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Northgard Review | Clan Warfare in the Frozen North


 


Title: Northgard

Developers: Shiro Games

Genre: RTS, Colony Builder, Single player, Multiplayer, Norse Mythology

Rating: Versatile Quality: Easy to learn for new RTS players, chill game for more experienced RTS players.


The frozen, brutal wilderness of the Viking lands of Northgard is no place for the timid or weak. Keep your wits about you and your people will thrive. Falter, and your clan may meet a grisly end in the cold.


After completing the main campaign of Northgard, finishing almost every clan’s conquest mode, and dabbling in multiplayer; Northgard has a special place amongst my game collection with its ability to bring indie flair to an RTS Viking-themed world.



Summary

Northgard contains cell-based strategy tiles akin to the Civilization games, while also using top-down unit control that most RTS games utilize. The Norse setting is always a tricky theme to pull off, but the Shiro Games developers have paired cartoonish design with a Viking aesthetic, and it works surprisingly well. Despite Northgard not breaking any serious norms within the RTS gaming sphere, it has somehow managed to bring back a feel for the genre that has been sorely lacking over recent years.


Story

The campaign mode for any RTS game can be incredibly vital to making players invested in the world that they will command. In the case of Northgard, you get to follow the story of Rig, a Viking prince who is seeking revenge for the death of his father and also seeking to create a new foothold in the lands of Northgard. As Rig continues to meet new allies and enemies, new strategies are required to complete the many challenges that await you in the mythical frozen land. The main plot is simplistic and has a satisfying conclusion, with hints of a new campaign on the way soon. Many unique mission objectives are exclusive to this story mode, including fighting a giant ice worm and trying to resolve an economic dispute between giants.

Once you have completed the story, many of the clan leaders you meet along the way become skins for the chieftains in multiplayer, which is a cool way to remind players of the campaign. If you feel like having more progression-based missions but you completed the base story mode, there is always hard mode, challenges, and conquest mode to try out.


Gameplay

The standard RTS experience is all about resource management. At the most basic level, you must maintain food, wood, and krowns(gold). Your town hall is the only building you have starting out (normally), and it spawns villagers so long as you have the population and happiness to do so. To expand, wood must be gathered to create more advanced buildings, and food will need to be gathered to purchase land tiles to build on. Villagers will naturally gather food if not given another task, and woodcutters can be created by putting a villager to work at a woodcutter’s lodge. With more specialized buildings come more unique villager jobs. Anything from scouting, smithing, hunting, raiding, trading, and more can be assigned to specific buildings. As you find more efficient and tactical ways to build your base, the dangers will become more impending. The feral and mythical creatures that inhabit Northgard will make life difficult for your clan. Careful of the wolves and draugr that keep certain tiles locked from expansion until you are able to kill them, and may even try to invade land you have expanded into. Other larger monsters inhabit the land, carrying special benefits to kill or befriend.

But for the most part, you will want to create an army to stop rival clans from invading. While Northgard does have tile-based base-building, the combat is very much in real-time. By creating specific war-band structures, you can recruit different types of Viking warriors that need to be micro and macro-managed in order to secure the defense of your people and the downfall of your enemies. Each of the many clans contains unique lore skill trees, along with many other cool features. If you are wondering what lore is, it is earned passively throughout the game and unlocks perks to use in all aspects of your clan. Lore production can be increased by specialized tiles or events and can do things like reducing the food required to survive in winter or making troops deal more damage to monsters. Northgard expands upon this in-game progression by allowing your clan to gain perks by winning in combat. Military experience is another skill tree that has three separate branches to progressively make your troops and defensive buildings stronger. As you might have noticed, Northgard maintains the complexity that RTS games are well-known for, but just remember that with large thresholds for skill comes great fun in learning the game. If the plan is to have your clan come out on top, there are multiple different win conditions; Domination, Fame, Wisdom, Trade, and Map Conditions. The first four are relatively straightforward, requiring either total destruction of your enemies or large amounts of resource gathering to complete a special objective. For example, the trade victory requires you to sell enough crowns through the Lighthouse trading route to reach a specific amount of deals. The map conditional victory involves actually finding a special place on the map that must be colonized and used to reach victory. All of these victory conditions are available in a game so long as they are enabled. Enjoy combining all of these tactics to subvert and crush the opposing clans.


Graphics

Northgard keeps its animation style cartoonish and rugged, which fits nicely into the overhead camera angle. Everything is detailed enough to distinguish different character models and buildings, but not so detailed that you get confused when seeing 40 separate characters on screen at once. Each of the maps does a great job of portraying harsh cold conditions and rocky shorelines, combined with shifting weather patterns. The designs of the mythical creatures and characters bring out the fantastical setting of Viking sagas. I particularly like the imposing look of the jotunn tribes and make-shift camps of the kobolds.

When it comes to indie game graphics, I almost always prefer style over intense detail. Northgard keeps it stylized so the player has an easier time quickly determining what units and buildings are at a quick glance. Stylized also means that almost every gaming setup will be able to process the game with no problems.


Is It Fun?

Despite my lack of skill in competitive RTS gameplay, I find myself constantly enjoying Northgard’s variety of playstyles. If this is your first time playing an RTS, the single-player modes like Campaign, Conquest, and modded maps will keep you entertained for weeks on end. If you find yourself wanting more of a multiplayer challenge, the Northgard player base always has varying degrees of lobbies opened to test your skill. It is an RTS, so sometimes it can be a bit of a waiting game in the lull parts of the game, but will almost always leave you satisfied with the experience.


Should You Buy It?

Simply because this game has a bit of everything, I would highly recommend getting Northgard, especially because it is on the cheaper side. Both single-player and multiplayer-oriented people will find something to like, even if they have never played an RTS. If you are more into the highly competitive RTS scenes of StarCraft 2 and Age of Empires, you may not like the slower playstyle of Northgard. However, I would still recommend trying it just to see if it might turn out to be fun.

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