Release Date: The original Stronghold Crusader was released a year later than its predecessor, in 2022. In 2013, Stronghold Crusader had an HD re-release that update the game’s graphics to support more modern operating systems and higher resolutions.
Genre: A Real-Time-Strategy/ Castle-Builder / Castle Management.
Best for: More experienced players with an added interest in building and managing their own castles. It’s designed for a more realistic take on warfare and larger-scale battles than other titles.
Excels at: High Middle Ages (especially in the Crusades).
Feature List: 4 Historical Campaigns, 100 skirmish missions, new units, new economic mechanics, new buildings, and new AI opponents. Map Editor.
Stronghold Crusader was a definitive improvement over the first installment, by taking the game into the middle east during the crusades. Its respectful recreation of the ambiance of the Holy Land is just fantastic. The new mechanics give the game a sense of place and make it feel distinct from its predecessor: new units, farmable land, mercenaries, new defenses, and a swift shift in in-game aesthetic, Stronghold Crusader marks the pinnacle of the series. The Muslim rulers are a fun change of pace from their European counterparts, with Salahadin betting his luck on his medium-armored Arabian swordsmen and bowmen. The Caliph, under his keffiyeh, uses slaves to harass and weaken the player’s economies before striking. The Sultan serves as the comic relief of the bunch (similar to how the Rat was in the first). The Christians also get Richard The Lionheart and The Emperor.
Engraved in my memory is the first time I played the game and the mercenaries outpost was readily available from the start, allowing for gold-based recruitment only, without the need to set up complicated supply chains before I could start pumping out more powerful units, this allowed for a wide range of different tactics and early game rushes against the AI. Stronghold Crusader did a lot of things right, Firefly Studios understood that under the hood they had a special game engine that had been lauded upon launch. There was no need (and maybe, no time) to reinvent the wheel, so the developing team focused on refining the things Stronghold did best: by giving players a bit more of everything, but mainly, more choices on how to go about their castle-besieging business.
One of the biggest draws (at least to me, personally) even to this very day, is the 100 skirmish missions you can take, all of which are custom-made (no randomly generated shenanigans), giving players tailor-made challenges and situations they need to overcome (starting with less gold, disadvantageous positioning, under attack, etc). Most of these were actually extremely challenging from the get-go. There’s enough content on Stronghold Crusader to keep you entertained for years and I’ll always come back to it as long as I can.