I picked up this game sometime last week while a bit bored and in the mood for an RTS. Stronghold Kingdoms is a “Free2Play MMORTS”, and having played other games that claim that genre before (see: SAGA), I was a bit dubious as to whether it would be worth playing. I am happy to say however that I have been having fun with this game, and am still playing it each day a week later.
Although this game still totes a beta tag in it’s name, it has been out and playable for a while now, having largely flown under the radar that I am aware of. In the past month however, it was put up on Steam under the new F2P tag, so there has been a decent influx of players to the game, and the game website states that there is over 500,000 players now, so there must be something here.
As the cookie-cutter name might suggest, the game is set in the medieval era with kingdoms, strongholds and a many myriad of other strong, kingly things. The objective of the game is boiled down to something pretty simple, rule the world. The world being the United Kingdom as of a few hundred years ago. When you join a server, you are set up with a village that you must build up, defend, and attack from. So far so good, something very similar to most RTS games, but from that point it starts to take on it’s own form.
There are two parts to your village: the actual village where you enslave villagers to give you resources, and the castle which enemy attacks come into, which you must build and defend. Unfortunately the village is solely used for resource gathering, so there is not much in the way of decorating the village to actually look nice. There are no roads, day/night cycle, and the buildings cannot be rotated. The buildings you do place are also limited to certain areas of your village where the certain resource that they harvest is. It is a slight shortcoming, as it would be nice to actually design a village, rather than just slap it together.
The castle however is completely under your control. Once you unlock the ability to build different structures for the castle, you can make it as big and bulky as you want, or as thin and flimsy, with pit traps and moats to deter any attackers. The castle you can design how you want, and having looked around the web at a few designs that people have come up with, they can be utterly brilliant.
The actual gameplay is something a bit different to normal RTS games that I have played. You keep your villagers happy, and they give you favour, which you can spend on levelling up to the next rank. At each rank you are given research points to research skills and areas which allow you to build new things, recruit different troops, or just give a passive bonus to different areas in your village and castle. Then you have scouts that you can send out to gather random resources from piles dotted around the map, and AI camps that you can send your army to kill for even more honour. The AI can also set up siege camps in your area, and will periodically send out groups of troops to attack your castle, which you must keep built up and guarded.
Then there are vassals and leige lords, stewards of main towns, merchants and trading, banquets, and probably another 50 things that I haven’t unlocked yet. It all fits together quite nicely and manages to eat up your time when you are not careful. Having said that though, the rather brilliant thing about this game is the length of time it takes to do most things. It means you can jump online for 5 or 10 minutes, queue up a bunch of things to build, send out some attacks and merchants, then go off on your merry way for a few hours and do something else. But then again, Steam says I have played 18 hours in the last week, so I’m not too sure how well that theory holds up.
As with most online F2P games nowadays, there is a catch to it which nets the developers money. In the case of Stronghold Kingdoms, it is the usage of cards and premium time. Cards tie in to the game to give you passive bonuses to different things for a set time, or give you a bunch of resources, or units or whatever else. Premium allows you to queue many buildings and research goals at the same time, and applies a small bit of AI to some of your units while you are offline. Because of this the game leans more towards Pay2Win than F2P. The thing I’ve found though is that this game is easily worth the $20 I have put into it, that money giving me a month of play time easily, and a lot of extra to play around with cards if I so choose. I don’t mind giving game developers money when the game is worth it, and this game certainly seems to be.