When you think of RTS games you generally think of giant armies duking it out with each other on massive battlefields or grand civilisations taking their first steps into the world as you build vast empires across the globe. Sometimes however it’s best to look at strategy from a smaller scale and that’s exactly what Northgard does. An RTS based upon Norse mythology and the lives of the vikings including all their hardships and challenges they faced during their lives sounds like an incredible concept, let’s see if this game does the concept justice.
The story is a rather simple fable of revenge. You play as Rig, son of the High King of the Vikings, on his quest to get revenge after his father is assassinated and his prized regal horn stolen by the leader of another clan. You and your allies must travel to the undiscovered land of Northgard, try to survive the harsh environments you face, take revenge for your father and discover the truth as to the motivations behind his murderer. While it seems like a simple revenge plot there are a few twists in the story and even a more grand story lurking in the background to provide motivations to everyone. It certainly helps that you as the player are also experiencing Northgard for the first time alongside your digital avatar as it helps to build up a sense of mystery and wonder about the new land as you spend your time exploring it. While the characters you meet are nothing to write home about they at least provide a stable cast of characters for you to play as and due to each having their own playstyles and mechanics you will grow to like at least one of them that fits your favourite strategy. While I do wish they were fleshed out more they will at least be remembered, even if it is more for their gameplay mechanics.
The presentation of this game is fairly cartoon-ey with a very ‘Clash of Clans’ feel to the characters and environments. All of the humans and enemies you meet have over-exaggerated features, blocky heads and all have accessories that very clearly show what their jobs are. I find the aesthetics to be visually pleasing as while it is simple and not a very serious art style the game itself doesn’t take itself too seriously which helps to make everything look a lot more charming. The environments are stunning to look at and are clearly inspired by Scandinavian lands from lush forests to shorelines with shipwrecks scattered among them the land of Northgard certainly looks the part. I am sad however that the camera cannot move fully around the environment and is instead stuck in a fixed position as I would have loved even just for aesthetic reasons to take the camera closer to the ground and look up at the beautiful mountain ranges or see how my village has developed. I really enjoyed the music they created as I find myself frequently humming the general town music after I finish playing and while the combat music isn’t anything outstanding it at least conveys a sense of excitement for when you are killing things. Overall it’s a very pretty game and while it may look fairly aesthetically simple the beauty of the land will certainly draw you in.
I know what you’re here for however, you’re here for the gameplay as that’s the most important thing in an RTS. I can tell you that Northgard provides an interesting mix of both a strategy and a survival game which is something I never knew I wanted. The main focus in Northgard is not only surviving the enemies and battles but also surviving the environment. The seasons play a huge part in this game as you gather food, wood and Krowns in preparation for Winter coming, and it is so much more important than you think. Your resources are heavily dwindled, your military units have a much harder time fighting and everything is generally difficult when the snow blows in. Making this even worse are random events that cause general damage to your buildings or villagers such as rat plagues or earthquakes. You always need to make sure you are stocked up on resources otherwise if something like this happens you will surely face the consequences. In terms of how to advance in the game the map is split into several sections with each being covered by fog until you explore it with your scouts. You can only build on each section once you have colonised it and you can only build a certain amount of buildings at each point. You can gather resources from the local area, focus on trading to buy your way to victory or simply build up a big army and survive by raiding and living off what you kill. It’s an elegant system that means there are many ways you can play, even if some ways are vastly more successful than others. While it may not be incredibly large scale (especially the combat which seems very simplistic compared to other RTS games) it’s still effective at providing a ‘survival’ experience in the strategy genre which is to be commended.
Now there are some problems, mainly stemming from the gameplay. The main problem is how the game gets incredibly difficult as each match lingers on. During the campaign and AI multiplayer at least the enemies you face seem to have vastly more resources than you which normally would provide just a fun challenge except that your population becomes more difficult to manage as it grows and you can’t stop the rate that you get more villagers without hurting your overall happiness or resources. This leads to you struggling to keep everyone fed while also being raided by mercenaries at an increasing rate and slowly losing your land to invaders. The other problem that will be a big concern to some people is just how simple some of the mechanics are, mainly being combat. Raiding essentially leads to you just selecting all your warriors and sending them to the same location to brute force your way to victory without any kind of tactical semblance. While this does make sense for the context of the game, them being Vikings and all, but it still means that the combat feels fairly bland compared to other games in the genre.
Overall then Northgard proves to be a challenging but rewarding experience with a unique aesthetic and fun gameplay. While it may not be the biggest or most complex RTS you will ever play the unique blend of survival and strategy will provide a gaming experience that cannot be experienced anywhere else. If you love challenging strategy games checking out Northgard would be a good idea for you. Now I wonder if I can somehow make a clan called the ‘Clan of Jinx’… hmm…