I had the pleasure of being shown a pre-alpha build of Stronghold 3 by the Director of Firefly studios, Simon Bradbury, this afternoon. He opened the demo by stating that he didn't feel Stronghold 2 was a bad game, rather that it tried to do too many things and lost focus of what made the first Stronghold game so popular.
With Stronghold 3, however, the game is set to return to its roots.
The first thing that impressed me was that the focus was on the core gameplay. Stronghold 3 will run on tech developed by outside sources as opposed to the internal development favoured for its predecessor. This, along with a streamline of in-game mechanics, will leave the development team free to strengthen the original's gameplay.
With that established we were launched into the game and it soon became apparent the level of flexibility that will be available to players. With a castle constructed, players can fortify their possession by constructing battlements. It's the way in which they can be placed that is unique in that you can almost paint a labyrinthine construction to keep your foes at bay, with twisting snaking walls of solid stone should you so wish to do so. Stairs can be added that will allow your soldiers access to the battlements so that they can rain medieval death from above on those foolish to try and attack you.
Gone is the grid based system of old as you are now free to position things with utter freedom. This can have consequences for your kingdom though. The amount of people present in your villages hovels is based on the distance to your castle. For example, a hovel some distance away will be a rotten shack capable of housing only one person. However, a hovel in close proximity to your castle will be a three floored structure that can hold up to ten people.
Your actions as a lord will affect how you kingdom works on many different levels. The example that we were told was that a cruel and evil Lord will have a barbaric but unruly military compared to a benevolent Lord whose army will be noble and take less damage.
Firefly are keen to use the Havok engine to create a battlefield strewn with debris and bodies. A castle we were shown was destroyed using catapults, causing it to crumble into pieces and roll down the hillside into the valley below. One catapult was shattered when it was too close to its target. The resulting detritus bounces off nearby buildings and landscape in a dramatic way that is sure to make any victory feel great and defeat feel crushing.
The team at Firefly has listened to fan concerns and are promising a true Stronghold experience. It’s been a long time coming -- it looks as though Stronghold 3 will deliver a fun strategy game come April 2011.