There are certain things in life that a man like me shall always appreciate. Among them are the first sip of a good whisky at the end of a stressful day, the grumbly murmurings of Dylan Moran as he tames his crazy hair, a cryptic crossword and, yes, the feel of a 'classic' RTS game which holds the same design and layout as many of its genre from the last decade. It's oh-so comforting when I get a new strategy game and can slip into what I affectionately dub my 'Dictator Mode' and begin to send wave after wave of men to death without even having to reach for the manual. This is exactly how Stronghold Legends feels - comforting and familiar, like meeting an old friend you'd forgotten being madly in love with so many years ago. Legends is in fact not so much cast from a similar mould as those much loved games like Red Alert and Dune II as it is more like the exact original game with a new lick of paint. This is a good thing; those games were classics for a reason.
Of course, if you've played either of those games (or the handful of other truly classic RTS games) then there isn't much more I need to say about the game. Those people will already know if they'll love playing what is essentially the same game again in a new medieval fantasy setting or if they'll just stick with firing up some retroware and enjoy the originals. On the other hand, I do have a vague kind of duty to give the game a review that everyone will get something out of, so I'll spend the next couple of hundred words filling in those in who aren't in the know.
First things first: the game is divided into three campaigns, which are broadly defined as easy, medium and hard, but also have further names should you read the rather beefy manual. First there is the King Arthur campaign (or easy difficulty, or 'Good Alignment'), which basically involves running around killing lots of Saxons and listening to lots of funny Cornish accents. I have to admit, it's the first time I'd ever had a critical mission briefing delivered to me by somebody who sounded as if they spend the whole day drinking cheap cider and I certainly hope it isn't the last, because the voice acting is simply excellent, providing many laughs throughout the game's duration.
The second campaign is based around the Germanic adventures of Dietrich and Siegfried and is also called the medium difficulty or 'Neutral Alignment', depending on which part of the manual you want to base the title on. This campaign takes part almost exclusively in icy levels and the units all share a frosty theme among them, ranging from Ice Queens to Frost Giants. Again, slaughter is top of the menu as you push the freezing troops into battle again and again, it's just that this time it's a little bit more difficult and the background is a different colour.
The final campaign line in the game is based around Count Vlad Dracul (yes, a terrible way to get around using the name Dracula and all the stereotypes within) and is, in the continuing trend, both hard difficulty and 'Evil Alignment'. Yet again, slaughter is top of the menu, but this time the soldiers and buildings all share a magical evil and include some truly incredible examples of the mischief evil wizard vampires can accomplish, such as The Giant Demonic Bat which beautifully explodes across multiple enemies in true kamikaze fashion.
Oh, and as you can probably guess from the last sentence, Legends isn't a very realistic game. Even if the Giant Demonic Kamikaze Bat Soldiers were ignored then there is still the lightning bolt firing Merlin or the alignment-specific Dragons to contend with, so under no circumstances should players think that, just because it's a medieval themed RTS that it is in anyway comparable to the likes of Medieval II: Total War. It is in fact about as far removed from this as a game could get whilst still being essentially of the same genre. There is no nation to manage, only the immediate objectives on smaller scale battlefields, and the suspension of disbelief is shattered when you see a knight of the round table level a castle wall on his own.
Putting all this aside though, Legends remains a thoroughly enjoyable game with a deliciously retro feel, despite the somewhat improved (but still lack lustre) graphics and the adorably camp accents. It's nothing new, and for many will be too familiar to warrant a purchase, but if you're after another competent RTS, Stronghold Legends will fit the bill quite nicely.