Gaming for Free – Stronghold Kingdoms

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Stronghold Kingdoms: PC

6 / 10 stars           

I’m going to take a quick sojourn from my crusade to get lonely gamers laid and begin a tangent of reviews on the best games of all; those games that are free and rather unheard of. If you haven’t yet discovered it, I’ll let you in on a great piece of news. Steam has a section devoted to free games. For nothing but the bandwidth they’ll take up and the requirement to sell your soul to the Valve digital distribution platform, you can gain access to hundreds of hours of entertainment through Steam.

The game that I am going to review today is Stronghold Kingdoms, which was recently released on Steam. Kingdoms holds an uncertain place in that strange genre of casual MMOs, usually reserved for Facebook titles or independent browser-based games.

The game purports to be the “world’s first persistent castle MMO” and it may just have something going for it. Essentially since Kingdoms is attempting a stab at the difficult genre of the RTS MMO, and has done quite well for itself, especially when I compare it to the recent anti-climax that was Age Of Empires Online.

Firstly, it’s free. So let’s put on our free tinted glasses and take a hard look at what this title has to offer. The graphics aren’t top notch but don’t necessarily incite the overpowering apathy that sometimes overcomes me when I’m faced with subpar pixilation.

The music has a top notch medieval feel to it… which I got sick of after about ten minutes and I replaced it with some of my own music in the background. But the thought was nice. The animations are standard RTS fare, enhanced by the mysterious presence of free roaming chickens.

The depth to this game lies on the village, castle and combat options and how these revolve around your surrounding players. Kingdoms reminds me of the browser based strategy game ‘Utopia,’ which took up much of my time during my early high school years, which probably could have been better spent (in hindsight).

The game plays at your own pace. As long as your pace is slow and patient. RTS MMO’s by their nature must limit the actions of their players so as to maintain some semblance of balance. Much like EVE you will find yourself queuing up options and logging while they carry themselves out.

A large part of the game is researching new techs which unlock further aspects of the game; an aspect actually made important by the limited amount of research points you are given. Working out which techs to unlock what is important as some tech trees can lead you down the garden path… especially the one about building gardens and paths.

I personally jumped in and started researching at random, deciding that ale production was high on my kingdom’s agenda. Though I’m sure my villagers appreciated the hustling and bustling inn I built, my economy suffered as my sources of wood and stone quickly depleted. I also soon discovered drunken peasants aren’t great when enemy skirmishes start probing your castle defences.

This game will only appeal to a certain type of gamer and should be approached with the expectations of a long term investment. Similarly the player must spend significant time planning their strategy and what goals they want to achieve, as nothing in this game happens fast. Once you’ve made some bad decisions it’s going to take some time to dig yourself out of the hole you’ve put yourself in. Especially if the people digging are too busy drinking your plentiful supplies of ale.

For now that’s about as much depth as I can achieve with this game. I expect it’ll be a week or two before my armies of poorly animated soldiers begin their march towards my nearest rival (probably some twelve year old kid who is minding his own business). But I’m definitely going to put in the time to get there.

This game is trying something a bit different and I encourage you to give it a chance. The community in the game is growing rapidly and as a casual PC game looks to provide hours of entertainment in between browsing Facebook, watching legally downloaded TV shows and more serious gaming.

I give Stronghold Kingdoms 14 out of 23. It’s a nice attempt at something different in a genre generally lacking titles. The game does however lack polish and I can’t see it holding my attention for more than a couple of weeks. But remember – it’s free! But be warned the ability to queue options quickly runs out and requires actual real life money to maintain.

For more of Charles’ views follow him on Twitter. See what his take on Online Gaming is, Or if you are looking for another Steam game, Check out our review of Bastion.