Review: Stronghold Crusader HD

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A lot of sequels strike out in new directions, and end up falling flat for their trouble. Sometimes they get too far away from what made the original great, and other times they find a way to ruin that original appeal. The other side of the coin is that just giving players more of the original risks making the series stale. This is the approach that Stronghold Crusader took in the wake of Stronghold’s success, but the sheer volume of content more than makes up for the lack of innovation.

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Just as you did in Stronghold, Crusader challenges you to erect and manage castles throughout a variety of scenarios and skirmishes. Once your keep and granary are placed, it’s up to you to site farms, mills, workshops, and homes to keep your people safe and happy. So long as you remain a popular ruler more people will come serve at your castle, but more people means a greater drain on your resources. In the midst of balancing these two factors you’ll need to raise walls and armies to fend off invaders seeking your crown.

The familiar moors of England have given way to the marauding Moors of the holy land for this outing. There are a few big changes to be aware of, most notably the desert maps. Gone are the rolling fields of the first game, instead leaving you with small oases to supply your essential farms and woodcutters. A mercenary post allows you to recruit new Arabian units, everything from armored swordsmen to wall-scaling assassins. There’s even a rudimentary diplomacy system, allowing you to form alliances and request resources.

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Stronghold Crusader features four historical campaigns, focusing on different parts of the Crusades. Each campaign is five scenarios long and features a gentle learning curve that provides a fair challenge by the end. There’s little story to be found here in contrast with Stronghold’s tale of political maneuvering, just some blurbs about historical relevance. The real meat of the game is the Crusader mode, a campaign of up to 50 battles against AI opponents. Right from the get-go you can access all the buildings and options the game has to offer in pursuit of conquest, building your perfect citadel and laying siege to nearby enemies. The strategy of castle-to-castle warfare takes a little getting used to after the easy pace of the campaigns, but it’s thrilling to launch pitched battles and deploy siege engines to topple your foes.

There’s not a lot of innovation to be found here over the original Stronghold, but there really doesn’t need to be. Crusader instead gives you plenty more to see and do, especially on the military side. The graphics are a bit improved, with sharper structures and cleaner animations, and the sounds of both peace and battle are just as immersive as before. Honestly, I consider this the superior game just due to the depth of content and the little additions to the proven formula. If you’re looking for endless conquest and sieges, this is the Stronghold title you want.

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