Stronghold Crusader 2 is the more than a decade in the making sequel to the popular “CastleSim” Stronghold Crusader. Set in the Middle East during the Crusades, the game allows the player to take control of both Crusaders and Arabic forces as they do battle for dominance across the desert terrain. SC2 is not a game without its flaws, but it was very appealing to the RTS fan in me and will ultimately be quite delightful to anyone else who grew up playing any of the classic RTS games.
With Stronghold Crusader 2, there’s not so much a plot as opposed to a series of battles you must win which are referred to as ‘Skirmish Tales’ in the game. In essence, you are tasked as either a Crusader or an Arabic general, depending on the Tale, and you must complete three missions per Tale, each with a different handicap that you must work through. Both sides have their own unique units that will help you pulverize your opponent while each mission’s handicap has you at an obvious disadvantage that you must overcome.
No RTS would be complete without the actual ‘Skirmish’ section of the game where you pit yourself against your choice of foes on your choice of map in a deathmatch. Stronghold Crusader 2 also features an online component where you can fight another human player or you can pair up with another player in team warfare. They also included a feature where you can build or play on other community member’s maps as well as a feature they’ve entitled ‘Sandbox’, where you can build your town and castle as neatly and however you see fit since there are no enemies, just an area to show off your building prowess.
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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. The controls are familiar as is the gameplay, allowing any RTS fan to pick and play. They have added a variety of unique units that can add to your strategy when playing, as AI opponents will specialize in different units, making their armies either easy to defeat or frustratingly tough. This adds depth to the single player missions too, as you may only be able to make a few special units while the other side has an army of them.
Their deathmatch maps are also quite extensive with each of them having unique factors to challenge the player whether its minimal resources, choke points or having higher ground, amongst others. The maps also add to the multiplayer battles as well, as those sometimes have a tendency to turn into who can build the most units the fastest.
While Stronghold Crusader 2 is an RTS, the game focuses mostly on the skirmish aspect of the game. You do need to build your town and gather resources, but the economy and government aspects are decidedly secondary as the focus of each map is clearly the battlefield. This works pretty well for the ‘Skirmish Tales’ part of the game since you’re already saddled with a handicap so your town or battle camp is usually already built for you, so the economic side doesn’t play as big a factor. In the other modes of play, however, this does make for some exciting play as you pretty much have to try to blitzkrieg your opponent but it also becomes a hindrance the longer the match continues. While you have many resources to mine and buildings to erect, your troops all require gold, the one resource you cannot mine. This does add a level of strategy to your all out wars, but if you don’t crush them in that initial strike, the matches will be very long and arduous.
Ultimately, Stronghold Crusader 2 is a lot of fun and I plugged many hours into it, often times not realizing how long it had actually been. However, as the hours ticked on, I found myself noticing what I mentioned above. I found myself enjoying it so much due to its similarities to other RTS series, Age of Empires in particular, a game that was last seen almost as long ago as the first Stronghold Crusader. Yes, the graphics are better as are the battles, but I couldn’t help but feel that my enjoyment of the game was perhaps somewhat rooted in nostalgia. Whether or not you should pick this game up will hinge on if you’re willing to pay the price for a better looking version of a game you will feel like you’ve played before. After tackling Stronghold Crusader 2, I would have to say that I certainly would.