Fairly recently, Firefly released a digital Steam edition of Stronghold 2 in order to keep up to date with the growing online digital market. Stronghold 2 on disc has not been selling with the change in computer hardware and in consumer needs. CD ROMs are no longer seen as a requirement of a computer and even pre-built systems often come without. Therefore, getting older games into the digital market allows Firefly to gain more and to also keep games up to date with relative ease.
Currently, the newest Steam edition version is v1.5. The final disc version of the game is v1.4.1, released in 2007. That is an insane amount of time between updates and so naturally, you'd expect this 2017 game version to have vast improvements over the 10 (now 11) years old version. That is what this article will be looking at. Welcome to an in-depth analysis of Stronghold 2 version 1.5.
The Steam edition of the game comes with a now common launcher. This has become a more popular method of launching games the last couple of years, with mainly MMO games taking the concept, but also games such as Minecraft and Indie Games using it. Regardless, the Stronghold 2 launcher is fairly neat, with the option to access the Steam Workshop, visit the website, change game settings, and to simply launch the game. To the left of the selections is the "News" tab, with daily updates made by Firefly, not only concerning Stronghold 2, but other Firefly games.
With this launcher we can take a look at the settings tab. However, there is nothing new in the settings tab. The only difference is the colours look slightly more vibrant and clear. This of course makes navigating the settings tab easier on the eyes, and allows us to change settings without any minor inconveniences, not that there ever were.
With any update the most important thing to see are bug fixes. There have been many bugs that have plagued even the latest disc version of Stronghold 2 and because of this, within 10 years, we would expect to see many of these resolved. This is a very sad day for Stronghold 2 fans. Whilst a handful of bugs have been fixed, for example the sound effects slider randomly setting itself to 0, many of the important bugs have been left alone. In fact, with the new 1.5 version, I have found new bugs.
I play at a resolution of 2560x1440. On the disc version, this had no issues in-game, except, not all graphical settings supported the high resolution. Textures such as grass and so on supported the texture fine due to the way scaling textures work. Simply put, the grass textures work similarly to Minecraft textures, where pixel patterns are repeated across the entire texture. For example, if Firefly made a 16x16 grass texture, the game knows to simply repeat this texture over and over again until it matches with the higher resolutions. This of course does not work with character or buildings models, as the shapes and designs of these models are too complex, and simply repeating the pattern would result in overlapping textures.
However, whilst v1.5 has added full 1440p and 4K support, meaning HUDs and character and building models now support these higher resolutions, they have been lazy. For example, the main menu now has this (in my opinion) boring looking grey brick design where black bars would normally show, in order to make up for the extra space brought on by higher resolutions, seen below.
This is clearly a minor inconvenience and really does have no effect on the quality of gameplay. Bugs on the other hand - do. When playing at higher resolutions, meaning anything higher than 1080p, we see problems with status bars being displaced. Take the image below, where I have selected the gibbet in order to see the rehabilitation progress bar:
As you can see, the progress bar has been placed far to the left of where it would normally appear in the centre. Now, this is not a great issue and really does not effect how the game plays, but it is a bug, and it does appear like one that is fairly simple to resolve. I expect this will be fixed soon, however, this thread is simply comparing version 1.5 to version 1.4.1.
This problem does not only appear in-game, but in the menus too. Looking at the image below, I have selected the Green territory in order to place that AI in a different estate. Once selected, the AI's marker appears off-centre, similarly to the in-game progress bar:
Again, this is not huge problem, but it is there, and it really can be quite aggravating to see.
The map editor has been something many active players have been desperately awaiting an update. Has it been done? Sadly not. The map editor is still looked at 40 FPS no matter your settings, and the old bugs still remain present today. The most notable, or should I say infamous, of these bugs is the waterfall glitch. Simply, when a waterfall is placed too close to the edge of the map, any incline or change in terrain height is replaced with a black void. This void remains until the game is restarted. Exiting map editor and entering a game of Kingmaker will not fix this bug, and the black void will appear in-game.
Below, is an image of me proving this bug still persists. I used every height that is possible to place a waterfall and the bug triggered in every instance. The first image is the setup, with the following image being the results of me placing the waterfall near the map's border (the two stones in the second image mark the placement of the waterfall that caused this bug to trigger):
Here is another image showing the results of this bug:
As shown, the bug is extremely game breaking, and I cannot imagine anybody wishing to finish a game after this bug being triggered. It is a shame that it exists. It is interesting to see that I did not experience this bug in version 1.4 of Stronghold 2, perhaps I was lucky, but it does suggest that there may be a future fix. I seriously hope so, as I am sure there are many clever map makers who could do some amazing this if this bug did not exist.
This is not the least of the problems with the map editor, as it seems not one bug has been fixed. Let us continue. Another issue with the map editor was that the option to use the available text boxes to input a value has never worked and it still does not today. In the image below, you can see the value box I am referring to. No matter where I click on the screen, the numbers on the keyboard and the number pad do nothing:
This is one of the more frustrating bugs, as having to mouse scroll to the right value every single time one wishes to set it becomes very tedious, especially when creating double digit missions. I hope this bug will be fixed in an upcoming update.
Moving on, the displacement bugs seem to remain in the game too. This name is referring to the "Availability" tab in a mission editor, where the editor may select which buildings are allowed to be built during said mission. For the first half of the list, the response is as expected. If I click on "Hunter's Hut" the state of availability will change accordingly. However, moving further down the list, the selections are displaced. In the image below, my mouse is not appearing, however, I have marked the location of my mouse using the green marker. Despite my mouse pointer hovering over "Sally Port" the value being changed is in fact "Triple Wall". If I were to mouse scroll up one, the reverse would be true, and the value would be eight selections higher instead of eight lower:
This section is rather short, but I feel it is worth mentioning. Once in the menus, the player can access different settings not available in the settings launcher. These include game speed, credits, player name, and sound. These menus have had a small update, allowing the player to now reset settings to default, and also allow the player to make right click the command button for units, as is now the norm in the newer Stronghold games. These settings are minor but are a nice little addition that I can appreciate. Below, is an image of the new settings:
I have already discussed differences in actual gameplay, but what about the AI? What about the different campaigns and sieges? Have they changed at all? Well, I am actually glad to say they have not changed considerably. Campaigns and sieges remain identical to the old version, however, the AI seem far more intelligent when it comes to building. Unlike before, where AI would struggle in maps that did not allow much room, they are far more adaptable. The AI will rotate their castle designs to fit tight spaces, and even the more complicated castle layouts work flawlessly in-game. Shown below, is an image of the map "Pillars of Fate" made by Charles of Tours (this is an older version of the map, but the newer version can be found here) where the AI are accurately responding to the different design. Most preset maps have been carefully designed to allow the AI players build their castles as default, however, even in a map where keeps are located close to an estate border, the AI still successfully start and grow their economy.
As you can see, the Hawk's placement is very clustered as a result of the small amount of space between his keep and the estate border. However, what is important here is that he is still developing and playing. Some maps on version 1.4.1 would result in AI simply giving up and not even attempting to play as a result of the small amount of space.
It is also nice to know that maps from version 1.4.1 do still work in version 1.5.
Let us get technical. With any computer game, performance is crucial to the overall quality of the game and I am happy to say that I do not struggle hitting the highest FPS possible whilst playing this game. That of course means nothing to the average user, as my computer specs far outweigh the recommended. However, testing the game on a 2012 £400 laptop I still managed to reach the golden 60 FPS after playing with the settings a little bit. Therefore, optimisation is working well in Stronghold 2.
Now, the most vital bit of information you will ever hear in terms of performance in Stronghold 2. In normal gamemodes, such as Campaign and Kingmaker, your FPS is locked to the game speed. Now, be aware, this is not the same as "Locked FPS" (citation) but is instead what I call a progressive FPS system. In Stronghold 2, if you set your game speed to 40, the highest FPS you will reach is 40. If you set it to 60, the highest FPS you can achieve is 60. 90 is 90, and 30 is 30. It really is that simple. Well, actually, I reached 62 FPS at game speed 60 but we can mark that as a margin of error on my FPS counter.
Before you angry FPS hungry beserkers start swinging your battleaxes at Firefly for limiting your experience, you should understand a few things. Stronghold 2 released in 2005, and was obviously in-development before that. The reason Stronghold 2's FPS is locked to the game speed is to ensure synchronisation between what is actually happening and what you see happening. With newer software and hardware, modern games can take advantage of scaling game speed, allowing the game to set the standard, and leaving it up to the hardware to keep up. With Stronghold 2 however, the developers new the limitations of hardware at the time, and so creating a system where game speed and game FPS are in synchronisation with each other allows animation cycles to look flawless no matter what. Later on, with the change in demands, game developers decided that the players who wish to get more performance for better visuals should have that choice. The higher the speed, the harder your hardware needs to work, and if it cannot handle it, you will notice a decrease in performance. In a way, this is what Stronghold 2 is doing, sort of an automated lock on FPS.
For its current price, it really is worth a purchase if you are an avid fan of Stronghold 2 and wish to get back into it. With the addition of the Steam workshop, maps are easier than ever to upload and download, however, I personally like to keep my War Scenarios as SHN exclusives!
If you wish to purchase the Steam edition of the game, it can be purchased here.
NOTE - Images appear blurry on some devices due to JPG compression as well as me downscaling images to 1080p in order to stop them filling up so much of your screen!