Top Critic Average
Ultimately the game is a satisfactory addition to the RTS genre, but the slow paced growth and underwhelming improvements over the original game leaves me reluctant to recommend it to anyone other than hardcore fans of the series and genre.
For old, war-tested Stronghold players Crusader 2 is a triumphant evolution of the game that they've held dear for the last twelve years. For the rest of us though, there is perhaps no better time to see what all the fuss is about.
Overall, Stronghold: Crusader 2 does a lot of things well. Managing the economy is important, but it doesn't need to be constantly managed (although you do need to take the right resource path in order to succeed). Combat is the traditional RTS "smash into each other experience" but it works well (despite the questionable unit AI), and building your castle is incredibly pleasing despite the dodgy interaction with terrain. Irritating moments such as the enemy Lord fights and generally high difficulty detract significantly from the game, but it's still an enjoyable romp for any RTS fan.
Perhaps the point is to highlight the futility of foreign conflicts that fuel endless generations of inter-religious strife. And if they do introduce a 'baby/village idiot' difficulty level in a later patch, I might revisit. Otherwise, the only crusade I'm going to sign up for will be the one against fixed save points in PC FPSes.
With all of it's AI and UI flaws the game is still extremely difficult and requires considerable mental dexterity along with repeated attempts to truly master and it's a definite pickup for anyone looking for a challenge.
A game with the mechanics of both Total War and Sim City can be good, but Stronghold hasn't executed the core mechanics of either well enough to fit the bill. Taking the magic out of an often-fantasy-filled era is not the true crime here; it's that Stronghold fails to improve upon the formula of its previous titles.
The game is an anachronism, proving that transposing ideas from the past (without thinking critically about how they should be represented in the present) doesn't always work.