Let me start off by saying I don’t like civilization simulators. When I was a kid I used to try to play Sim City at my aunt’s, but I was just never able to get into it. I found it dull, repetitive and lacking in story. So when I came across a couple sims on Steam that I thought looked enjoyable, I knew something strange was afoot. I haven’t had the change to give them all a try yet, but the one I did test out was a free to play MMO/persistent castle builder called Stronghold Kingdoms by Firefly Studios. Much to my surprise, I have become completely obsessed.
Stronghold Kingdoms takes place in Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England, prior to their unification. When you start the game you can choose whether you want your stronghold to be randomly located or you can choose which province you would like to live in. Syndrome and I went with World 3 Aberdeenshire in northeastern Scotland.
From there you get placed in a parish under the control of a player who acts as your steward. The steward is there to help the villages under him or her thrive. Additionally the steward is expected to help build and maintain the parish capital and troops.
One need only be a level 4 to become a steward, but to achieve more control one must be higher leveled. The sheriff runs the county, the governor runs the province, and the king runs the country. In all instances a player seeking power must win the majority of the votes in a general election by other players.
If you’re lucky like me and have a kind steward (who also happens to be on when you join) you may be surprised to find a nice gift and welcome message awaiting you. You might as well write him back (it will complete a quest) and then the real work begins.
The game will guide you through your first couple of buildings. To get you started they give you the gold and resources to create a stone quarry, a woodcutter’s lodge, and an apple orchard.
As one might expect from a game such as this, it costs resources and sometimes gold to build various structures. However, before you have the option to build certain structures, you typically have to do research.
Research is done in real time. Research time can vary, sometimes only taking 30 minutes, other times taking nearly an hour. There are four tabs to choose from: industry, military, farming and education. It’s important to weigh your options before choosing what to research because you only have so many research points available to you. You can earn more by buying them with gold (which gets progressively more expensive) or by leveling your character.
I highly encourage you to check the flowchart when deciding which branch to put your points and time into. Certain skills or buildings are level based, so regardless of the overall research you’ve done, you still cannot unlock these additional paths until you have leveled up. For instance, I had started researching the plough but it turned out I couldn’t learn wheat production until level 8. Whoops.
Your character levels based on his or her honour points. You get these points from your popularity, certain buildings, and arts research.
Starting out you are the village idiot. You then progress through various lowly ranks. The highest level is the crown prince.
Here is my first big complaint about the game. Throughout the tutorial you are referred to as “sire” and “my liege”. But you’re a village idiot… You’re four levels below a serf, and eight levels below a commoner, yet some fool is groveling at your feet? What? This discrepancy really got on my nerves. Ugh.
Now that you know the basics, it’s time for my thoughts on what is awesome and what is not.
First, remember how I said I don’t like civ sims? What makes this different is the MMO aspect of it. Stronghold has factions of players which are effectively guilds and can be joined at level seven. You can set allies and enemies for your particular faction. Each faction gets its own forum, and the general is voted on by the members. Each general has all the responsibilities and privileges of a guild or clan leader with the added bonus of being able to join a House and vote in house and leadership elections.
But what are Houses? There are twenty houses in the game that act as alliances between a maximum of 12 factions. They compete against one another for glory points which they can achieve by holding capitals across the world.
And this is what I love about this game. If I reach max level, make a good alliance, and play my cards right, I can take over the world!! Mwua-hahahahaha! I could possibly become Raeyn Queen of Scots! HA!
But that won’t ever happen. Because there are too many other things that will prevent me from playing as often as I might otherwise. One thing I don’t care for are cards.
They feel really out of place. The game boasts that they are super powerful tactical cards that will greatly enhance your experience, but they just don’t fit the overall aesthetic. I mean, if they could have at least been scrolls or runes or something more fitting of a medieval world I could maybe be a little more forgiving. But as it stands they just annoy me and feel like an unnecessary addon aimed at making money (which is effectively what they are).
Stronghold Kingdoms is a free to play MMO, but obviously that means they’ll get you in other ways. Like purchasing crowns which you can later spend on those silly cards. Or you can pay for premium access.
Right off the bat they give you two days of premium access so you lose it just as you’ve had a couple days to get accustomed to it (isn’t that kind of them…) What premium gives you is the ability to queue the construction of buildings, queue research, the ability to have your characters do various activities while offline (like go scouting for resources) and a few other super handy features. To go premium you have to use 100 crowns which is equal to about $8. So in theory if you loved the game enough you could play it for $8 a month which, while not a bad amount, doesn’t sit right with me. It’s probably more the methods than anything, but the whole thing just feels a little wrong for so simplistic a game.
Ultimately Stronghold Kingdoms is a game I have been really enjoying the last couple of days (to the point where I even had a dream about it last night…yeah…I know…), and while I’d love to see myself Queen of Scots someday, I am just not willing to spend the money to enhance my experience enough for me to get there. I would definitely suggest you give it a try because it can be addicting in small doses, but since research, scouting, and selling items takes so much time, it’s not really something you can probably play for hours on end (not, at least, with only one village.)
I would probably have enjoyed it more if it had an RPG element to it, but it’s a fun, interesting concept as is. You can download it on the Steam store. If you do let me know who you are and where you are, maybe we can become allies in the harsh world of medieval Britain!