Rise and Shiny revisit: Stronghold Kingdoms

Stronghold Kingdoms screenshot

Stronghold Kingdoms is probably one of my top favorite MMORTS titles out there. There are many reasons it holds a special place in my slightly crumpled gamer heart, and I will be sure to get to those, but there are also many gameplay elements that could use some improvement. It's a pretty typical MMORTS in most ways; players build up a town, trade goods, fight each other, and swear loyalty to others. In fact, the genre is quite bloated with games that perform in largely the same way, many of them being delivered to us within the browser.

For many players, these defining characteristics are exactly why they are attracted to the genre. In the same way, shooter fans appreciate many of the same basic mechanics from game to game, and trading card players need specific systems in place in order to feel satisfaction. So the existence of these repeated designs is not a problem for me.

It's especially not a problem in Stronghold Kingdoms.

Stronghold Kingdoms screenshot

First, the game is well-made. It would actually be more accurate to describe it as well-delivered or say that's a well-built but imperfect game. Graphically, it's stable. Nothing within Stronghold Kingdoms will take your breath away. I can appreciate the lower system requirements because that makes the game playable on machines with very low specs, but sometimes the game can be sort of ugly. One area of the game will look as though it was made at a different time or by different people than the rest of the game. The character creation screen (basically a flat image that is actually quite charming) doesn't really belong alongside the tiny workers and army members who populate the other windows in-game.

Fortunately, the entire game runs so easily and comes in such a neat little downloadable package that it feels like a toy world, the perfect impression to have while playing an MMORTS. Individual parts of the game are hard on the eyes, but the entire package works smoothly. (The game's absolutely hideous website, on the other hand, looks as if it came directly from 1998. Yikes!)

Second, the game is well documented. If you have a problem with understanding how a certain system works, the official website and wiki has you covered. Sure, I would always rather have a pop-up video for in-game help, mainly because I can get easily get a day-busting migraine when forced to read too much text on-screen, but the developers make it easy to look up information. There are also a number of YouTube videos from players who are much smarter than I am, and the community itself is very helpful and friendly in my experience. If you need help, the game or the community will provide it. And you will need help at some point.

Watch live video from Massivelytv on TwitchTV
Third, the game has good pacing. An MMORTS has to strike a balance between combat speed, building speed, gathering speed, and other systems that have to not only work in concert but must feel as though they belong in the same world. Stronghold Kingdoms lets players do the normal AFK-building thing with towns and makes research work over real time, and combat feels appropriately timed. There are variations to army and scout movement speed as a player becomes more skilled or grows in size, but overall I rarely feel as though I am being so far left behind that there is no point in joining a server.

I have to say, though, that I wish attacks took longer than they do. It's pretty common for an MMORTS to feature massive armies that can take a long time to train, outfit, and feed, and those large armies might take a long time to travel across the map to a target, but once they arrive, they simply make contact with the target and start the trip home. I'd like to see battles that make the invading army stay in position for at least as long as it might take to travel to the location. As far as I can tell, battle in Stronghold Kingdoms is instantaneous, although players can watch a replay of the battle that works like a miniature movie with animated soldiers and scary sound effects.

Fourth, Stronghold Kingdoms offers a unique buffing system in the form of collectible cards. Essentially, these cards can be bought with real money or earned through in-game play and will offer different benefits like speeding up units or increasing the output of a resource building. There are more rare cards, and players can buy booster packs or swap cards in order to buff up existing towns and units. I am only a tiny village, but I use my cards to speed up my scouts and to buff my food output, but I'm sure that later in the game, the higher-end cards can make the difference between winning or losing a massive battle. It's not like a system of buying power, but it's definitely a unique take on a familiar buffing system.

Stronghold Kingdoms screenshot

Last, I really enjoy the massive scale and different server types within Stronghold Kingdoms. Right now I am playing on a map that is modeled after the United States, but there are other servers that feature a more common European locale. The map doesn't really matter; each server will be within a different stage or age, depending on how much gameplay has happened or how long the game has been going on.

Each age (First, Second or Third) offers different gameplay elements that include speedier units and other types of play. Many things like stock exchanges and forums are wiped for the server when a new age is reached, and things start again using these new settings. Eventually, players move into the Third Age. I'll be happy if I even survive any of them!

I wish I would have kept up with my old city, but I let it go and had to start fresh this time around. Stronghold Kingdoms is one of those MMORTS games that is so smartly made that a player could play relatively casually and still survive. I've joined with a few other players and am now trying to understand the importance of donating to our cause. I don't want to be one of those players who plays often but does nothing to help defend his fellow players! I hope that this newest chance I have been given results in seeing more of the higher-end gameplay, even if it means that I get my city burned to the ground!

Next week I will be looking at Villagers and Heroes new test client and updates. That means I'll be one of the first players to show off the new graphics engine! If you enjoy crating, sandbox play, and combat, check out this stream! It will go live at 4:00 p.m. EST right here on our livestream channel!

Each week on Rise and Shiny, Beau chooses a different free-to-play, indie, or browser-based game and jumps in head-first. It might be amazing or it might be a dud, but either way, he'll deliver his new-player impressions to you. Drop him an email, comment, or tweet!