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Posted by GG Goblin On March - 21 - 2018

Winter is coming.

Vikings are great. Much like Ninjas or Pirates, throw a Viking at a game and you are pretty much guaranteed a good time. However, throw an entire bunch of Vikings at a game, form a clan and then prepare for conquest and things are going to get a lot trickier. Shiro Games’ RTS Northgard has been dwelling in the realms of Early Access for quite some time. The game has now evolved into a state which demands a full release. It’s time to pack your horn, slip on your thermal undies and lead your clan to victory.


Like many other RTS fans, I have a soft spot for the more aging games like Age of Empires or The Settlers titles. Northgard immediately screams of inspiration from these games, with both similar visuals and familiar mechanics, at least in the early game. Players begin by choosing a clan to lead into the wilderness. There are a selection of different animal themed clans, each of which offers the player different advantages and talents on the tech tree. The choice of clan really does come down to how the player wants to approach the game, and how they want to win. Some clans seem easier to win with than others, but that could simply come down to my personal playing style.

Once chosen, the player will find their clan dumped onto a small patch of land, along with a town hall. From here the player is able to assign tasks to the few clan members they begin with. This will involve building the appropriate building and then assigning clansmen to that building. For example, to make wood cutters, build a wood cutters hut and then assign a clansmen. They will quickly grab an axe and head out to start chopping down trees.


But complexity comes quickly. Each building can only support a couple of workers, so if you need a lot of wood quickly, you will need to build more wood cutters huts. There is also the fact that the map is broken up into regions, and each region can only support a small number of buildings. To unlock another region, and thus increase the number of buildings that can be constructed, the player will first have to send a scout to discover a region, then colonize the region, which costs and ever increasing amount of food (or money depending on the clan). It ensures that the player plays slow and smart.

The food is another complexity. To grow the clan and make more clansmen to assign different roles, the player will have to provide housing and keep the clan happy, and nothing makes a clan unhappy quicker than starving. Food can be tricky to come by in Northgard. Sure, the player may come across a pond for fishing, or some fertile land that can be farmed, or even wildlife for hunting, but each of these activities will require their own building and clansmen to work, which obviously goes towards the building limit for a region. Of course, the little vikings can always forage, but it is not a very good use of their time.

The good news is that clansmen are not stuck in their roles. If it turns out that there is a need for more soldiers, such as an invasion from another clan or the accursed wolves, then simply re-assign some wood cutters. Or if food becomes desperate, set your soldiers to finding those nuts and berries.


And stocking up on food is probably the most important thing to remember in Northgard. The map my be covered with threats, such as rival clans, wildlife and even the occasional mythical beast, but the biggest threat comes from Winter. It may only be Spring and everything in the little Viking settlement is happy and constructive, but planning for the next Winter is something that will be important no matter how far off it is. Once Winter arrives, food production drops and the Vikings use more wood. Make the mistake of colonizing a new area just before Winter, and you could end up losing half of the clan to starvation. Some clans will handle the Winter months better than others, and there are some unlockables in the tech tree that will make Winter a little less harsh. But whatever clan you choose, Winter is a dark shadow that looms over the settlement all year round.

These grim Winters play their part in making Northgard quite the difficult game. The combat is not too involved, generally requiring just sending the soldiers in and hoping for the best, or making strong use of the clan healers. There is a fame resource which is gathered through various heroic deeds and rewards the player with some mighty bonuses, which can certainly go some way towards taking the edge off. But throughout the game, the player is only ever one small disaster away from complete and utter failure. One unprepared Winter, one natural disaster, one disease outbreak, one overpowered foe, and the clan may never recover.

A new campaign mode has been added to Northgard for the official launch. This campaign may not have the most interesting story, something to do with revenge, but it does a great job of introducing the player slowly to everything they need to know to be a masterful clan leader. The campaign is no simple tutorial though, being served across multiple chapter with increasing difficulty. The skirmish mode, against the competent AI or other real players, is where the heart of the game is, but the campaign is a great addition.


Northgard is a surprisingly complex RTS that manages to weave some familiar basics with a hidden level of depth. There is a lot to fear in the game, with Winter being the most dangerous foe, but getting that balance right and moving your chosen clan forward is supremely rewarding. It may prove a little tricky for the more novice players, but Northgard is an essential purchase for any RTS fans, especially those who like the old-school games, and Vikings.




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