I’ve been massively into RTS games for as long as I can remember, I’ve pretty much played them all, from the genre-defining classic Command and Conquer to the crash and burn failure of Grey Goo. This new Norse-themed RTS game from Shiro Games impressed me so much I immediately had to review it.
Poof! You appear inside a wooded glade, your cute little Longhouse sits expectantly while a few villagers start work bringing in food. At first, with it’s quaint cartoon art style, I thought this game would give me a nice slow introduction, so I set off exploring menus, discovering mechanics and generally enjoying how rich the colourful world felt as my little Vikings went about their business.
Then everything turned to winter, all my Vikings got ill, went on strike and got eaten by wolves. The pace of this game is so deceptive. You start out by picking one of the five different clans and spawning in a random section of the map, which is divided into only about twenty tiles. You must then use your ubiquitous “villager” class of Viking to change into every other class as context dictates, there’s a scout, woodcutter, soldier and hunter to name just a few. You slowly uncover neighbouring tiles, which more often than not must be cleared of Wolves, Zombie-daemons or Bears before you can utilise it’s resources, all the while ensuring you have enough food and firewood to survive the ever-encroaching winter.
The game is really an exercise in living on the edge, whereas in most RTS games you build your base and watch the money roll in if you’re left undisturbed, in Northgard you constantly have to manage the happiness, health and sheer number of villagers in your empire as well as keeping up with the Jones's in research and army-size which all adds up to a fairly frenetic and unique experience.
The maps are all procedurally generated and tile-based, which is really refreshing in an RTS, it gives you this feeling of owning and fighting over distinct parts of the map, similar to games like Crusader Kings, but with a much smaller scale, giving each moment-to-moment struggle a more intimate feel. I won’t lie, I really got attached to my little burgeoning empire of dudes. You have to frequently ferry people from one tile to another to fulfill roles like healers and soldiers as the state of play changes and as more scarce resources like stone and iron become more important.
The multiplayer is very satisfying as you really get the idea that everyone else in the game is trying just as hard as you are to maintain the right balance and when they invariably fail, you get to steal some of their tiles while they can only look on, cold and alone, with barely two sticks to rub together.
My only real criticism is with the simplistic combat system: apart from the clan-specific units, there are only three or four combat classes which operate in a very rock-paper-scissors way and with the very small number of units you field at a time, you tend to lose out on the ability to satisfyingly micromanage your armies.
That being said, this is an Early Access game and the devs seem to be intent on frequently updating it, adding new clans and a soon to be released single player campaign so I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the more sparse aspects of the game are fleshed out with time.
All in all, if you enjoy any sort of strategy game, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the frantic pace and surprising strategic depth of this charming little game, it’s definitely one to keep an eye on, or to play obsessively for the next week like I’ll be doing.
Certainly worth a speculative fifteen bucks.
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