In the demo of Stronghold you could only select "combat" or "economic" based games and get straight to it. This full product luckily has a few more options for each of the 2 categories. If you want to get down to all the action you can specify your interest and choose between (1) A Military Campaign (2) a Siege (3) An Invasion (no not Normandy or D-Day) and as 4th you can battle it out in a multi player game.
Lets take each option by the horns, find out what they are all about and see if there are any significant differences .. or not!
1. Military Campaign
This will most likely be played by most people so we'll dig into it profoundly.
The story starts off with explaining you what's going on .. Basically the country's going to shite. The King has been captured and his former counties are battling it out over land and the Throne. Of course your father is loyal to the King and goes out on an attempt to rescue the King. Yes, you guessed it right.. They get ambushed by bandits, your father gets killed and you are at bat. This is where the game begins, you have to save the day!
The game is divided in 'Missions' and each 'Mission' has a few 'Acts'. Nothing too exciting there ;)
Act 1 : Gathering The Lost / Mission 1 : Fallen Kingdom.
Quite simple .. all you have to do is build a base camp and get familiar with the building options and how they work. Basically getting things set up and prepared for the next Act.
At the start of each mission/act you get a nice in-game movie unfolding the story and explaining what and why things are happening. Each briefing has a very useful option of "Hints" that are actually VERY useful once you get that specific level going, so read it and use it!
Mission 2 : Finishing the Fort
You just happen to have put your camp in a wolf migration path .. Who would have figured ;) So now you need to pack your bags and move your base camp to an abandoned stockade and fortify it to protect yourself from puppies .. err i mean wolves ...
Mission 3 : Eliminating the Wolves
Its expansion time! The next county is so called "neutral" territory so its just a hop and a skip. More wolves to look out for and finish them off. Do not think its THAT easy though because the neighboring county is not all that friendly and they just might stop by .. and it wont be for tea.
Once you go beyond Mission 3 the real action finally starts ... The previous one's should just be considered "learning stages" since they mainly explain you what you can expect (in growing degree of difficulty of course) and making you familiar with the characters and building options.
You are being asked (by 2 of your allies) to go to the border with Duc DePuce's ( also known as The Rat, charming name) territory and check on his troop movements. This of course involves building a fortified camp and make as many archers as possible. Since you are finally getting to see some action you will quickly learn the value of the "spacebar". When building fences around your buildings you cannot always see where the possible loopholes are. Due to the rugged terrain it may look like the fences lock off entrance only to find out that your enemy can walk right into your compound due to a small corner not being sealed off. The "spacebar" lowers of flattens the terrain so you can clearly make the distinction between fences, trees, stones and rocks and place extra fences/walls.
Each mission/act starts out with you having to place your "keep" (your main base) unless you have to invade/capture a castle. Be careful where you place it since most of the times it WILL be strategically VERY important. Its your first line of defense so place it so, depending on the objective of that particular level, its either protected by natural resources (trees, rocks) or easily accessible for food/resource production (trees, mines, quarries, appropriate land to grow crops on etc..)
In the meantime you will have notice that while playing the main idea of the game is to have a good balance between taxes (to raise money, unless you have goods you "can" sell), availability of food. The more food and the bigger the variety, the happier your people will be and the more you can "get away" with (like higher taxes). Money is essential since the raised taxes will allow you to build certain structures (such as archery range and other weapon 'factories') vital to your success.
One of the other features during the game is the right mouse button, some sort of "shortcut menu". When clicked a little on screen menu pops up in the form of 4 arrows pointing left, right, up and down. Each direction has a specific function. Note that while being in the menu you need to keep the right mouse button pressed until you moved in the appropriate direction and want to choose that selection, then let go.
How did we get this far anyhow? I was supposed to check out the other options in the main menu!
This being said is just to show you that i got totally dragged into the game and couldn't put it down. that on its own IS a good sign ;) The game totally drags you into the story and the further you get the more advanced your buildings and weapons arsenal gets (from wooden fences, to stone walls, towers. From archers to crossbow men, swordsmen, knights on horses. From a simple catapult to a storm ram, trebuchet and the ability to shoot dead cows over walls spreading disease.
So back to the main menu and lets check out the next option.. Hail To The King!
2. Play A Siege
Going for the Siege option brings you in a totally different menu where you can select the difficulty of the Siege, wether you want to defend a keep or attack (if you go for attack you will get an "advanced" button allowing you to set the amount of archers, knights etc... you want to use) and a choice of 9 different scenario's/maps. Each different map/castle has a little description that gives you a quick run down on the history of the siege. The different maps range from a simple 1 wall castle to a 4 walled fort surrounded by water with only 1 way in .. carnage guaranteed! This entire section of the game has totally different maps and castles than the campaign so once you finished the Military Campaign you can still get plenty of action in the Siege part with varying degree of difficulty. Most games would just re-use the same old maps from the campaign and slap them in a single mission sort of "practice" option. Not here, they are totally new and different which is an absolute plus for the game!
Another VERY important item in the game to keep an eye on is the 'campground'. Positioned right in front of your Keep you will see some sort of campfire. When people arrive in your town they will hang around the campfire until you assign them a specific job/occupation. When you move your mouse over the actual campfire you will either see a red or green circle. Logically green means good and red means you are in trouble. If the green circle is moving clockwise that indicates your popularity is rising and you have not yet received your maximum population according to the amount of houses you have build (each house you build holds 8 people). This also means that the time is right to raise the tax level (by clicking on your keep) and spice up the treasury. Your popularity can also drop and eventually the circle will become red, which of course means there is trouble in paradise and people will leave your castle, leading to certain buildings seizing function, production falls, less food and more people will leave. Counter measures, such as lowering taxes, giving extra rations or even give people a small bribe have to be taken immediately to get back into the green.
The stockpile is one of your most important buildings to keep under control for the mere fact that 1 stockpile can hold 4 different items and once its full certain products will no longer be made due to the lack of storage space. Just make sure you keep extra space next and around the initial stockpile since additions need to be placed adjacent to each other. One thing you do not want to happen is run out of food, wood or stone due to lack of space.
3. Economic Based Games
As Stronghold is a mix of combat and resource gathering the idea behind Economic Based Games speak for them self. Either choose a Economic Campaign, Economic Mission or a Free Build game. The Economic games of course focus more on resource gathering instead of combat in contradiction to the combat games. There are fewer missions in this part of the game but once again the maps and situations are totally different than any of the previous menu options. And do not despair, there is plenty of action (either a rabbit flood, wolves or gangs of outlaws attacking your people/castle) going on.
Last but not least there is also the map editor for extra play value.
Quite simply .. this game has been VERY addictive and extremely fun to play ... Personally i was looking forward to this title since the demo and it was worth the wait. Excellent game, detailed graphics, plenty of options, tons of different maps, loads of action ... Simply THE Real Time Strategy Game of the moment!
This game has been deemed WORTHPLAYING and gets 4 out of 5 stars!