6/10 - TLDR - Feels more like a DLC than an updated version of the Stronghold Series.
As an avid RTS fan, I was very excited to see that FireFly Studios was working on a new Stronghold game. So when I got to play the demo a bit I was very excited to see what improvements they had implemented since the last editions they had put out. Here is what I discovered... Other than the title focusing on a more eastern theme with nods to historical figures from the region, it also features Warlord gameplay. Warlords in the game are mostly strategic territories on the map that can be upgraded and provide the controlling player with some advantages through the course of the battle. Some may give resources, some may send troops against the enemy territory. These actions are executed by spending Diplomacy Points which you can acquire through the passage of time and construction of specific structures which boost the rate at which you accrue them. Regardless the acquisition and retention of the warlords become the primary struggle throughout the campaigns. This tug of war became annoyingly tedious quickly as you can win over a warlord to support your side and then lose him again within moments through the game's influence system. Overall while an interesting mechanic to the traditional game it could use some tweaking.
The rest of the game feels very familiar to the previous Strongholds. Too familiar... The graphics are flat and paper-like, they feel dated. The animations and troop movement give the impression they are reskinned and not really new at all. I found my units getting hung up on obstacles and terrain they plagued with in previous versions of Stronghold. The maps are quite small and feel compressed. But by far the worst part of the game is the Diplomacy system in which you can spend influence to make your enemies captured warlord switch sides. There were points during my gameplay that I attempted to use the in-game feature of auto-paying Diplo points into a warlord to fight off the enemy AI's attempts to pursued him back to their side. Unfortunately, the auto feature does not work when the warlord's loyalty is near cap and so I would activate this feature only to have it immediately deactivate leaving me to mage my troops in combat all the while spamming influence points to 4 - 5 warlords I had on my aide so I would not lose them.
In summary, I think if you are a super fan of the previous Stronghold games you will enjoy this title. If you never have played Stronghold or you were looking for them to release something better than pre3vious versions, then this isn't going to be the title to change your mind. The $40 price tag is a little bit much to swallow as well.