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Stronghold Crusader is a great strategy game that's expands upon the gameplay of the first Stronghold. The principle of the game is fairly simple. You need to build a castle that can withstand the assaults of your enemies while still providing for the people who live inside. The primary mode for the game involves a 50 map long campaign in which you fight enemies of ever increasing strength.
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The game features a 2D isometric battlefield for your efforts in empire building and army management. You will have to manage a plethora of resources and uphold moral while also fighting siege combat. This grants an incredible depth to the game that makes each victory a real accomplishment.
The resource management system is also quite interesting. You produce everything on the field itself, with dedicated units fulfilling the jobs. For example, in order to feed your people you have to produce some type of food. One option is to make bread. To do this, you place a wheat farm on farmland by your castle. A peasant is then assigned to the job. They will go out and plant the wheat. Once it grows, it will be harvested and returned to the castle. The miller's assistant will collect this from your stockpile and thresh the wheat to make flour. Bakers then grab the flour and bake bread. The finished product is delivered to the granary. Just about everything works along these lines. Lumberjacks have to cut down trees and process them in their huts, the tanner takes a cow away from a dairy farm and kills it by his workshop, and the quarry runs with the help of ox tenders that collect the stone and take it to your stockpile. Resources aren't just numbers on a wall. They are products that exist in your stockpile and products that have to be moved about as necessary. This adds a unique level of realism to the game, by also making your infrastructure vital as a means of protecting your production routes.
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The military strategy is also a satisfying experience. There are a number of routes to victory over your opponents. You can hire mercenaries or produce weapons to arm your peasants. There are roughly two dozen units to serve as infantry in this sense, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. A large group of horse archers can devastate a castle, but they are helpless against spearmen and macemen. Swordsmen are powerful in battle but incredibly vulnerable against crossbowmen and archers. Archers in a large tower can provide cover for most of your buildings, but a powerful castle can always be destroyed by lasting siege warfare or fire. All of these strategies help keep the game from getting stale.
The one negative is the enemy AI and the story. There are four story-based campaigns of four missions, but they aren't that interesting or good. The main game is just a series of skirmish matches with no story behind them. This is fun, but the AI isn't always that good. It will fight a convincing battle, but the scripts aren't perfect. Enemies can be easily tricked and they don't always understand the full battle or make intelligent moves. Everything is fairly scripted and therefore predictable at times. It would be interesting to see what could have been done with today's AI.
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The graphics are clean and fairly good for a 2D game. The walls look pretty good and the animations for production look good too. Combat is just a set of repetitive motions though, so that gets a little boring. The graphics are just fine for a strategy game though.
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The multiplayer is pretty much non-existent for the most part. There are some fans who still play online, but it's a little hard to start a new game. Regardless, the multiplayer is just a skirmish game with players against each other.
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The system requirements are very minimal. It only needs 64 MB of RAM and a 4 MB video card. I was once able to run this well on a laptop that occasionally struggles with word processing applications. If it can run this game well, then I'm sure whatever you have will be fine.
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I love this game. It's one of the best that I've seen so far and it really gets the idea of castle combat down just right. It's also one of the last good Stronghold games. Stronghold 2, Stronghold Legends, and Stronghold Crusader Extreme don't really measure up to the great gameplay that this one offers. If you really want to have a good time with a strategy game, then this is just right for you.