When winter eats you for breakfast! – Northgard Review

by Sammy Chan
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Remember the good ol’ days where you start off with a small base and a few villagers in classics like Age of Empire then proceeds to build a giant empire and take down your enemy? If you smile while reminiscing on that, Northgard is a game that will definitely tickle your nostalgic bone if enjoy RTS game. I’ve personally been playing it since its early access days but Northgard came out on a full release not too long ago. In Northgard, you’ll be leading a clan of Viking and there are several clans to pick from. But the baseline is, the game has a Viking background to it. That includes mythical creatures and lore. Yep, you can expect to see a Valkyrie or two scattered around the map. Now let’s get started on this Northgard review since there’s a new update dropping in two days!
Besides the few balance fixes, the one significant addition to the full release game is the campaign mode. Despite borrowing certain aspect of a classic RTS, the game itself has its own unique charm to offer. One of the most unique features you’ll notice is that winter is a complete ass. Playing through the gruesomely challenging campaign, I was stressed out, relieved and panicking at the same time while enjoying all of it.

The Story of Rig

In the campaign, you are unfolding the story of Rig, son of High King Hargurorf. After a series of unfortunate event, your clan is forced to embark on a journey to find a rumored land of all riches. This land, you guess it, is Northgard. However, you’ll hardly ever get to play as Rig throughout the campaign. Instead, you’ll be controlling several clans that have rallied around your banner to help you achieve your goal. At the beginning of the campaign, you start with the Eikthyrnir, the Clan of Stag.

Northgard review

Screengrab via Northgard

Later on, the game will introduce you to more clan as you progress. There is currently six clan in total. Each of them has unique starting bonuses and traits. Prior to the campaign release, there were no special introductory cutscene and such for the game. With the addition of the campaign mode, it’s great to see that they added one. The art is fantastic but sadly there are no voice actors for the dialogues. However, the game makes up for it with fantastic ambient sound and nice musice4 to carry you through all 11 chapters of the campaign. The campaign is sufficiently difficult and might take a few tries if you’re aiming for three-star completion.

Planning ahead and strategizing

Now that we’ve gotten the introductory part out of the way, let’s talk about the gameplay itself. I’ll be honest and let you know upfront – the game requires ALOT of micro-managing. Having to manage eight different resources at once to maintain a clan gets rough if you mess up halfway.
You see, the game is based on a grid-and-tile fashion. In each tile, the player can only build three buildings. This, of course, can be upgraded with gold but the cost increases significantly for ALL grid the more you upgrade. On top of that, different tiles offer different bonuses. I find myself restarting my campaign several times just to get the right build order down. Planning ahead before putting down a building is crucial here since you can only build in a limited amount even when fully upgraded.
Another special feature of this game is how land expansion works. It starts with sending out a scout to discover an area. Once the tile has been discovered, you can then proceed to colonize it before being able to build on it. Colonization requires food and with each new land you obtain, the cost increases. “Then I guess I’ll just expand less and keep my area small.” NOPE. It doesn’t work that way. Your villagers will get upset at you for the lack of conquest. This will then lead to Warband Happiness lowering and subsequently a penalty in production. See what I mean about management? Everything is a big circle and relates to one another and that’s what I find truly enjoyable. You have to actually make up a strategy on how to proceed towards the victory goal.

When winter is here

Earlier, I mentioned that winter is a complete ass. Let me tell you why. The game progresses through years in game time. Every year, you’ll encounter winter. When winter hits, your food production goes down and your military deals less damage. The most punishing of the two is definitely food production. This will take a big hit and if you don’t have a storage of food in your silos, you’re screwed. Your clan gets extremely unhappy and in turn, this causes the new villager meter to be on hold. With no new villager joining, you’re stuck with no way to make the situation better which brings us to the next feature of the game.

Northgard review

Image via Shiro Games

In comparison to previous RTS where you can just plop down a unit-making building go ham, Northgard is vastly different. The Town Center will generate a new Settler every now and then. The frequency of this happening depends on the overall Warband Happiness. A happy clan attracts new Settler faster. You will then have to assign a Settler to a job via sending them to production buildings. For example, sending them to the Fisherman’s Hut will make them Fisherman. Now, a fully upgraded building can house three Settlers and a building with more Settlers will have higher production rate. So not only do you have to manage who goes where you also have to manage how many people end up in which building. But, here’s the special thing about Northgard. You can easily re-assign your Settlers to different job roles as you see fit or the situation demands. I find myself swapping out my healers to become gatherers quite often whenever there isn’t anyone for them to heal. The game really pushes you to utilize every bit of your resource to maximize your chances of victory.

More than just a battle

Unlike a typical RTS, having military prowess isn’t the only way to win the game but yes, that is one of it. It’s possible to not have a single battle unit and still win the match. To name a few, reaching a certain amount of Lore or even having the most Trade points could win you the game. Plus, it’s worth noting that the various clans that are available can provide a good boost for you should you be aiming for a certain type of victory. The Clan of Raven excels in Trade whereas The Clan of Wolves is really good with combat.

northgard review

Screengrab via Northgard

In Northgard, you don’t just build a base, gather resource and then take out your enemy. The game pace is actually quite slow. There’s no way to “rush” your opponent, basically. Everything revolves around planning and strategy and for some, this can be a little boring. Don’t go in expecting to build a big horde of an army to storm your enemy. That’s hardly ever going to happen. It’s more about having a Warband or two led by your Hero character to lead guerilla battles.

So is Northgard good?

That really depends but personally, I think it is. But, I still cannot recommend getting this game on the full price. Even with it fully released, the game still lacks content. There’s 11 chapters of the campaign, a sandbox mode and a multiplayer ranked mode but that’s about. I’d say pick it up during a sales and hey, guess what? Steam Summer Sales 2018 is around the corner so maybe get it during the sales. Again, I want to reiterate that if you’re expecting this game to provide you the same experience as Warcraft or Starcraft, it probably won’t. It’s less about brute forcing or CPM (click-per-minute) and more about playing the patient game. But, if you’re still interested, there’s a new multiplayer coming out in two days (May 16, 2018) and this includes:

  • 8 Players FFA
  • 4vs4
  • 2vs2vs2vs2

The developers has also been teasing new and bigger maps so you’ll have that to look forward to. Oh, and don’t forget, new clans too!

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