A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Stronghold Crusader II is a downloadable real-time strategy game set in the late 12th century, with players taking on the role of a castle lord. The game features a tutorial, learning campaigns, skirmish trials (six pre-built scenarios), customizable scenarios, and a sandbox mode. There are references to alcohol as a way to keep followers happy. Although the camera can be pulled back from the action, it also can zoom in to show enemies (and the player's own troops) being bludgeoned and hacked to death with sprays of blood. Bodies remain on the ground for a while before slowly being absorbed by the environment, and screams of pain can be heard during battle. An Internet connection is necessary for multiplayer, and players can download unrated maps and content from the community.
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What's it about?
STRONGHOLD CRUSADER II pits a player-created warlord against Saracens and assorted nomadic desert wanderers in a game loosely based on history. The year is 1182 A.D., and the Crusades are in full swing in the deserts near Jerusalem. Players are tasked with building a castle, expanding with industry and buildings, bolstering troops, and then conquering nearby areas while holding off enemies who might attack the fledgling city.
Is it any good?
Stronghold Crusader II has improved on the original with new enemy AI, making it much smarter in battle. It's also introduced new combat units and buildings. The game feels more intuitive, and the graphics, both from a distance and up close, are solid. The civilization-building elements remain strong, and some interface features that seem to have simplified the game really help when it comes to adjusting taxes and keeping people at your keep happy (which bolsters your forces and resources). The game guides you in this area, giving you a reasonable expectation of the consequences of your actions. Different maps are available, which in turn create different dynamics in the warfare.
Where Stronghold Crusader II falters is the core gameplay; this isn't a fresh take on the strategy genre. The interface is intuitive but doesn't really hold players accountable for micromanaging the keep once it's built. Plus, the game seems to have oversimplified the civic-planning elements to allow players to move into combat without consequences back home. This shift in focus toward combat and away from the civilization aspects weakens the gameplay that exemplifies strategy games. That could be the reason why the multiplayer community seems scarce -- we continually tried to play opponents but never found anyone online. Overall, Stronghold Crusaders II provides a good take on the RTS genre, and it's certainly worth a look for strategy fans, but its issues hold it back from being a great game.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the historical setting and violence in Stronghold Crusader II. Why was this such a tumultuous period in history? Does the violence in the game seem accurate to the time, and is it acceptable because of the simulation of conflicts that actually happened during this period?
Discuss the tactics used in Stronghold Crusader II. Which tactical methods work best for fighting battles in this game? Do you think you can improve on the methods used by the Crusaders in war?
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