We’ve reviewed a lot of CastleStorm over the years from Switch to PC, Xbox, Pinball FX, and even in VR. Personally, I’ve only played the VR version, so when CastleStorm II arrived I figured I’d see just how different this game was from the original. There is a lot of new content in CastleStorm II, but it is still built around the core concept of siege battles mixed with a bit of capture-the-flag. What used to be a simple arcade game now mixes in heavy elements of resource management and strategy and it’s all presented with an updated look courtesy of the Unreal 4 engine.
The overall campaign is split into two chapters, the first playing as Sir Gavin trying to rebuild his kingdom after a massive earthquake, and the second chapter focusing on Luna, a vampire princess whose missions are directly influenced by the first chapter. There are plenty of choices, some more critical than others that can steer the narrative but nothing so drastic that you would need to replay the game for a different outcome. Those wanting more from CastleStorm II will enjoy PvP castle-destruction matches and cooperative and competitive campaigns that span the entire map.
What used to be primarily a 2D side-scrolling battle now has you spending just as much time exploring a massive world map divided into hexes, looting, building, and yes…fighting. It’s almost like playing a tabletop strategy game, as you are given a certain amount of moves per turn and you move your hero to the desired location and do whatever needs done. In addition to building your castle you will also need to build support structures to gather resources such as wood and stone. You can then use these resources to build new structures or upgrade your existing ones.
There is plenty to do in this game even though much of the content is concealed by cloud cover (fog of war) so you don’t know what’s ahead until you move there. You might encounter a bandit or a mercenary camp where you can recruit soldiers, or perhaps a village or even a critical path mission event. When a battle breaks out you get to control the giant ballista, launching assorted projectiles at the enemy and their fortress. As the Hero you are always able to go into battle yourself and hack and slash your way toward the enemy flag, but you will also have commanders with their own troops than you can recruit and train between battles. It’s pretty cool how you get to strategize on when to send archers vs soldiers and you can even assist them with cover fire from your ballista or the occasional magic attack – just don’t hit your own men.
There is an ongoing system of progression with your army earning XP that can be used to promote your commanders and your hero as well as the ability to upgrade your support structures and your castle, which will frequently come under attack. You also have a reputation meter to worry about as it will rise and fall based on your actions. Many choices will show you in advance how your reputation will be affected, and you can always donate your spoils of war to the people. All of these systems are expertly explained to you during the opening tutorial, and with the fantastic controls and intuitive menus CastleStorm II is a joy to play.
The art style is delightful with charming character designs – even for the enemy – and nice details on the colorful world map. The battle sequences are similar to the original game only much more detailed and colorful with a great sense of depth to them. I was surprised with the amount of blood in what could easily have been a kid’s game. The music and sound effects are fantastic and the voice acting is some of the best you’ll find in a game like this. I was constantly laughing at the bits of dialogue but the narration is what really impressed me because the entire story is told in rhyme, and it was good rhyming…not the forced awkward stuff we get in other games that try this style. Even the various character names will put a smile on your face.
CastleStorm II is undeniably complicated with multiple systems in play and the constant need to manage your army and upgrade your castle, but the turn-based gameplay helps alleviate the stress by allowing you to control the speed at which the game unfolds. Topping off and equipping your army, choosing what projectile your ballista fires and charging your magic attack are just a few things you need to stay on top of, but once you are in the heat of battle a lot of the strategy lies in what/who you choose to actively play. When that enemy soldier is running back to their base with your flag do you chase them down as the hero or try to land that perfect shot with the ballista to stop them. There is also a greater sense of attachment to your soldiers, or at least the commanders since you spend time promoting them. While the soldiers and archers are disposable fodder I still felt bad in the post-battle statistics when I saw how many men I actually lost.
CastleStorm II is a fantastic sequel that improves upon the original in just about every way possible. The core battle system, while relatively unchanged, has a lot more depth and strategy to it, and I loved the colorful world map, inspired by so many tabletop war games I played in my youth. Everything is so bright and cheery and when combined with the awesome music, quirky humorous dialogue, and rhyming narration CastleStorm II is a game you can totally lose yourself in for weeks to come.