Review – Stronghold: Warlords

Firefly Studios took its sweet time polishing Stronghold: Warlords as much as possible after announcing it nearly two years ago during E3 2019. I was looking forward to it ever since, as I couldn’t ignore a brand new RTS title being released during such a dry spell for genre, not counting the Age of Empires remasters. After countless delays, the game is finally out, and thankfully, it was worth the wait.

As previously mentioned, Stronghold: Warlords is a brand new take on the long-lasting RTS series, focusing on East Asian civilizations for the first time in the franchise. Choose between the Japanese, Mongols, Chinese, and Vietnamese, and partake on your usual Stronghold schtick. You’ll manage between logistics and military warfare, creating a fine balance between a sustainable society and a military powerhouse. Then you’ll top everything off with a beautiful fortified wall to turn your town into an impenetrable fortress.

Stronghold: Warlords Warlord

You could try to make a warlord join your cause with diplomacy, but using brute force is a lot more fun.

Besides the brand new East Asian aesthetics, which result in a much more colorful and vibrant graphical style, the main addition included in Stronghold: Warlords is the titular warlord system. Think of them as minor rules scattered throughout the map. Despite being smaller fish in the middle of the battlefield, they are crucial to dictate which civilization will win a match or not.

You can turn said warlords into allies either by spending diplomacy points, which are steadily added to your reserves, or via the old fashioned way: brute force. Kill the warlord on top of his own tower and, somehow, he’ll become your ally, probably with a hotline directly connected to the underworld. You can then click on each allied warlord and spend further diplomacy points on whichever perk they might offer, be it additional supplies or a big army to help you fend off against enemies.

The bread and butter of the experience is still having to manage between keeping your citizens fed and happy with food and clothing, as well as building the most nonsensical fortifications to keep your stronghold safe before deciding to go full Leroy Jenkins onto the opposing army’s territory. The game does a surprisingly good job in teaching you all of its mechanics via an excellent tutorial. However, if you decide to jump right into the action, an advisor of sorts will constantly tell you what essential buildings you need to build and what resources are lacking from your storage. It’s a good fit for newcomers and veterans alike.

Stronghold: Warlords Stronghold

Stronghold: Warlords is all about balancing between logistics and military strategies.

As expected, Stronghold: Warlords features a vigorous campaign mode, as well as your typical instant action skirmishes. There is yet another mode included in here, called Free Build, which basically turns the game into a Sim City-esque city simulator. You’ll be left alone in a map with no enemies and your objective is to simply build the largest stronghold possible, all while having to deal with limited resources and the needs of your citizens. I wasn’t expecting for this mode to be included in here, nor was I expecting to like it as much as I did.

What I liked the most about Stronghold: Warlords, however, wasn’t just its excellent gameplay or plethora of modes. I’m a huge fan of traditional East Asian music, as well as fusions between these folk genres with modern music. One of my favorite current bands, The Hu, is a perfect description of these fusions, mixing Mongolian folk, throat singing, and rock.

Lo and behold, that’s basically what Stronghold: Warlords‘ soundtrack is comprised of. It’s a bunch of songs that mix East Asian folk, traditional “RTS epic music” akin to the approach adopted in Age of Mythology, and some slight hints of rock beats to make battles more aggressive and compelling. There’s nothing better than starting a skirmish against a rival faction while a Mongolian throat chant is being played.

The Free Build mode is way more addictive than you can imagine.

There is just one thing I honestly did not like about Stronghold: Warlords, and ironically enough, it’s also related to its sound department. While its soundtrack is flawless, I really didn’t like its voice acting. Remember the advisor I’ve mentioned a few paragraphs ago? He, alongside pretty much every single other character in the game, speaks with the most exaggerated and stereotyped Asian accent you could ever imagine, to the point of making the City Wok guy from South Park sound tame in comparison. A shame, considering how the rest of the game doesn’t try to be so silly… aside from the fact you can equip an ox with explosives and make it explode near an enemy wall, of course.

Warlords Architecture

I wish I had this kind of artistic sensibility when designing my strongholds.

In an era so devoid of proper RTS releases, Stronghold: Warlords stands out as a breath of fresh air. It appeals to both newcomers, with its excellent AI and voiced hint system, as well as veterans, with its deep mechanics and endless possibilities on how to create the best kind of stronghold against your enemies. Add in the good visuals, fantastic soundtrack, and weirdly addictive free build mode, and you get one of the best games released in 2021 so far. If only the voice acting wasn’t so completely awful…


Graphics: 8.0

The vivid colors from East Asia are a breath of fresh air when compared to other medieval warfare simulators.

Gameplay: 9.0

Even though the game is admittedly more complex than your average real time strategy title, its UI, voiced hint system, and decent tutorial are more than enough to make you understand its mechanics quickly. Its mixture of logistics, warfare, and diplomacy is excellent.

Sound: 8.5

Stronghold: Warlords features an absolute fantastic soundtrack comprised of Japanese, Chinese, and Mongolian folk compositions. With that being said, its voice acting is beyond terrible.

Fun Factor: 8.5

Between the campaign mode, the endless possibilities in the single skirmish mode, and the surprisingly entertaining free building simulator, there’s a lot to love in Stronghold: Warlords.

Final Verdict: 8.5

Stronghold: Warlords is available now on PC.

Reviewed on PC.

A copy of Stronghold: Warlords was provided by the publisher.