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Stronghold Review
Lulio Vargas

Published by MacSoft

3D acceleration:No
Sound acceleration:No

System Requirements
PowerPC G3/350MHz or faster processor
Mac OS 8.6 or higher (Carbonized for Mac OS X)
ATI Rage 128 or better video card
At least 750MB free hard disk space
Web/LAN connection required for multiplayer games
Machine Tested On:
PowerPC G4 733MHz processor
Mac OS 9.2.1 and OS X 10.1.5
NVIDIA GeForce2 MX video card
80GB total hard disk space
56K Internet connection

ESRB Advisory:
Teen (Blood, Violence)

I know this is futile, but I have to try in order to preserve the sanity of every strategy gamer in this fine country of ours. My message to any game publisher, developer, designer, artist, basemen hack, or RealBasic programmer who is currently considering developing a real-time strategy game is this: don't. Seventy-five percent of these games have been neither good nor bad – just stunningly, unfailingly, archetypically average. Take MacSoft's Stronghold for example. There is nothing inherently awful about it. It's marginally competent, and manages to inject a few interesting features that make it rise slightly above the pack. Other than that, it's nothing we haven't seen before.

Stronghold, originally developed by Firefly Studios, and ported to the Macintosh by the fine men and women of Varcon Systems, can best be described as a tactical strategy game which incorporates city-management and castle simulation. Firefly Studios was formed from the disbanded remains of Impression Games, the design studio that brought us the Caesar and Lord of the Realms series. Judging by the creator's past projects, it's no surprise that Stronghold shares an uncanny resemblance to these games.

The game is divided into two modes. The first one is the military games, which embody a campaign, siege and invasion mission, as well as the game's multiplayer options. The second choice is the economic model which contains its own campaign, standalone missions, and free form build.

The military campaign is compromised of about 21 missions. Although there are a few missions where you must evict a fellow castle owner or come to the aid of a besieged fortress, most missions are spent on the defensive – which can be frustrating sometimes, as you can't scout your off-screen enemy. Of all the game's choices, the military campaign offers the most value, with an actual storyline and some simple, yet effective cut-scenes. In the campaign, your father was once the king of a mighty, unnamed land. After several bloody invasions and uprisings among the peasants, the splintered country became locked into a violent civil war. In an attempt to stem the tide of the war, your father arranged a meeting with Duc Beauregard, a powerful, treacherous lord. Before arriving at the Lord's Stronghold, your father was mercilessly ambushed and killed by the Duc's henchmen in the barbarian highlands. With no peace treaty signed, the enemy continued their brutal assault into the various counties. Bruised and exhausted, you have been beaten back to a forest on a far flung peninsula where it is rumored a small band of your bedraggled troops are hiding. From this small piece of land, you will make your last stand into the enemy's territory, and avenge your father's death.

Sieges are construction-free standalone missions that test your ability to defend or siege historically-inspired castles, such as Gluecksburg, Guadamur, Heidelburg, Wartburg, Leeds, and more. The invasion missions also challenge you to defend a stronghold, differing in the fact that the castles are based on the military campaign storyline and you're allowed a limited time to bolster your castle's strength by building additional town structures.

The economic model contains a campaign which lacks any believable storyline or character development. The standalone missions require you to meet a certain objective set by the scenario's parameters, while the freeform build mode allows you to go hog-wild and refine your town's development to your comfort. Of all the game's options, I find the entire economic mode to be the least rewarding; without any armed confrontations, 1/2 of the game's challenge and fun seems to disappear into thin air.

Some structures are vital to any stronghold's success. All castles must have a Hall, Keep, Fortress or Stronghold, a Granary, and a stockpile. Once these are built, your options are only limited by the particular mission's objectives. After several days of building the “starter structures,” an aura of “been there, done that” inevitably sets in.

Stronghold's gameplay is essentially a logical chain of dependencies. For instance, if you want a Bakery to prepare bread, you must acquire flour from a Mill which in turn obtains wheat from a Wheat Farm. All of the raw resources are sent and must also be retrieved from the town's stockpile, while food rations (such as bread, cheese, or meat) are sent directly to the Granary for distribution among the peasants. This same methodical approach is applied to weapon crafting: To create a crossbow, you're going to need to have wood (from a Woodcutters' Hut) delivered to a Fletchers' Workshop from the stockpile. However, this delicate production chain can break down easily, with nary a warning. Anything from a stray wolf that's mauling your farmers and industry workers to a rogue catapult that levelled your Granary can spell disaster for your popularity. This occasionally results in some very annoying post-battle rebuilding and micromanaging. You gain money by taxing your citizens and selling goods, and lose money by hiring soldiers and building sophisticated buildings.

However, Stronghold also fails to incorporate many key real-life industries that were prevalent during the middle ages. Cart makers and barrel makers fail to make an appearance, and all variety of artisans are nowhere to be found. This doesn't necessarily detriment the game's value, but it doesn't add much to the sense of realism either.

Your town's success is based partly on your popularity as the leader. Without a positive image, some of your citizens will emigrate to other lands, thus severely stunting your stronghold's growth. You can entice people to live under your rule by lowering taxes, improving food rations, building churches, and much more. This is a refreshing change from many other strategy games; the populace's sentiment toward you can really mean the difference between a burgeoning castle and a struggling one. On the flip side, you can also use cruelty as a tool to goad your people to work harder.

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