Popularized by Stronghold Crusader, this weird strategy game is half castle sim, half real time strategy. You begin with a keep and a bunch of idle villagers, and your goal is to kill the enemy lord(s). In the process you will have to build up an economy, feed your people, make a basic infrastructure and create the weapons and armor that your troops will have to wield through victory, and off course, pay and recruit said troops. Stronhold Legends, essentially is the fantasy equivalent.
The gameplay is rather simple. You will have to manage the basic necessities of your fledgling kingdom, namely: food, natural resources, money and off course, manpower, which you will then use to fortify your base, create walls, towers, weapons and off course your loyal troopers, which is rather standard for a Stronghold game. The new addition however is that by using honor points (which you get by melee combat) you can employ a vast array of mythical creatures and heroes, ranging from werewolves, to ice giants, ice witches to the knights of Camelot.
Playing very similarly to Stronghold Legends, this game is a bit of an oddball compared to the other games of the series. Slightly more complex than Stronghold Legends, due to the addition of creatures and mythical units, but simplified compared to Stronghold 2, Stronghold legends tried to please everyone and ended up flying under the radar.
While many complained about the unnecessary complexity on a few aspects of Stronghold 2, it still is considered to be the best game of the series, due to, well, its complexity, but also its better graphics, unit and castle variety. On the other hand, the simplicity of Stronghold: Crusader, means that you can simply focus on building a castle and an army and waging long wars in the field. Stronghold Crusaders tried to meet both halfway, resulting in what is, essentially a simple game, which has the makings of a great game, if it was a bit more complex.
That said, I still believe that the varied three races you can pick from, with distinct myth units and architecture is a great feat, and I was really hoping for more expanded versions of Stronghold Legends titles, with a bit more complexity and more myth units.
Stronghold was never one of the flashy titles, instead focusing more on making a smooth and well animated game, than a beautiful one. That said, this is by far the best looking of the series. With great animations, myth units, and what is a rather pretty looking physics engine, you will have trees swaying in the wind and people going on their day to day lives with decent detail. Despite it being an old game, I still find it visually appealing, and with its cartoonish approach on design I will say that is is really one of the best games when it comes to graphics of its time.
One of the most underrated aspects of the Stronghold Series, is their sound design. I can spend hours talking about the music, with its memorable and pleasant medieval tunes, the voice acting which is a bit on the cheesy side, but DEFINITELY endearing and fun, to the gripping sound effects and war cries during combat, but that would just be a disservice.
With simple English: the sound design is amazing. Robust, well made and easy holds its own against games even to this day.
Writing this article I understood one of the reasons this game is not better known. It is a fantastic game, fun, innovative, interesting, but at the same time, it just seems to be missing that something extra that will make it great.
That said, I feel it is a true crime if any strategy fan (especially real time strategy fan) does not give this game at -LEAST- a shot.