Do not test proverbs. As soon as you start mouthing off saying 'a Englishman's home is his castle' someone ends up having a backyard ballistae and bang goes the kitchen. Turns out that terraced houses aren't castles at all. You want to try fighting fire with fire too, you'll regret that one, I can tell you. Yes, proverbs, like castles, are best left to the experts - epigrammaticians and stonemasons respectively.
In fact the Medieval military base was really best left to complete fiction, since castles were always a bit of troublesome affair, even for blokes who knew what they were doing. They always look better on paper, or at Disneyland... All of which introductory contrivance leads us to the premise of Stronghold: Legends. It's the same old Sim Castle, only this time it's populated with the fictional castle-owners of yore. These boys sure knew how to run a fantasy citadel (or would have done, had they existed). Stronghold has gone a bit Age Of Mythology.
Marching down the catwalk of boiling oil comes England's most popular made-up sovereign, King Arthur, for the fantasy Britain campaign. The Germanic mythology of the Rhine campaign with, the super-saxon, Dietrich. And finally there's the man who might have been Dracula (but was really just some grouchy dude) Count Vlad Dracul - he does all things Transylvanian. These chaps pull out their various mythologies to power a rather more esoteric version of Stronghold, with even more focus on the campaign story than last time around. Predictably enough each of the heroes has his own visual style and selection of units, although they're all suspiciously similar in what they can actually do. Still, it's big fun to be able to add wolfmen or bats to your standard line up of tiny men-at-arms, and fighting dragons and deploying ice giants is definitely more worthy of your attention than building yet another heraldic ponce on a pony.
Needless to say, various story-type missions await each of the Legends. Of course most of these missions are focused on one rather large issue: building that castle. It's as accomplished as ever - you fiddle with walls and ramparts, deploy motte and bailey, and generally make with the crenelations until the cows come home. There's a certain pleasure in all this, but that particular desire has already been satiated by previous Stronghold games. I don't need to go there again, even if the castle is made of magic ice.
Next: the besieging. These events are the one joy in a game that has always been an incomplete joy within Stronghold. It sort of works, and it looks convincing enough, but it's never quite the cinematic sequence of wonder that we require. Lots of tiny men charge the walls as catapults deliver deathblows to unfortunate defenders. Yeah, that's the stuff, if only is was more... coherent. I'd still rather be playing Medieval 2 (I've just run headlong into the Mongols) and although Stronghold's sieges have lost none of their fiddly vigor or Germanic precision the overall combat experience still has a sense of work about it. Medieval's epic sweep and relatively unstupid AI makes for an altogether more robust siege. The sheer amount of clicking 'go here' that is required of Stronghold units has always been tiresome, but for some reason it stands out even more in Legends. Perhaps I was expecting more. Perhaps I wanted this to work a bit like all the other accomplished RTS games out there. Perhaps.
Nor has Stronghold lost any of its 'please look at this tax parchment' effect. Yeah, the same old clunky management of money and morale is required to keep the castle quartered with pickled goose (probably). There's some other business with running the fortress too but I was already asleep by the time I wrote this sentence.
So then, once more unto the final paragraph's summary remarks. These are they: if you've not played Stronghold yet and you like a bit of fantasy rumpus you should probably play Rise Of Legends, but if you're played that and still not played Stronghold then Legends is worth a brief punt. The fantasy armies really do provide a fun twist, and the castles that are rapidly erected in Stronghold's clever building system are stunning. Ultimately though I wish this game had been Sandcastle: Legends, but it completely wasn't.
6 / 10