Stronghold Crusader Extreme

Knights on skateboards? No.

Last week, we took you on a brief tour of Firefly Studio's forthcoming "shot in the arm" for the dungeon-crawler genre, Dungeon Hero. It's a departure for the developer - but fans of the studio's best-known game, medieval strategy title Stronghold, shouldn't fret, as there's a major update to that in the works as well.

There are plenty of Stronghold fans out there, too. Firefly co-founder Simon Bradbury reckons that the series has sold four million units so far, spread over three releases - the original Stronghold, Stronghold Crusader, and Stronghold 2. That success has allowed Firefly to retain its indie status for almost ten years, so it's understandable that the studio's top priority is keeping its loyal Stronghold fans happy.

That's why Stronghold Crusader Extreme exists - it's very much one for the fans, and ought to keep them happily ticking over while Firefly works out where to go next with the series. Crusader was probably the best-received of the Stronghold games, and this is an expansion and extension of that game - but it's not Stronghold Crusader 2. Bradbury is very clear on this point - Stronghold Crusader 2 will be, well, Stronghold 3, which is a game that Firefly plans to make "in due course".

So it isn't a sequel, and it's certainly not an expansion pack. Designed for fans, both new and old (yes, there are new fans - Stronghold is one of those amazing "long-tail" retail success stories that still sells copies today, almost a decade after launch), it's really a homage to the original Crusader, and an exciting nod to the possibilities created by the advances in home PC technology since the game originally arrived.

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This is what happens when you start letting players have 10,000 units to fiddle around with. It's like medieval Shock and Awe.

That brings us to the first major change in Extreme - the unit count. Stronghold has never been a game that was shy about throwing around tons of units, with the whole point of its medieval siege warfare mechanic being that you threw forces at opposing castles by the dozens, if not hundreds. In Extreme, however, that concept is taken to the logical, well, extreme.

The unit cap in the game has been shifted by a factor of ten, lifting the maximum number of units on the battlefield from 1000 in the original game to a staggering 10,000 in Extreme. This is enabled by the fact that Firefly has chosen not to give the game much of a graphical overhaul - it's still resolutely 2D, with lovely detailed sprites and background tiles rather than the more resource-heavy 3D of more modern strategy titles. The visual effect is unquestionably old-fashioned, but has more than a certain amount of retro charm of its own.

Lifting the unit cap changes the games in some fairly fundamental ways. Up to a point. Stronghold Crusader Extreme will play very like the original Stronghold Crusader - but adding vastly more troops changes the balance as your armies swell, introducing far more complexity and significantly more things to keep track of at once. Stronghold has always been a manic click-fest when things got busy - Crusader Extreme seems likely to be the fastest way known to man to wear out your mouse, short of becoming a professional Korean StarCraft player.

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