Luckily Firefly Worlds, maker of Stronghold Kingdoms, has a very persistent "PR ninja" who made a point to poke at me on Twitter. Usually, we funnel all PR contact to our lead editors for organization purposes, but hey, I can't resist a nice voice and a lovely looking game... and I have a high tolerance for fun people.
Unfortunately there was no way to pick up the tutorial where I had left it. Another mistake, if you ask me. As you can tell by the embedded video below, I had a nice time but was confused during much of the livestream. If it hadn't been for my usual helpful chat room, I would have been more frustrated. And yes, I know that there is a wiki that answers all or most of my questions, but as I've said a million times, I signed up to play a game, not to figure out how to play a game. A wiki is helpful but should never, ever be considered a tutorial. Eventually, though, my experience started moving forward, and I began to really enjoy myself.
The basic mechanics of the game are nothing new. I didn't play the old Stronghold games much, so I cannot comment on how this online version compares to those, but the MMO comes from the basic school of "build, create a town, grow, join with other people, manage, fight" that so many of those other boring and bland MMORTS titles come from.
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That's where the similarities between Stronghold Kingdoms and the rest of the pack end. Well, sort of. Many of the designs in the game aren't truly new, but it's the way that the whole package comes together that puts Stronghold Kingdoms squarely on my "toy game" list. To clarify, a "toy game" is one that makes you smile, one that makes you feel as though you are playing with a contained plastic piece of happiness, and one that is a joy to log into. You never log into a toy game, sigh, and say, "I guess I'll just grind." Some of my favorite toy games are RuneScape, MilMo, Die2Nite, Spiral Knights and others. It's easy to pick up and play a toy game... that should explain it.
Not only did I build my town, but I had to be conscious of where I placed my buildings in order to keep them efficient. I watched as my tiny citizens worked away in old-school graphical glory. My town was growing, finally! But I needed scouts really badly. I had a mission to scout out some pile of random goods in the area, but I couldn't quite tax my people to pay for the scouts yet because their happiness (and my popularity) would drop. And it it dropped, I would attract fewer citizens. Fortunately the game also features a neat collectible card system that impacts the game in a "fair and balanced" way, for those of you who care about things being fair and balanced. I paid around $7 US for a completely optional month of premium time and used some of my coins to buy a pair of packs. What was within one of the packs? A card for a pair of scouts! I was even able to trade in some of the more useless cards for something else that worked better. It's a nice, simple system that really isn't necessary but just works nicely all the same.
I sent a mail to my powerful neighbor and asked to join in the coalition or guild that ruled my local area, and he obliged by sending an invitation and a stock of goods. Great, I was already making friends -- friends who had armies.
Here's another kicker for you: Stronghold Kingdoms runs wonderfully not only on my basic dual-core notebook with an onboard chip but on my touchscreen netbook that has a dual-core and two gigs of RAM. Actually, I preferred to play it on the touchscreen; everything felt more engaging, and the developers even smartly included a game mode that works well with basic graphics chips. I carried my tablet around the house while watching enemy peasants slam themselves against my flimsy wooden gates.
To sum up, I think there are obvious reasons that Stronghold Kingdoms is doing so well on Steam. I'm not Steam's number one fan, but the popularity of the service obviously has something to do with the game's success. And Stronghold Kingdoms is a pleasant blend of old and modern. It feels like a fun older grandparent who not only is keen about technology but also uses old-school moxy to show up those lousy youngins who couldn't design themselves out of a basic wooden fort!
Next week, I am going to be looking at Gemstone IV so look for me to stream the game live on Monday, April 16th, at 5:00 p.m. EDT right here on our TwitchTV page. See you there!
Each week, Rise and Shiny asks you to download and try a different free-to-play, indie or unusual game, chosen by me, Beau Hindman. I welcome any suggestions for games -- drop me a note in the comments or email! You can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook!