Store your food and raise the drawbridge, for Stronghold 2 has been released and is ready to lay siege to your computer. For those of you unfamiliar with the Stronghold series, or castle sim games in general, Stronghold 2 puts you in command of a castle. You must feed your peasants and keep them happy, build walls and towers to protect your property, and raise an army to lay siege to your opponent's castles. While there have been plenty of additions made to Stronghold 2 over its predecessor (in addition to the implementation of some good ideas), a poor story, weak artificial intelligence, and plenty of bugs mar what otherwise could have been a simple yet fun castle-building game.
You can play the path of peace for economic gameplay...
In Stronghold 2, you have a lord who presides over a keep. Peasants will flock to your keep as long as they're kept happy. Happiness is dependent on several factors, including how well they eat, the amount of rats in your castle, and whether you provide entertainment for them. You'll gather various resources to place in your storehouse, and industry workers can take these resources to create advanced items, like bread, ale, and weapons. However, there aren't any complicated manufacturing trees, so don't expect an intricate economic sim game. Stronghold 2 is designed so you can focus on building up your castle and raising an army.
There are a few issues with the gameplay that are worth noting. You can't shut off just one building. You have to either shut down the entire industry or sell the building. For example, if you build three lumber camps but only want two to operate at a given moment, you have to sell the third camp. Also, some of your workers will, on occasion, turn to crime, thus abandoning the industry in which they were working. And, unfortunately, you can't shift a worker from one industry to the abandoned one. This poses a problem when the abandoned post is critical, such as your gong pit. If your gong pit worker leaves his post, and you don't notice, gong will pile up, and your peasants will be unhappy. If you're already on the breaking point of happiness/unhappiness, people will start leaving the castle (and, thus, they'll start to leave other critical industries), putting you in a feedback loop you may never recover from. These are micromanagement issues you shouldn't have to face. More alerts for when critical posts get abandoned would have been a big help.
...or play the path of war and siege your enemies.
There are two campaigns in Stronghold 2: peace and war. They're what you'd expect. The peace campaign focuses on economic missions. The king is displeased with his vassals, so you must step up and fix the economy of his nation. You'll focus on collecting a set number of resources in a mission without worry of being sieged. The most fighting you'll see is against bandits or wolves. Since the economic portion of the game is pretty basic, this campaign can be boring if you expect heavy micromanagement. The war campaign, on the other hand, throws you into missions where you not only have to build up your castle, but also attack an enemy or defend your lands. The storyline of the war campaign is weak due to boring cutscenes and poor voice acting, but the missions are structured nicely. Some strategy games can be repetitive because you have to rebuild a base every time you start a new mission. In Stronghold 2, each mission is divided into several submissions played on the same map. As a result, you don't have to rebuild a castle every time you start a new objective.
The two campaigns aren't particularly challenging. The peace campaign can have some tricky situations, but you're not going to burst your brain trying to figure out how to win. The war campaign is a cakewalk, especially once you discover the limitations of the AI. You may have to restart a few missions, but you'll soon realize that the computer follows the same strategy every time. Whether you're defending or attacking, you won't find a worthy opponent in the AI.