Disclaimer: Northgard is currently in early access and as such opinions stated here may change as the game is developed.
Northgard – A strategy game based on Norse mythology in which you control a clan of Vikings and vie for control of a fog covered island. It’s fun and easy to get into, but does it have any lasting appeal?
» Developer: Shiro Games » Publisher: Shiro Games » Genre: RTS, Strategy, Base Builder, Indie » Platforms: PC » Release Date: 22 February 2017 (Early Access) » Current Price: $16.99 » Online: Singleplayer and Multiplayer
The world of gaming could do with more base builders, and out of the relative unknown comes Northgard, a relatively simplistic RTS with a lot of potential. Now, this game isn’t for those that want a lot of depth, not in it’s current state. However, what Northgard does, it does well, and damn it looks good doing it.
There are five different ways to victory: Domination, Wisdom, Trade, Fame and a Map Special which changes with the map. Domination requires wiping out every other Clan, Wisdom is the games equivalent of a science victory and involves researching every tech, Trade means you have to earn a large amount of Kröwns (the games currency), and Fame requires you to reach a certain rank of esteem by holding territory, defeating clans, and so on. The Map Special victory will require you saving your little Viking island from a number of world ending scenarios.
Each game you select one of the Clans currently numbering four (more to come soon), each with unique abilities. Some, admittedly, seem much stronger than others, such as the Clan ‘Fenrir’, the most warlike of the options. By giving you an edge by providing you with meat when you kill a wolf or a bear, reducing your military upkeep and even providing you with much needed happiness for each military unit, Fenrir really overshadows the other clans when it comes to military. Whilst not inherently a bad thing for the game, it does mean you more than likely have to tunnel down one or two victory paths with a clan if you want to stand the best chance of winning.
You start off with a sliver of territory and a Town Hall, from which you can build what you like, where you like. There are different options to start off with, do you go for early scouting, or do you start collecting wood to build up faster? The most addicting part of Northgard is this section of the game, slowly growing your territory and carving out an area of the island for your Viking citizens. I thoroughly enjoyed specialising my areas and planning out where each building would be most useful (each territory has limited building spots).
A neat little feature of the game is its season cycle, for the majority of the time temperatures are comfortable and so are your villagers. However, when it hits winter, the problems start. You’ll need a store of food, as it becomes scarce and hard for your workers to find, but also a store of wood to keep your villagers warm. That said, during my time with Northgard, it rarely ever posed a real threat. Your overall happiness determines how quickly new villagers arrive, and if you run out of either food or wood, this takes a hit. This puts you behind relative to the other clans on the island, if they’re keeping a keen eye on having enough supplies themselves, but there’s no other real danger I could see. I would prefer it if as the game develops, winter starts posing a more tangible threat to make it feel a little less underwhelming.
While the gameplay is easy to pick up – after a few games you’ll be feeling fairly strong with most of the mechanics, some depth does exist for those interested. Microing my units back and forth so that none die, healing those that get weakened and sending them right back out, are some of the basic tactics I enjoyed making use of. Decisions of when to upgrade a unit, what to research when and where to colonise next, all help develop the games complexity. That said, a wider variety of units and paths for combat would vastly improve how fun the game is, and is my main issue with its current state.
A major plus for Northgard is how good it looks, by focusing firmly on a minimalist and more cartoon-like feel, it manages to dodge the pitfall of trying to look realistic with a budget understandably lower than a AAA title. Enhancing how aesthetically pleasing the game is to look at, the music really shines through. For a genre that doesn’t always put too much effort into the tracks you’ll be hearing for hours on end, Northgard does surprisingly well. I find myself eager to start a game as I click on one of the Clans, the background music pumping up in epic style as I choose. It’s nuances like this that make a game for me, and really show the thought that’s been put in.
While Northgard has the foundations to be a truly wonderful time waster – currently it has a problem in that the gameplay grows stale rather quickly, due to a lack of different options in tackling each map, and shallow unit variety. However, if you’re looking for an RTS that’s easy to get started in, whilst looking and sounding great, you’ve found the game for you. I got over a dozen hours out of it and will be coming back for updates, so check it out and see!