Relevant for the platform: PC
The influence of Asian culture on video games can hardly be overestimated – here you and Japan as the homeland of many genres, esports South Korea, and anime, inextricably linked with games. Finally, some ingenious 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 gaining momentum by large publishers of the huge Chinese market, fresh plots and surroundings convenient for scriptwriters, or both together? Be that as it may, Total war’s success: three kingdoms, Nioh, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, and Ghost of Tsushima, suggests that there will be more and more projects devoted to Asian history.
It is no wonder that Firefly studios chose this particular region as the scene of her new strategy from the famous series of medieval “city-building” Stronghold… Two birds with one stone fall into the sight at once – the exploitation of the nostalgic feelings of the fans of the original and the calculation for the attention of fans of Ancient Asia. But did the developers manage to hit at least one?
The deeds of days gone by
Referring to the events of centuries ago, the developers promised not to concentrate on one narrow segment of history. Warlords try to cover as long a period 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 Vieta people, Thuk Fanu; did not forget about Genghis Khan and the era of the warring kingdoms in China.
However, one should not hope for a lot of attention to detail – when compared with global strategies from Paradox Interactivethen the last on the background Stronghold look like a collection of serious scientific works on history. All “historicity” Warlords begins and ends in the campaign mode, where we are offered to consistently go through five chains of missions, united by a common plot. One campaign for the Jin State is “peaceful”, while the others focus on military action. This division, however, is very conditional – you will have to fight and play for Lord Jin, Emperor Agudu, only the purpose of the missions, in this case, is to accumulate the required amount of resources.
In general, the notorious Asian flavour is enough. Still, 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, instead of churches, there are Buddhist temples, and tigers, not wolves attack peasants. All buildings are averaged Japanese-Chinese appearance: the developers could not come up with a unique Asian “chip” or did not want to, just as they did not start creating differences between the factions. They are not here at all – if in the campaign you are not allowed to produce units that are unique for each culture (for example, Thuk Fan will not receive Mongolian horse riders at all), then in custom battles or playing on the Web. There are no such restrictions: all soldiers and buildings are available to everyone …
Settlements are now not so large in size. Moreover, you can only build buildings on your own piece of the map.
Simplification, of course, but Stronghold, I repeat, I never claimed to be in a serious correspondence with historical realities.
Hence, the purely utilitarian role of the campaign mode follows – 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 he understands what each unit and each building is for by the end of the missions. Suppose you are familiar with past versions of Stronghold. In that case, it is easy to succumb to the temptation and completely forget about the campaigns: the veteran of the series will immediately understand that the basics are the same. Most of the changes seem to be limited to changing the entourage to Asian. Before us is a simple “retexture” Crusader? Not really.
Build – do not break
Before diving into the differences between Warlords from past games Firefly studios (I will say right away – it will be a shallow immersion), I will remind you of the series Stronghold’s basic principles, thanks to which she received such a long life. Almost two decades ago, the developers released a city-planning simulator in a medieval setting and 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, expanding the guarded perimeter as much as possible, which is quite difficult in conditions of an eternal shortage of resources and threatens to break through the enemy in weak places.
Towers do not give a strong advantage to the shooters: if the attackers have more archers, it is a matter of time to clean the defenders’ walls.
The choice depended on the starting conditions and the opponents’ actions and made him constantly think and act, sometimes rebuilding the walls on the go – the confrontations here have always been extremely dynamic.
However, nothing prevented you from forgetting about the war, turning on the sandbox mode and playing Stronghold as a normal city-building strategy. There were all the conditions for this: production chains, the ability to observe individual settlers’ peaceful life, building logistics, and not letting dangers get bored like fires or attacks by wild animals.
In this plan, Warlords, unfortunately, not just marking time but taking a step back. Take the same production chains: creating only one resource – clothing (without which you can easily do without) – consists of three stages. Almost all other resources and units are produced directly “from the fields”. Peasants transfer some resources and items between buildings. In contrast, others instantly find themselves in the right place – such a controversial implementation of transport logistics and the lack of a limit for storage facilities make the castle’s planning too primitive.
It is inconvenient to constantly open a diplomatic card to monitor the state of affairs of the vassals, but there is no choice – an ally can be taken out from under the nose at any moment.
The popularity system responsible for taxation and the influx of new residents into the city has remained practically unchanged. Providing settlers with expensive housing, high-quality rations, and spiritual benefits has a positive effect on the desire to work for the glory of the master. High taxes and scarce food can lead to the fact that they begin to leave the city.
On the spot and the opportunity to decorate your city with gallows, blocks, and other devices to increase ordinary citizens’ working zeal. True, with the specific influence on the world around these and similar buildings with a radius of action (like temples or fire-fighting vats with water), not everything is clear. In Warlords, there is no possibility for the genre to turn on the display of layers of visibility of needs.
If we talk only about construction, then the new Stronghold not much different from the old ones: this is really an “Asian DLC” and even simplified. Rebuilding in sandbox mode was completely boring for me – the “china” in the appearance of buildings and the change of wheat for rice does not strongly inspire me to build the castle of my dreams.
In addition to the usual series of differences in the “character” of bots, you can also customipotential vassals’ behaviourals.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
Fortunately, this game is not only about peaceful construction away from belligerent neighbours. On the contrary, it is noticeable that the developers concentrated precisely on the military aspect of their strategy. Custom bot battles and multiplayer have far more enticing prospects for your pastime than sandbox or campaigns.
If we return to those very ancient Asian surroundings (namely, to its military component), 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 buffaloes – they all play a significant combat role. 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 previous parts of the series (and there are few changes in the new product, I remind you), now they give similar emotions. Feverishly rebuild the castle, constantly suffering from enemy scouts, not forgetting about forays into the enemy’s rear; accumulate strength for a decisive assault and finally break down the enemy’s defences by breaking through walls or destroying production – all these experiences are in Warlords…
There are not enough maps for battles yet, but there are enough available ones – thanks to the military leaders, it is impossible to predict each battle’s course.
On the other hand, some innovations were the most important, of which was the military leaders’ system – the very “warlords” who gave the name to the game. Warlords are small settlements on the map, represented by a humble castle and garrison. Initially, they are usually hostile to all participants in the fight, but you can interact with them, bending to your side. It is possible to capture the commander both by force (by interrupting the guards and capturing the lord) and peacefully, using diplomacy points 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 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 an equally potential vassal-military leader ). Of course, these services are not provided free of charge – you need to spend the same diplomatic points.
“Warlords” are different – someone is good as a supplier of raw materials. Someone is better suited for the conduct of hostilities. Someone is easier to conquer, and someone is better to persuade to an alliance peacefully.
The presence of these additional variables on the battlefield greatly increases the variety of encounters. If at the beginning of the game the commanders interfere with “crushing” the enemy who does not have time to rebuild, then their possessions become key points for planning defence and attack – given that buildings can only be built on “their” land, even a small castle of a vassal at a convenient point has underestimated the card is definitely not worth it.
Nevertheless, in other words, the warlord system sounds much more interesting than it actually is. An inconvenient diplomatic interface does not allow you to monitor the allies’ state of affairs quickly – either constantly open a special window for communication with “warlords”, distracting from other matters, or accept that a vassal can change sides at the most inopportune moment.
Unfortunately, this is far from the only management problem. The interface remained at the level of the first parts of the series – it lacks clarity. You have to perform too many unnecessary actions to find valuable information (for example, the resource consumption is visible only by hovering the mouse over the button).
Controlling the army is a separate torment: sometimes, our soldiers obey orders only after a couple of repeated keystrokes. Losing a battle just because the archers suddenly decide to stop shooting at an enemy breaking walls is not much fun.
Bomb-laden bulls are dangerous weapons. If the enemy does not have shooters, then a 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 outdated both technically and morally. Had this strategy appeared a decade and a half ago, it would not have had a price, but it is completely incomprehensible what is special about it by modern standards.
Asian surroundings and the only interesting “feature” – military leaders’ system is clearly not enough to love this game. Nevertheless, I do not exclude the possibility that Warlords will be popular, at least in multiplayer mode – after all, it Stronghold…
Pros: the system of military leaders; multiplayer and battles with bots.
Minuses: inconvenient control and interface; outdated graphics; primitive rebuilding of the castle.