TBT: Stronghold 2
The story goes like this: fifteen-year-old me was walking through a Walmart in Niagara Falls with my then girlfriend and her mother. Both of us were pretty avid gamers at the time and shared the same tastes (she had Oblivion on Xbox and I thought it was the coolest thing ever even though I had it for PC.) We also both enjoyed history. I don’t remember exactly what we were at Walmart for, it was over ten years ago after all, but a side effect was that we could buy a game of our choosing.
Back then I didn’t really have any notion of what “popular” games were. I bought and played what I was personally interested in. When my then girlfriend and I walked past a front facing display cap at the end of an aisle, Stronghold 2 caught our attention. We didn’t spend very long looking at it before buying it, then immediately taking it home and installing it on what would today be considered an ancient computer. For the most part I watched her play, but we also played together and when she got tired of it I decided to try my hand alone.
Over ten years later I’m still playing it, and eagerly awaiting the special Steam Edition re-release (which I get for free since I already own the game.) Steam says I only have 9 hours of play time on it, but that doesn’t include the fact that I had a boxed version of the game for several years before buying the Stronghold Collection on a Steam sale. Pretty much all of the time I’ve spent playing SH2 has been spent building castles in freebuild.
The SH games are one of a kind in the sense that there are no other castle-building simulators that are quite so in-depth. SH2, while not considered the best in the series, has held up remarkably well both graphically and mechanically (with the re-release planning to bring several improvements.) The UI is tight and easy to understand, and building works on a grid system so it’s easy to plan out where you want everything to go while building up your settlement. Freebuild might be what I play the most but it’s not the only mode. I was never very good at them, but there are two separate campaigns, one for “peace” and one for “war” as well as siege modes and a special Kingmaker mode.
There is also still a decently active map-making community for every mode in the game, including custom campaigns (with a heavy emphasis on siege maps and throwing a massive army at an impenetrable fortress.) As mentioned I play mostly freebuild maps, both player and developer created, but I can still appreciate the time and care that goes into other things, and the in-game map editor, once you learn how to use it, means you can take custom maps and set them for any game mode you want.
Strong defenses and happy people does a good kingdom make. (Credit to LucaPiciu)
I have a thing for city-builders, and I have a thing for medieval history and castles, and Stronghold 2 scratches both of those itches, with just enough depth to keep me going for a while with one settlement and one map but not too much that I feel stressed out while playing. Stronghold 2 and the other games in the series are available on multiple sites and on Steam for cheap prices and run fine on modern systems with a bit of tweaking. If you haven’t played any of them, Stronghold 2 would be my recommendation, especially with the Steam Special Edition coming out soon.
Oh, and don’t worry, you’ll get used to the constant, “peasants are leaving the castle, my liege.” They don’t know how good they have it.