Reviewed: November 16, 2011
Released: October 25, 2011
Militarily, my castle was under seige and peasants meandered between the burning arrows and explosives that were lobbed over my walls. My soldiers and lord waddled glacially towards the northern breach in my castle walls to escape, unresponsive to the threats around them, unaware of any changes to their environment. Economically, my peasants could barely grow enough to feed themselves, which led me to cut rations, which led them to leave, which led to even fewer farmers able to work the fields, sending my settlement into a near-inescapable death spiral. Even if we fed ourselves, we couldn't spare the men to build and work in other places. Our strongholds were broken.|
Or to put it in a less cutesy way, Stronghold 3 is broken. An attempt at a return to the original Stronghold's form, Stronghold 3 puts players in the shoes of a lord, trying to develop a castle and its community during either war or peace. While it's a compelling premise, and the original game was put together well enough to keep fans wanting more for a decade, it absolutely doesn't deliver. Between broken AI, a lack of user control that leaves resource gathering down to luck, and a stunningly slow pace, hardly anything in Stronghold 3 manages to work as it should.
At its heart, Stronghold is a medieval city builder, and the economic campaign is the strongest part of the game, as faint as that praise is. You build buildings for your peasants to work at, and to service their needs, trying to craft an interconnected web that will support your castle-building ambitions. However, the ravenous hunger of the peasantry makes it hard to get anything above a subsistence economy, and if you do, there's a good chance that random events will soon tear it to the ground. Even when you do make a self-sufficient community, the incredibly slow pace at which your peasants work, along with the random nature of what goods get delivered to your stockpiles makes it neigh-impossible to build a truly impressive castle in any reasonable amount of time.
Meanwhile, the military campaign's game suffers from all the same issues, while adding the extra fun of having to control incredibly slow military units with secret stats and broken AI. It's not even particularly good to look at, with bland textures and chunky models, which would be forgivable if there was much to do other than watch them crawl from place to place. On the upside, at least some of the game's music is pleasant and soothing, with a decent selection of medieval folk songs.
Ultimately, Stronghold 3 is a promising game that really could have used another year or two of development time. While I sound bitter, it's only because there's little I enjoy more than building and defending in strategy games, and a game that focuses on that would have appealed to me quite a bit if it wasn't so hostile to the player's attempts to make it do anything worthwhile. If it's kept in active development, it's possible that it'll get the fast forward feature, unit control, AI work, and features it needs to carry on Stronghold's legacy. But it might not be worth investing in a game that could be good in two years when you can get the original from Good Old Games for nearly a tenth of the price.