Stronghold: Crusader II
Top Critic Average
Buttressed effectively but the foundations need work.
Stronghold Crusader 2 brings smart army strategy, but squanders its most interesting asset: the castle.
Firefly Studios hasn't quite made a new classic RTS game here, but they were extremely close.
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.
Does a good job walking the thin line between economy-sim and RTS. Gives a good "build it and then knock it down" feeling with varied and colorful units.
If you've ever played other RTS series like Age of Empires or Command and Conquer, you're going to slide right into Stronghold Crusader 2 with ease.
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.
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.
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.