Gamescom Preview: Stronghold 3 (PC)

Aug 24, 2010

I’m a gaming creature of habit. When it comes to expanding my gaming horizons I can sometimes be about as responsive as a dead mule, but even I – a girl with something of an issue with RTS titles – have long been aware of Firefly Studios’ cult classic Stronghold (did you know it outsold GTA 3 in Germany? True story. Apparently). So when publisher SouthPeak invited me along recently for a little chat about Stronghold 3 at Gamescom … well, how could I not check it out? After the resounding success of the original title – and the critical panning of the subsequent sequel – I was intrigued to see just where Firefly were heading with the upcoming third instalment.

It was an intimate chat and a fabulously up-close and personal chance to meet Firefly Studios’ CEO Simon Bradbury and President Eric Ouellette to find out firsthand how the latest franchise offering – entitled Stronghold 3, predictably enough – is coming along.

I’m relieved to tell you that, to date, it’s looking good.

Stronghold 3 goes back to basics - with a twist

Firefly Studios have gone back to basics. Taking what worked in the original 2001 title – and dropping what was less successful in Stronghold 2 – the studio seem committed to rolling out an intuitive and polished title. Bradbury was frank about the future for Stronghold, talking candidly about the lessons learnt from SH2 (for example, this time around no time was spent chasing the development of an in-house 3D engine) and emphasised the studio’s firm engagement with the Stronghold community to really drill down into the minutiae of what players themselves wanted to see. This time, Firefly think that they’ve gone it right.

The story picks up from the end of the original Stronghold title where we learn that Wolf is bad, mmkay – psychotic, apparently. And while that’s pretty much all Bradbury could be drawn upon when it came to the plot, he did hint at a much ‘darker’ storyline this time around, and confirmed that events and strategy were again in keeping with medieval life.

This time around, we get a 'darker' storyline ...

The keyword of our discussion? Physics. Gone are the constrained 90 degree angles. Lighting is ambient and responsive and for the first time, gamers can play about with the physics of a castle, with seemingly easy and instinctive control mechanics for building communities. Pretty much anything and everything is destructible, and both the environments and enemies respond realistically to their fate, from careering down cliff-faces to, in the latter’s case, rolling around the ground when on fire. Night patrols are peppered with light beacons, blazing hay bales and burning forests, and players can again choose to utilise disease-ridden bovine corpses as long-range weapons, only this time they can also choose from a plethora of other grizzly carcasses and be more strategic in where and how far to initiate medieval life’s equivalent to biochemical warfare.

Biochemical warfare ye olde stylee

Does this seem overly simplistic to you? A little self-explanatory? Maybe. But I get the sense that Firefly have worked hard on this, ensuring that the game is as historically accurate and as intuitive to use as they possibly can, trying to assuage existing fans of the series as well as enticing new ones. Furthermore, the studio’s commitment to the stalwart SH community itself – something Bradbury was at pains to express – is blindingly apparent. Neat little tricks like real-life Google Maps geotagging, and the decision not to require a permanent internet connection despite Steam DRM, suggest that Firefly have kept their ear to the ground on this one and are responding to what fans are telling them.

My caveats? Restricted to a live demo, I didn’t get to sample for myself just how the gameplay worked in practice, and – obviously – the early build we saw was far from final. Yet even without any hands-on experience, I left SouthPeak’s press bunker curiously positive about FireFly’s latest release. Bradbury’s tangible enthusiasm was impossible to suppress and surprisingly difficult to ignore.

Stronghold 3 is slated for release in Q2 2011. For more details, check out the Stronghold 3 website.

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