Set in Medieval Europe, Stronghold challenges players' strategic building, resource management and RTS combat skills. Stronghold players become the rulers of a virtual medieval world with each decision and policy they implement. They decide how to regulate taxes and rations, when to offer free ale or hold fairs, as well as many other policies that will have an impact on their citizen's lives. Players work to build and protect their castle and ultimately will mount an invasion to dominate the enemy's fortress. A campaign-style storyline develops through narrative and in-game interaction.
- Stronghold's multiplayer mode supports up to eight players over the Gamespy Internet gaming service and LAN connections. Players can choose to compete in the multiplayer mode for control over their respective castles or work together on the same castle, assigning control over aspects such as troops and resources management in a cooperative mode.
- Stronghold presents missions in the form of more than 20 building goals. Players begin by establishing a community through the construction of basic housing. As villagers arrive and join the aspiring kingdom, players may build workshops to produce necessary resources for castle development and defense equipment.
- Throughout each mission, players are challenged to take on more responsibilities such as creating mining operations, adding new workshops, and constructing various castle elements like walls and defense mechanisms. Over 30 types of walls, towers and anti-siege equipment are available, varying in cost, stability and efficiency. Additionally, virtual builders have access to various castles-specific features such as moats, drawbridges, secret gates and keeps.
- To increase their prosperity, gamers manage various aspects of the village including crop supplies, storage facility maintenance and farmland preservation. Balancing mining efforts will help provide sufficient building resources like stone and iron. Gaming lords must also regulate taxes to keep the economy in check. Players can increase loyalties by properly managing the game's resource elements.
- All Stronghold management aspects are simplified by the utilization of adjustable global settings and permanent onscreen controls which eliminate the need for players to micro-manage the game through more traditional sim genre controls such as lassoing. Additionally, personnel resources are simplified through the automatic creation of peasants and work assignments.
- Stronghold's combat elements focus on castle defense. Players must form and maintain an army to simultaneously defend the castle from enemy invasion and attempt to overtake the opposition's castle, thus winning the game.
- By creating various training facilities, players gain access to several different troop types, such as knights and archers, as well as more unique ones like siege engineers, tunnelers and 'storming' ladder bearers. Troops make use of various forms of mobile equipment such as siege towers, battering rams, balistas and catapults. Troop control is handled directly through the easy-to-master permanent onscreen control system.