Stronghold: Warlords Demo Hands-On — Cry Havoc

We got our hands on a new playable demo of Stronghold: Warlords. It's a strategic RTS with plenty of tactical decisions for every armchair general.

Gather your troops, sharpen your axes, and let slip the dogs of war. The Stronghold series is on its way back.

The newest iteration, Stronghold: Warlords, is expected to ship in January 2021, and it offers a nice change of pace from previous games in the series.

We got to go hands-on with the newest demo of Stronghold: Warlords, learning the new systems in an attempt to conquer East Asia. There's a pretty steep learning curve if you've not played the series before, but the combat is extremely tactical and satisfying. The new warlord system also seems poised to offer ever-fluid tactics in each match.

Here's what we thought of this latest demo.

Intricate Strategy

This is a game that rewards patience and strategy, and can pull the rug out from under you in an instant.

Stronghold: Warlords aims to recreate castle economy and siege warfare in an RTS. Because of this, the game puts a premium on a tactical approach. Storming a well-fortified encampment is quite an endeavor, as penetrating thick walls while enemy archers pepper you from towers is a tough puzzle to solve in itself.

Luckily, you have a lot of different tools at your disposal in Stronghold: Warlords. In the latest build we got our hands on, those tools include three tiers of melee troops and three tiers of ranged troops, as well as a multitude of siege options, including ladder troops, cannons that fire flaming rockets, and oxen with fireworks strapped to them (!) that can suicide-bomb walls.

With the East Asia setting, there are all sorts of interesting weapons to play with, as fire and gunpowder innovations are on full display here. Everything looks great as it's playing out on screen, with explosions and fire blasting troops around and units dropping left and right.

It's wild (and a bit overwhelming) to watch play out.

Stronghold: Warlords really encourages you to think tactically; just marching a massive number of axemen at a walled-off fortification is going to get them all killed. This is a game that rewards patience and strategy, and can pull the rug out from under you in an instant.

There was one situation where I wasn't prepared for the AI to employ a certain strategy, and had no answer for its long-range siege weapons when they were brought into play. By the time I'd mustered a counter-attack, it was far (far) too late.

A Steep Curve

The first time we got our hands on a playable build of Stronghold: Warlords, we talked about how steep the learning curve is. That is definitely still the case. When the final version of the game comes out, there will surely be some tutorial tools that help teach you how to play, but in this demo, you are thrown right into the action.

It will take a lot of clicking through buildings and units before you start to figure out how everything works. Certain buildings can only be placed on certain terrains, but how they are actually placed there remains a mystery. Unit strengths vs. unit weaknesses will take both intuition and trial-and-error on your part, especially when you take on the new warlord units.

These are powerful, neutral units that you can win to your side through force or diplomacy. Each Warlord offersto the factions they are currently working with bonuses and strengths in the form of resources and soldiers. A huge part of the early game in each match appears to be trying to pick and win over the warlords who will most benefit your strategy, and then playing to your strengths to overwhelm your opponent's attempts at doing the same.

It will be interesting to see how much variety there is in the Warlord factions in the game's final release and how well balanced they are.

The diplomatic options seem like an interesting wrinkle as well, as you can earn diplomacy points like any other resource and then spend them to receive powerful bonuses. Overwhelming neutral forces with kindness is a unique spin on typical RTS gameplay, though it seems you'll almost always have to switch to brute force when nearing the end of matches.

A Good Taste

Overall, Stronghold: Warlords seems to be shaping up nicely. It's a unique change of pace for the RTS genre that seems more focused on strategy and clever plays rather than twitch reaction speed and micromanagement. The setting allows for some creativity, and it's great fun to watch all the moving pieces engage in a massive battle.

Hopefully, the developers can stick the landing when addressing polish, balance, and the game's learning curve. 

Stronghold: Warlords looks like it could be a great all-nighter when it releases in early 2021. Look for the new demo and give it a shot.

[Note: Firefly Studios provided the build of Stronghold: Warlords used for this hands-on demo.]


Jordan has been gaming and geeking since he was a wee lad. He is a freelance writer and content creator, contributing to AMC Theatres, SVG, Looper, and Feast Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter for article updates and Instagram for (mostly) pictures of food and animals.

Published Sep. 16th 2020

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