What with Stronghold: Warlords coming out the other week, I’ve been revisiting a few of the Stronghold games in my collection, and… crikey. Over the two decades and nine-ish games of the series, Stronghold has been on a right old rollercoaster, quality-wise. It truly is the Sonic The Hedgehog of RTS/city builder hybrids, eh? For a lot of people, Stronghold: Crusader Extreme was the nadir of the franchise. But other than the fact that “Crusader Extreme” sounds uncomfortably like some kind of fash energy drink, I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for it.
Stronghold: Crusader, of course, was the 2002 sequel to the original Stronghold. Because it was made in the same engine, and because Stronghold 2, actually the third game in the series, came out in 2005, it’s easy to mistake Crusader for an expansion pack at first glance. But it was a meaty old game in its own right, cranking up the RTS element of the Stronghold formula, moving the action to the Middle East, and cracking open a massive tin of campaign missions.
Crusader Extreme, by contrast, came out in 2008, and was somewhere between a remaster of Stronghold: Crusader, and a fever dream. What made it extreme? Well, it was gruesomely, near-unplayably hard, for a start. So difficult it was almost funny, in places.
But what makes me sort of love it, is that out of nowhere, the formerly fairly mid-scale battles of the original game could now include TEN THOUSAND units. This looked utterly bonkers. The sight of hundreds of horses mashed into individual tiles, and creeping tides of twitching, meshed-together catapults, genuinely approached cosmic horror as an aesthetic. Truly, it was an unusual game.