After a short delay, CastleStorm II is finally here! Did Zen Studios deliver a worthy successor to one of the indie darlings of the X360/PS3 era? We played the game on a PlayStation 4, but it’s also available for the Switch, Xbox One and PCs.
Much like Angry Birds, Super Meat Boy and Minecraft, the original CastleStorm was released for pretty much every console and handheld available at the time, and it even received ports for the current generation and mobile platforms. It was a brilliant game that took the casual nature of games like Angry Birds and added a layer of strategy and combat in a unique blend that eventually even landed on PSVR. In fact, it’s such a good game that I still have installed on my Vita, even after all those years.
Gameplay in CastleStorm II is divided into two distinct modes: a lengthy campaign and a faster-paced arcade mode. If you choose to tackle the campaign, you’ll travel across a map and will encounter other characters that you can either join forces with or engage in battle with. You’ll also need to pick up resources through the map, and – almost as if you’re in a grand strategy game – will need to manage different facets of running your empire. This means taking care of agricultural needs, gaining access to mines and putting down buildings with the wood you’ve gathered. Winning battles also gets you access to blueprints, which in turn help you to improve your castles.
Evoking memories of franchises like The Settlers, this is a new layer of strategy that fans of other franchises will certainly embrace, but will feel like unnecessary padding to those who don’t typically enjoy those strategy games but loved the action/strategy blend of the first CastleStorm. For those, there is the alternative of the arcade mode, which is more akin to the experience of the first game and is likely where most players will be spending their time in the long run, as it puts the classic CastleStorm gameplay on the forefront – albeit on a smaller, challenge-based, scale. CastleStorm II can also be played in split screen multiplayer, which was a firm favorite in the first game as well.
One issue we experienced with the PlayStation 4 version is that, despite the extra development time, the control mechanics still feel tailored more to PC users with cursor-based controls rather than the snappy controls from the first experience. The developers seem aware of the issue through, with a first post-release patch already promising optimizations for the controls – which do have a nice added touch where you can control the on-screen characters on the battlefield yourself.
Visually, CastleStorm II resembles the first game quite a bit, especially during battles. There’s a new engine in place and there are subtle nuances to the visuals as well as well as enhanced details, but it’s hard to not immediately think about CastleStorm when you see the sequel in action. The biggest difference from the switch to the new visual engine comes when playing on the overworld map, which looks great in 3D and is a definite step forward over the original. Story presentation is also well done, and CastleStorm II retains its signature humor.
It’s hard to call CastleStorm II an essential purchase if you’re a fan of the original, as the core experience hasn’t changed too much and is hampered by clunky controls and a user interface that doesn’t feel optimized for console controls. If you’re looking forward to a CastleStorm experience that is incorporated in strategy mechanics from other games then this is what you need, but the game needs some smoothing over before it will feel as good as the first one did.