I would really love to give this game a better rating, because there are some aspects to the new version that I rather enjoy. Some people have complained about the new details of castle life, such as the piles of human waste & criminals running amok. I suspect that these are players who take more pleasure in warfare than in the management of infrastructure, and find anything that detracts from the waging of war to be an unneccessary intrustion. However, I have always enjoyed the micromanagement aspect of Stronghold, which set it apart from other games, and that the additional details by themselves are not a problem. Yet I would agree that there is now one detail too many, to the point that you are frantically trying to keep all of the balls in the air. It ceases to be enjoyable when you are simply racing from one problem to another.
This is compounded by the fact that, even after the downloading of the new patch (after only ONE WEEK from the game's release), the new features do not always work as they are supposed to work. In particular, I would point to the criminals, the Courthouse, and the punishments. Ideally, the guards catch the crooks, take them to the judge, and then the judge or a torturer will mete out a punishment to rehabilitate the crook. However, the game has a bug that results in no crooks receiving punishment --- instead, they pile up in the dungeon, never going to trial. The consequences are a tremendous negative number from all of the unpunished criminals, plus industries that languish indefinitely while the peasant assigned to that building rots in prison. Meanwhile, the player is forced to double rations or bribe the remaining peasants in order to stave off disaster. This alters a fundamental aspect of the game, and detracts from the overall enjoyment.
As many other reviewers have noted, this game runs very slowly, regardless of your systems specifications. The patch has not helped this problem, and I very much doubt that any future patches will improve this aspect of the game. I am not someone who has to have top of the line graphics in a game, but when one has the game set at top speed and the peasants are slogging across the screen looking heavily medicated, I tend to get frustrated after awhile.
The 3-D graphics? Novel but unnecessary. When it comes to warfare, it actually interferes with gameplay at times, particularly when I am trying to select military units and target enemy troops. Another reviewer mentioned Medieval TW and I regret that I have to agree that Stronghold 2's graphics and gameplay fall short of a game that is several generations older in terms of development. It is disheartening that the developers could take the great franchise that the Stronghold games represent and turn out this tepid, uninspiring effort. I can only hope that there are many more patches to come, which may help improve the game's many problems.
Patch 1.2 update (6-7-05): it seems only fair to note, after commenting on the game's many deficiencies, that the developers seem to be doing their level best to address the problems. The latest patch seems to have corrected a great number of the problems. I don't play multiplayer, so I am in no position to comment on any problems on that end, but solo play seems to be much less buggy.
However, speed issues continue to bedevil the game, and I do not believe that it is simply because everyone is working on elderly obsolete machines. I am left with the impression that the developers simply piled too much detail into the game --- again, it leaves the player micromanaging to a frantic degree while causing the game speed to become sluggish.
Having said that, it appears that the developers are trying to make this game as playable as is possible. This gives me encouragement. I would now give this game a four-star rating with some qualifications.