General game information
Game name: Northgard
Release date: 22 Feb, 2017 (Early Access)
Price: US$ 19.99 (the developers have announced that the price will slightly increase upon release)
Store page: Steam
Genre: Real time strategy/settlement builder
Developer: Shiro Games
Publisher: Shiro Games
The success of Cities: Skylines and Banished sparked a revival of the city/settlement builder genre, which had been mostly dormant since the golden age of PC gaming. But what about the rest of us, real time strategy lovers? Creating a perfect city or managing to survive harsh winters with a healthy population is nice and dandy, but where’s the action? Enter Northgard, a new settlement builder/RTS combo developed by French studio Shiro Games that aims to bridge the gap between those two genres, letting us dictate the fate of a band of Vikings in a title that mixes The Settlers with Civilization.
Starting out in a small plot of land occupied by a town hall and a few houses, we’ll have to deal with both natural threats and other Vikings who wish to expand their lands. Taking territory is paramount in Northgard, since the game places a predefined limit in the amount of buildings that can be constructed on each slice of the game world. This means that our first order of business after getting our workers to make a few important structures will be sending scouts out, so we can take over valuable parts of the map. Each tile has something interesting waiting for us, be it a forest, fertile land, a lake, a mine, or even empty space to build more houses.
Controlling a good part of the world will be our immediate aim, but it’s important to consider that every new piece of land will cost us a nice amount of food, and that new band members will always spawn at our town hall, forcing us to create a good supply line before overextending our reach. With bigger territory comes greater responsibility, as we’ll have to train soldiers to defend our borders and farmers to extract more food from the soil. We’ll also have to think about the kind of buildings that would fit our needs at every moment, with the game’s hard cap on the amount of structures per tile forcing us to choose between exploiting mines or creating a very useful healer’s hut, for instance.
Our Vikings can be trained to perform a variety of duties, but they can only do one job at a time, so once again, we must carefully weigh our priorities to better suit the future of the clan before committing to rash decisions. My farmlands are under attack but I don’t have enough soldiers to beat the enemy force. Do I quickly train a bigger contingent, knowing that they may arrive too late to save our buildings and our supply of food will suffer, or do I sacrifice those lands, retreating so my warriors can fight another day? Northgard will force us to make choices like that one all the time, particularly during multiplayer matches where wars of attrition over small patches of land can decide the fate of a Viking tribe in just a few minutes.
As the game progresses, seasons pass and events get triggered. Blizzards may destroy our crops, weakening our economy and forcing us to burn through our food supplies at a faster pace, earthquakes can set ablaze our towns, destroying them if we didn’t store enough wood, or don’t react fast enough, and all kinds of disasters are ready to hit at any given moment. This system forces us to stay on our toes at all times, saving food and supplies for random events, or to support our forces should the enemy raid our shores. Luckily, the game warns us before a natural catastrophe is about to hit, letting us focus our workforce to prevent further damage (though this can be hard if we are also in the middle of a war with another Viking faction). Aside from those random events, we’ll have to deal with good old General Winter every year, slowing down food production and eating our wood supplies. Should we fail to store enough goods, our Vikings’ mood will suffer (which can be alleviated with healthy doses of ale) and they’ll eventually starve to death.
Whenever we are not dealing with food shortages or crippling random events, we’ll probably be engaged in border conflicts with the other Viking tribes, as they also aim to take over this new world. Combat is relatively simple, but as we said previously, committing to create more warriors also means that our economy will suffer, and they will take some time to travel from their barracks to the frontlines. Several soldiers can be assigned to a War Chief and then sent to wherever they are needed as a single unit, cutting down on micromanagement.
Strategy fans who are not inclined towards war will probably be happy to learn that there are other paths to victory in Northgard, and that diplomacy is a viable option, at least during singleplayer skirmishes. I personally prefer to aim for a Domination victory (which involves conquering all the enemy town halls) but it’s nice that the developers included other options for less warlike players.
The current build of the game does not feature a fully fledged singleplayer campaign, instead letting us play solo skirmishes and multiplayer matches. Luckily, the randomly generated maps will keep us coming back for more, and the different ways to win ensure that there’s always a new strategy to be learned.
With a singleplayer campaign in the works and dozens of hours of quality content already available, Northgard‘s future looks very promising. Real-time strategy fans looking for a game that will keep them hooked for a long time should keep an eye on Shiro Games‘ latest gem.