We use cookies to provide you with a better experience. If you continue to use this site, we'll assume you're happy with this. Alternatively, click here to find out how to manage these cookies

hide cookie message
PC games software Reviews
15,670 Reviews

Stronghold 3 review


Manufacturer: Southpeak

Our Rating: We rate this 2 out of 5

This sloppy strategy game suffers from some strange design choices, unbalanced combat, and a glacial pace.

Stronghold 3 drops you into the boots of a feudal lord, charged with settling a plot of land, managing an economy, fighting bad guys, and completing missions. And castles! Proper castles, with gates and walls and great big cauldrons of burning pitch to dump on hapless skirmishers. Everything about it checks out on paper. But a torturous pace, unbalanced combat, and fundamentally flawed game mechanics turn what should've been a charming strategy game into a steaming pile of wasted potential.

Stronghold 3 is all about maintaining equilibrium. You need peasants to do your bidding, and they'll only show up if your settlement is popular. Offering plenty of food, low taxes, or keeping everyone good and drunk will add popularity points to your settlement, and keep minions coming. Run out of these perks and subjects will lose faith and bail.

Peasants can't be controlled directly. To harvest resources (and there are plenty) you build the appropriate workshop and idlers will move in and get to work. This is where Stronghold 3 starts to falls apart. Want some bread? A peasant harvests wheat from a farm and hauls it to the storehouse. Another takes that wheat to the windmill and grinds it into flour. A third peasant takes that flour to a bakery and, after a few neat animations, hauls a few loaves to the granary. The entire process takes maybe a minute, depending on how far apart you've spaced your workshops. The bread is consumed in seconds. You're also only allowed one storehouse and granary per map, which means keeping all of your workshops clustered together, or risk painfully long round trips for your labour force.

My inner-masochist reads that and gets giddy. I love this stuff: managing production chains, figuring out the bottlenecks in my supply lines, marshalling troops and setting up defences...I've poured close to a hundred hours into Dwarf Fortress, so I'm no stranger to obtuse resource-management sims.

But Stronghold 3 is a waiting game: waiting for your peasants to chop wood. Waiting for your soldiers to march to a defensive position. Waiting for your lord to finally catch up to that lone, rampaging bear that's wiped out half your settlement.

Stronghold 3

I haven't spent any time discussing combat, but there's not much to say: it's a finicky, unbalanced mess. Clicking on units is often unresponsive, and dragging a selection box around them could pull up any number of troops, or even nearby buildings. A single wolf will slaughter your peasants and weaker soldiers, which says nothing of the enemy troops. Sending beefier troops in for the rescue is a tricky proposition. Sometimes they'll dash into battle. Sometimes they'll saunter over casually, taking in the sights and leaving your populace to die. These sorts of issues (nerf the wolves!) can be fixed with patches.

Fundamentally broken game design can't be fixed, however. There's nothing inherently difficult about Stronghold 3. And while it does offer some complexity, much of that revolves around the sheer number of variables to keep track of. And even that's not so bad: keep taxes high, food rations low, and tweak the sliders to control that population count as you build up reserves. With patience you'll have a bustling castle, a massive army, and plenty of peasants mulling about their chores.

But it's all very boring. And there's the rub: you'll spend more time watching oxen haul chunks of stone than you will erecting those stone walls, and building a stout fortress is only satisfying when fending off foes is a satisfying, climatic experience.

Stronghold 3 Expert Verdict »

Available on PC only System requirements: OS: Windows® XP SP3/ Windows® Vista SP2/ Windows® 7 Processor: Dual Core CPU – 2.0GHZ Memory: 2GB RAM Graphics: 256 MB ATI HD2600 XT or better, 256 MB nVidia 7900 GS or better DirectX®: DirectX 9.0c Hard Drive: 5 GB space free Sound: DirectX 9.0c-compatible sound card
  • Overall: We give this item 4 of 10 overall

Stronghold 3 will set you back £30. Total War: Shogun 2 can be found for £14 online, and Dwarf Fortress is free (but you should donate). Stronghold might have been great once, but that castle has long since crumbled. Spend your ducats elsewhere.

  • Age of Conquest Lite review

    Age of Conquest Lite

    Age of Conquest Lite is a fun military strategy game with a fair amount of depth.

  • Age of Empires III

    Age of Empires III

    Truth be told, PC Advisor had a bad time learning about history at school – we never saw the point of reading about agrarian policy when there were all those juicy wars to choose from. The reassuringly violent Age of Empires series would have been right up our street.

  • Chillblast Fusion Stronghold review

    Chillblast Fusion Stronghold

    The Chillblast Fusion Stronghold teams Intel’s popular Core i5 750 with the excellent Asus P7P55D-E LX motherboard to deliver great performance and some cutting-edge features.

  • Terraria review


    Terraria effortlessly combines an open-world sandbox game with strong action/adventure elements to make a truly unique and compelling experience.

  • Star Wars: Empire at War

    Star Wars: Empire at War

    Star Wars: Empire at War stands as a fantastic real-time strategy game set in the Star Wars universe; if you have the equipment to run it, you ought to consider it.

IDG UK Sites

Three of the most expensive Limited Edition games ever made: Who's buying a $1,000,000 game?

IDG UK Sites

Watch Macbeth projected inside a pop-up book

IDG UK Sites

Best Mac: Apple Mac buyers guide for 2015: iMac, MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Mac mini and...