in a… bundle? Steam sale? I can’t even remember when I bought them… I don’t even know what the difference is between them. The “pile of shame” term was never more truly applied.
      It’s nice to see such enthusiasm for them, you’ve just pushed them much higher towards the top of my list of “need to try this soon”.

    • Leb says:

      I guess I was the one 12 year old to play the economic campaign. It’s like SimCity but with the odd military side objective here and there.

    • Premium User Badge

      Carra says:

      The original Stronghold game was indeed awesome. It managed to combine a good economic city builder with a good RTS game. Most city builders fail hard once the fighting starts but this game excelled. Man, I now just want to go and play it again.

  4. eggy toast says:

    Stronghold Collection and Stronghold Crusader HD are both on Steam and look like they should be cheap in the next sale, which one should I put on my wishlist?

  5. Premium User Badge

    Jerodar says:

    Please don’t be another Stronghold 3

    • tehfish says:

      My thoughts exactly.

      Quite liked the earlier games, but 3 was an absolute disaster :(

  6. Rich says:

    My only problem with the first stronghold was that spear men and mace men could chip though your walls. It just didn’t make sense.

  7. Premium User Badge

    Catmacey says:

    “In to the blackness!”
    That’s all I have to offer.
    Spoken with a Welsh accent of course.

  8. Koozer says:

    Her eyeballs don’t fit in her eyesockets. It’s quite disturbing.

  9. Leb says:

    I like how the dev doesn’t have a SH3 box on his desk among the old stronghold games. They want us to forget.

    I really hope it is good. I played 2 as a kid and my imagination did a lot of work for me at the time, but it had so much done right that you don’t see in other RTSes. I’ve recently played the classic HD editions on steam and they really are something special. I won’t pre-order seeing how broken SH3 (and 2) were, but if the reviews come in and the customers are happy I may give it a post release purchase.

    A little disappointing that units still clip through eachother. It makes this otherwise good looking game look quite silly. I understand pathing in these castles could be a hassle but seeing 10 assassins occupying one space and hitting the king at the same time looks pretty silly.

  10. BluePencil says:

    “which Firefly hope will teach players to deploying counter units ”

    * deploy

  11. Thrippy says:

    Stronghold Crusader is one of my all time favorites. It migrates from old gaming box to new box as the years pass. Stronghold has a dirty tricks theme akin to Red Alert. You mess with your opponent before finishing them off. FYI: Extreme edition is for extremity’s sake. Like, how many sprites can the 2D engine handle at once on a modern processor? You can’t really say it is intended to be a well rounded game, but sadistic fun for SH2 vets.

    I have bought most every FireFly game since. a few at retail. To brave the 2D to 3D transition gauntlet that every 2D RTS developer has had to face (even Age of Empires), Firefly licensed Granny 3D from RAD Game Tools. Firefly has tried to get it money worth ever since: SH3, Legends. RAD Game Tools: “she can be used to build your game engine or just strengthen it…” Well, no, no, no, she really can’t. Similar to Visual Basic, Grandma can’t handle too many demanding chores at once. It never felt right. The animation cycles never blended well. Performance was sluggish. All of Firefly’s games in 3D have felt like tech demos or unfinished games. Herky and jerky. And they didn’t look all that great, even for their times. The need to invest in another engine should be self evident. Maybe they can’t afford to.

    I want to believe. Anyone who finished Space Colony and continued to buy Firefly games wants to believe in a return to Crusader glory.