Reviews - Updated on April 6, 2022

The influence of Asian culture on video games is difficult to overestimate – here you have Japan as the birthplace of many genres, and eSports South Korea, and anime, which is inextricably linked with games, and, finally, individual brilliant developers and their creations.

Over the past couple of years, the industry has been paying more and more attention to the rich history of the Asian region. What is the reason for this – the growing development of the huge Chinese market by large publishers, fresh plots and entourage convenient for screenwriters, or both? Be that as it may, the success of Total War: Three Kingdoms, Nioh, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and Ghost of Tsushima suggests that there will be more and more projects dedicated to Asian history.

Not surprisingly, Firefly Studios chose this region as the setting for their new strategy from the famous Stronghold series of medieval “city builders”. Two birds with one stone fall into the scope at once – the exploitation of the nostalgic feelings of the fans of the original and the calculation for the attention of lovers of Ancient Asia. But did the developers manage to hit at least one?

Things of bygone days

Referring to the events of centuries ago, the developers promised not to concentrate on one narrow segment of history. Warlords tries to cover as much time as possible: there was a place for both the Japanese civil strife of the Sengoku Jidai era, and the adventures of the founder of the Viet people Thuc Phan; they did not forget about Genghis Khan and the era of the warring kingdoms in China.

However, you should not rely on great attention to detail – when compared with the global strategies from Paradox Interactive, then the latter against the background of Stronghold look like a collection of serious scientific works on history. The whole “historicity” of Warlords begins and ends in the campaign mode, where we are offered to go through five chains of missions in sequence, united by a common plot. One campaign dedicated to the state of Jin is “peaceful”, while the rest are focused on military operations. This division, however, is very conditional – you will have to fight as the ruler of Jin Emperor Aguda, only the purpose of the missions in this case is to accumulate the required amount of resources.

In general, there is enough notorious Asian flavor, but when compared with the “European” parts of the series, these differences are, in fact, only external: the main food resource is not wheat, but rice, Buddhist temples instead of churches, and tigers attack peasants, not wolves. All buildings are of some average Japanese-Chinese appearance: the developers could not or did not want to come up with a unique Asian “chip”, just as they did not begin to create differences between the factions. They are not here at all – if in the campaign you simply will not be allowed to produce units unique for each culture (for example, Thuk Phan will not receive Mongolian horsemen with all his will), then in custom battles or playing on the Web there are no such restrictions: all soldiers and buildings are available to everyone .

Stronghold: Warlords game review

Settlements are now not so large in size, besides, you can only build buildings on your piece of the map.

Simplification, of course, but Stronghold, I repeat, never claimed to be a serious correspondence to historical realities.

From here follows the purely utilitarian role of the campaign mode – as always, this is just training, so you should not look for an interesting plot here. The player is slowly brought up to date so that by the end of the missions he understands what each unit and each building is for. If you’re familiar with previous versions of Stronghold, it’s easy to be tempted to forget about the campaigns altogether: a veteran of the series will immediately realize that the basics are the same, and most of the changes seem to be limited to a change of surroundings to an Asian one. Before us is a simple “retexture” Crusader? Not really.

Build, don’t break

Before diving into the study of the differences between Warlords and previous Firefly Studios games (I will say right away – this dive will not be deep), let me remind you of the basic principles of the Stronghold series, thanks to which it got such a long life. Almost two decades ago, developers released not just a city-building simulator in a medieval setting, but a castle building simulator. A clear division into economic and military development is used, and the name of the series speaks for itself – a lot here is tied to how the player will build the walls of his stronghold. You can move production outside the castle, risking losing workers during raids, or, conversely, maximize the protected perimeter, which is quite difficult in the face of an eternal shortage of resources and threatens to break through the enemy in weak places. Stronghold: Warlords game review

The towers do not give a strong advantage to the shooters: if the attackers have more archers, then clearing the walls from the defenders is a matter of time.

The choice depended on the starting conditions and the actions of the opponents and made you constantly think and act, sometimes rebuilding the walls on the go – the confrontations here have always been extremely dynamic.

However, nothing prevented us from forgetting about the war, turning on the sandbox mode and playing Stronghold as a regular city-building strategy. There were all the conditions for this: production chains, the opportunity to observe the peaceful life of individual settlers, building logistics and not letting you get bored with dangers like fires or attacks by wild animals.

In this regard, Warlords, unfortunately, is not just marking time, but taking a step back. Take the same production chains: the creation of only one resource consists of three stages – clothing (which you can easily do without), and almost all other resources and units are produced directly from the fields. Peasants carry some resources and items between buildings, while others instantly end up in the right place – such a controversial implementation of transport logistics and the lack of storage limits make castle planning too primitive.

Stronghold: Warlords game review

Constantly opening a diplomatic map to monitor the state of affairs of the vassals is inconvenient, but there is no choice – an ally can be taken away from under his nose at any moment.

The popularity system responsible for taxation and the influx of new residents to the city remained practically unchanged. Providing settlers with expensive housing, high-quality rations, and spiritual goods has a positive effect on the desire to work for the glory of the master, and high taxes and poor food can lead to people leaving the city.

In place and the opportunity to decorate your city with gallows, stocks and other devices to increase the working zeal of ordinary citizens. True, with the specific impact on the surrounding world of these and similar buildings that have a range (like temples or fire tanks with water), not everything is clear – in Warlords there is no opportunity, familiar to the genre, to enable the display of visibility layers of needs.

If we talk only about construction, then the new Stronghold is not much different from the old ones: it really is an “Asian DLC”, and even simplified. It was quite boring for me to rebuild in the sandbox mode – the “Chinese” in the appearance of the buildings and the change of wheat for rice do not inspire much to build the castle of your dreams.

Stronghold: Warlords game review

In addition to the usual for a series of differences in the “character” of the bots, you can customize the behavior of potential vassals.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend

Fortunately, this game is not only about peaceful construction far from militant neighbors. On the contrary, it is noticeable that the developers concentrated on the military aspect of their strategy. Custom battles with bots and multiplayer have much more tempting prospects for pastime than sandbox or campaigns.

If we return to the same ancient Asian entourage (namely, to its military component), then here the developers decided to add at least a little originality to match the chosen setting – for example, they remembered gunpowder invented in ancient China. Rocket launchers, mortars, powder mines, flamethrowers, even kamikaze buffalo – they all play a significant role in combat. The only pity is that the bots use these dangerous for their own troops with difficulty – “friendly fire” is not uncommon here.

It is logical that since such battles were attractive in the past parts of the series (and I remind you that there are few changes in the new product), now they give similar emotions. Feverishly rebuild the castle, constantly suffering from enemy scouts, not forgetting about forays into the enemy rear; to accumulate strength for a decisive assault and finally break the enemy defenses by breaking through walls or destroying production – all these experiences are also in Warlords.

Stronghold: Warlords game review

There are still not enough maps for battles, but there are enough available – thanks to the military leaders, it is impossible to predict the course of each battle.

On the other hand, it was not without innovations, the most important of which was the system of warlords – the very “warlords” who gave the game its name. Warlords are small settlements on the map, represented by a modest castle and garrison. Initially, they are usually hostile to all participants in the fight, but they can be interacted with by swaying them to their side. It is possible to capture the commander both by force (killing the guards and capturing the lord), and peacefully, with the help of diplomacy points, which are produced by special buildings in the city.

Such an alliance has many advantages: in addition to the banal attack of any opponents passing by, it is also the receipt of raw materials or finished items on request, and even the possibility of attacking one of the enemies (it does not matter whether it is a full-fledged participant in the battle or the same potential vassal commander ). Of course, these services are not free – you need to spend the same diplomatic points.

“Warlords” are different – someone is good as a supplier of raw materials, and someone is better suited for warfare, someone is easier to conquer, and someone is better to persuade to an alliance peacefully.

The presence of such additional variables on the battlefield greatly increases the variety of fights. If at the beginning of the game the warlords simply prevent “rushing” at the enemy who does not have time to rebuild, then their possessions become key points for planning defense and attack – given that buildings can only be built on “own” land, even a small vassal’s castle at a convenient point should be underestimated definitely not worth the card.

Nevertheless, the warlord system sounds much more interesting in words than it actually is. The inconvenient diplomatic interface does not allow you to quickly monitor the state of affairs of the allies – either constantly open a special window for communicating with the “warlords”, being distracted from other matters, or put up with the fact that the vassal can change sides at the most inopportune moment.

Unfortunately, this is far from the only control-related problem. The interface has remained at the level of the first parts of the series – it lacks visibility, you have to perform too many unnecessary actions in order to find out valuable information (for example, the resource consumption is visible only by hovering the mouse over the button).

Commanding an army is a separate torment: sometimes our soldiers obey orders only after a couple of repeated keystrokes. Losing a fight just because the archers suddenly decided to stop shooting at the enemy breaking the walls is not much fun.

Bomb-loaded bulls are dangerous weapons. If the enemy does not have shooters, then meeting with this superweapon will be an unpleasant surprise for him.

***

I won’t even talk about the graphics – you yourself can see everything in the screenshots. The inexpressive picture once again emphasizes that Warlords is outdated both technically and morally. If this strategy had appeared a decade and a half ago, it would not have had a price, but by modern standards it is completely incomprehensible what is special about it.

The Asian entourage and the only interesting “feature” – the system of military leaders is clearly not enough to love this game. Nevertheless, I do not rule out the possibility that Warlords will be popular, at least in multiplayer mode – after all, this is Stronghold.

Pros: warlord system; multiplayer and battles with bots.

Cons: inconvenient controls and interface; outdated graphics; primitive rebuilding of the castle.

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