Stronghold 3 Impressions

by: Tyler -
Stronghold 3 drops today, and I've had the chance to spend a few hours testing the medieval waters. Given that my previous exposure to the series left a particularly bad taste in my mouth, I was hoping that things had taken a turn for the better. From what I've seen, there are several improvements over Stronghold 2, but many of the frustrations I had with that title also seem to be peeking through.
I've been spending my time going back and forth between the economic and military campaigns, and my time on the city-building side of things is much more pleasant. Stronghold 3 sheds much of the unwieldy complexity that plagued its predecessor--there are fewer jobs to fill, along with a better control scheme. Buildings can now be activated individually, meaning that players don't have to completely halt their apple production (or tear down extra buildings) if they simply want to pare back to shift workers elsewhere. I also haven't noticed any workers deciding to unexplainably go on strike, although peasants will still wander off when living conditions deteriorate. Buildings can now be placed much more fluidly, and the graphics have received a decent upgrade since the last outing. Players so inclined can also decorate and beautify their castles, although that's never been my cup of tea. Pleasant and peaceful as the economic campaign is, that's only half the game, and I'm not nearly as fond of my time on the military side of things.

Still early on, I'm having a devil of a time figuring out what I need to do. Even in the first, hand-holding mission, I've spent several reloads as my peasants were mercilessly mauled by roving packs of wolves. As a turtler by nature (and shouldn't a castle-building game be a turtler's dream?) , I was shocked to find the early levels require a great deal of aggressive tactics. This might be made more tolerable if it weren't for some finicky controls--I can't seem to find the sweet spot to tell my units to attack--the context-sensitive cursor refuses to change to the sword icon when placed over the enemy, and I waste precious moments until I find the hotspot, usually (and confusingly) off to one side. And when my forces to arrive, they tend to stand around and take a spear to the face, often without any retaliation. I'm probably just not getting the hang of things yet, but as an RTS veteran I feel I should be a little better than I am. As another downside, I haven't even found a way to crank down the difficulty to better get a feel for the game. So far, Stronghold 3's teaching tactics are all stick and no carrot.

I cannot yet speak much for the story, other than the military campaign sees the return of the original Stronghold's protagonist and his enemy, the Wolf. I'll have a better feel for the plot as I bungle my way through the various levels, and I'll have a more in-depth review in the coming weeks. Hopefully things will improve with exposure, but I'm a bit leery at the moment.

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