She’s too busy rolling in the deep to sit
Citadels is a town-building RTS set in the medieval castle-building era. Like in Settlers and Stronghold, you set up resource chains and assign jobs to your peasants, you build up walls and defences, and then you also build up armies and siege weapons in order to destroy the other towns on the map. There’s a little more to in than that but hopefully you can see the strength of the similarities, this isn’t a genre that has been flooded with entries, possibly because Settlers and Stronghold did pretty much everything right by the later incarnations, and they still weren’t terribly fun for a lot of people. Citadels has tried to stand out with a story based quest and physics system, but is this enough to save it from tedium?
In a word, no. The problems with Citadels start straight away as the first mission serves as a tutorial and takes around 40 minutes to complete. You begin with a town centre and a few peasants, and you’re instructed to build a house. For some reason you can’t select units unless they’re in specific parts of your screen, so you have to move the camera around until it lets you highlight them, then whenever you build anything, one runs off to the centre to pick up the materials, and the others wait around. They begin building and after a little building animation your house pops up, and you get more peasants. It might be worth noting that despite this being a tutorial, it doesn’t actually tell you how to do any of this. I’m sure most RTS gamers won’t take too long to figure out you have to click on a peasant and find the button for house, but it’s made a little more complicated than necessary since the icons are of no help at all (none of them really look like anything) and then the button for house isn’t actually called ‘house’, it’s called ‘shack’ because that’s the lowest level of house. Throughout the tutorials your objectives take a little while to show up as complete, leaving you unsure as to whether or not you’ve actually finished them. You’re then tasked with building a collection of resource gathering structures, again with no explanation as to where to put them. The lumber shack goes near the trees, that makes sense, but the stone quarry or the ore mine? In the place where you’ve been told to set up your base there’s no ‘nodes’ so how about putting them anywhere near rocks? No, it’ll let you build it with no mention that anything’s wrong, and then it’ll sit there useless because there’s no ‘stone’ nearby. The only thing you can do is tell some peasants to deconstruct it which seems to take longer than the original construction. If you scout around a little bit you can find some stone and ore (which look like different coloured piles of rock on the ground) and then it’ll all work.
Later still you’re asked to build walls and towers. This is really the meat of the game in terms of strategy, how to defend your kingdom. Unfortunately wall, tower and gate placement is just as broken as everything else, with walls appearing to be able to be built into slopes but that not actually being the case, and you having to leave gaps everywhere at either end that the game logic tells you can’t be passed, but is actually enough room to get a catapult through. So you can block off all the entrances to your base, but now your villagers are trapped outside because you’ve walled everything off. No problem, you can just build a gate right? No, to build a gate you need to remove the wall first (which again takes a long time) and then put a gate in its place.
After all of this you’re asked to build some advanced resource gathering structures, these are things like bakeries that take your raw resources and turn them into something more refined, like bread. The only problem with these is that they appear to use up so many of your resources so quickly, you end up without any of the basics, stopping you from building anything new. So much of my stone was turned to carved stone, my wood to planks and my wheat to bread, that I had no wood, stone or wheat to actually do anything useful. This can be fixed but not by turning off the buildings or setting limits, instead you have to manually click on the production buildings, click on the people who work there, and send them to do something else. Sometimes this doesn’t work so you have to wait for them to leave the building and then click them quickly to stop them from using up everything.
The penultimate part of the tutorial involves building a load of units and fending off an attack. This is fairly straight forward, you send a peasant to the training building, they come out a little while later as a warrior. It’s a nice mechanic, using your resource production units as your army, except for the fact that resource collection is so broken, once it’s started you’ll have more than you could ever use and so it’s easy just to pump out more units. The only restriction is that you’re only allowed 99 units at any given time (both production and military) so at some point you’ll have to call it quits while you still have an incredibly modest army. Fighting off the attacks is simple, the soldier AI is absolutely hopeless and will generally stand around fighting whatever is closest, even if that thing is a moat, he has a sword, and there’s a ballista tower raining down heavy death upon him.
Finally (still in the tutorial) you get to attack the AI’s town centre. You build up a small army with siege weapons and roll them out. Once you get there you begin to see the glimmer of joy in Citadels, the use of siege weapons. When your catapults fire, the rock they throw is quite realistically incredibly inaccurate. But whatever it hits, it still hits, so often you’ll find yourself smashing into other buildings, and bits of those buildings that fall off can actually kill units under them. This is the one good idea of the game and led to me using the skirmish mode just to build up a bunch of these catapults to watch the glorious destruction. Whoever did this piece of coding deserves to be rewarded highly, possibly with a job at another studio. The same physics apply to things like arrows and in the castle defence mode in the video below a stray arrow flies into one of my peasants who keels over and dies. It’s a nice touch and something you don’t see too often in RTS games.
That nicety out of the way, there’s a reason I’ve written so much about the tutorial, it’s the only mode that hasn’t crashed on me. It let me get right through the incredibly dull 40 minutes or so without trying to shut itself down. In the next campaign mission you are tasked with finding Excalibur, and then building up a town to destroy another town (that’s pretty much the theme for campaign missions). The first part of the level involves hiding from a patrol, and a bunch of my units got stuck underneath a bridge, completely unable to move again. In the aforementioned castle defence mode I spent an hour defending and building my castle, and then the game shut down and crashed. A cursory glance at the forums on Steam will illuminate you as to how widespread these crashes are; it’s a buggy and glitchy game and even if you are able to get some kind of enjoyment out of it, you’ll constantly be fighting against the lack of stability so save often.
The combat in the game ends up being a complete joke. Since the resource collection is so easy to get to the point where you can build anything you like and not worry about the cost, you’d hope the combat would be where the challenge lies. Sadly enemy units only have one possible way of beating you, by completely overwhelming you with sheer power. While there’s hard limit on units, and it’s easy to turtle yourself in with wall after wall after wall, lots of catapults simply do too much damage for you to do much about. The same tactic works for you against the enemy, so it’s basically a race to see who can get a lot of siege weapons the quickest. There’s no multiplayer so this isn’t even an entertaining meta-game. When you get attacked by the enemy AI there’s evidently no sign of any kind of micro-strategy, as enemies wander around aimlessly, fail to get through open gates, and your own peasants just carry on farming while all hell is breaking loose around them as shown in the video below.
Graphically the game is incredibly plain in screenshots and ugly in motion. All the characters glide around rather than walking and every peasant and unit and building looks exactly the same. There’s barely any units or building progression to begin with, so once you’ve upgraded to the third level, that’s your lot for the entire game. In terms of audio there’s even more problems as each building and action has one attached sound which gets incredibly repetitive, especially when some of them insist on playing incredibly loudly with no option to alter the volume for different kinds of actions.
Overall this game is a complete mess. If you’re interested in the period, go have a look at the Total War games or the Stronghold series, if you like the mechanics get a Settlers game, there’s absolutely no reason to recommend this game to anyone. It deserves some marks because it is in essence functional, and the projectile physics are fun, but that’s it, in no way is it worth £29.99.