With Stronghold: Warlords recently announced at E3, now seems as good a moment as any to look back on the game that kicked off Firefly’s seemingly endless series of castle ’em ups back in 2001. In fact, I’m genuinely astonished to learn that Warlords will be the ninth game in the series, as despite loving the first instalment, I’ve managed to play precisely none of the rest. Stronghold was a very literal tower defence game, with some light-yet-satisfying citybuilding and management elements. It also had the vague feeling of being a 14th century take on Home Alone, as you would build up your castle, then surround it with concentric layers of horrid traps in order to thwart waves of pikemen, macelads, swordboys and horseblokes.
The most satisfying bit by miles was setting up puddles of black, tar-sodden earth at chokepoints in the map, then waiting for a giant mass of infantry to set foot on them before sending a naughty fire arrow arcing in and listening to the choir of screams (not to mention the cheery acknowledgements of the archers, who were all geordies). And while, yes, that was just a bit of petty sadism, there was a wider pleasure in building your economic kernel, then surrounding it in a big murder-shell capable of whittling any attacking force into bloody shreds. For the RTS player who instinctively turtles (the best attack is a good defence, right?), Stronghold was a big bag of sugar. What’s more, it came out right before it became mandatory for all RTS games to be in 3D and look loads shitter than their isometric predecessors, so it had the same visual charm as Age of Empires II, and the Sierra historical city-builders that I never shut up about.
In fact, just thinking about Stronghold for two paragraphs has made me scamper across to Steam and acquire one of Firefly’s slightly baffling bundles of old games in the series. Sorry folks, I’m going to have to cut this one short; my castleboys need me. I’ve downloaded Stronghold, plus 2002 semi-sequel Stronghold Crusader, and some kind of expansion called Stronghold Crusader EXTREME, which unfortunately sounds like a sort of deodorant for racists. Alas, if Crusader is anything like as fun as its predecessor, it’s in danger of eating my weekend.