Man, if only there was some more efficient way to handle a ton of information and tasks at once other than a gamepad. Something with many buttons, and maybe some kind of quick pointer thingy… I jest, of course, but while I enjoyed my time with Northgard, it sure can get fiddly.
So here we have a super in depth strategy game from Shiro Games. Based in Norse mythology, you’ll need to secure victory in one of several fashions. The most straight forward method is to Dominate the opposing clans by taking out their town hall, effectively eliminating them from the face the Earth. Not pretty, but effective. Should you be feeling more diplomatic however, it’s possible to win via more peaceful means.
Fame allows you to succeed by building a specific type of structure once your Fame stat is high enough – thought that will take some doing. Trade requires setting up a secure route for merchants to travel, making your settlement the most valuable in the land and gaining commercial influence. And finally, Wisdom will see you garnering favour with the Gods. Sound easy enough when boiled down to a brief mission statement, but the act of getting any of these is far from it.
As each area can only hold a handful of buildings, there’s a constant balancing act at play. Build more houses so you can keep more workers, but if you fill up land too much, they won’t have anything to do. Likewise, attempting to load up on hunters and the like will see you food supply flourish, but leave you open to attack with little to no warriors. And once Winter comes, if you’re not prepared…well… things go south real fast. Regardless of the time of year though, things often felt out of my hands. One moment, I had food to spare, plenty of warriors and wood and great morale. Then almost out of nowhere, people would be dying of hunger, morale fell through the floor and all my buildings began collapsing. Despite my best efforts, I could not easily make sense of why things were happening.
Each game begins with a small area, a town hall and a handful of villagers to get to work. You’ll immediately need to plan 10 steps ahead, as resources are scarce and one mistake early on can spell disaster. Plopping down a lumberjack post will see essential supplies start to roll in, albeit slowly. Some scouts and training camps next, and things start to take shape. Scouts will clear the fog of war surrounding you, allowing you to colonise new areas and locate other clans, will the camps will give you warriors to fight off threats. Unlike previous strategy titles I’ve played, these buildings do not ‘build’ units though. The Town hall takes that duty, slowly spawning one new member every so often (which, along with other buildings, can be upgraded to help with this and other bonuses). As such, there’s a supremely slow, deliberate pace to things that I initially struggled with.
The answers were probably hidden within the swath of tiny symbols dotted all over the place. Make no mistake, this is a PC game through and through. While the controls do a decent job of placing suggested actions at your finger tips, there’s so much more to it that I soon began ignoring these and digging deep. Only after a few hours play did I discover the menu item that detailed what all these symbols that kept popping up meant, but even then I still had questions. Apparently, at points my workers were without jobs; despite being assigned to a job, they had finished their task. They need to be manually assigned to a new role, otherwise they will just meander around with a little clock symbol above their heads. Doing so requires far to fiddly an interaction that is also rather unclear. The same can be said of most of the UI to be honest. For new players to the genre, there’s very little help on offer here. Trial and error is the only way to learn, but when you have so many things to grasp at once it gets overwhelming quickly.
Again, I’m sure on a keyboard and mouse, players will make this look easy. But having to slowly drag the cursors about the land, then rely on unintuitive radial menus that leave a lot of detail up to guesswork before repeating the process is frustrating, especially early on. Like anything, I of course picked stuff up along the way, but even then luck more than judgement was in play. When single games can run in to hour plus time frames, the sense of control needs to be right.
When things are running smoothly though, there’s a good sense of satisfaction in sitting and watching your hard work play out. Warriors train, workers chop wood and harvest food and supplies, and any incoming threats are dealt with quickly. Expanding your empire in ever increasing increments in rewarding, suddenly turning a tight living space into a new frontier of opportunity. Mines, ruins and Lore stones add extra depth to your strategy, letting you gather rare resources and Lore – the games XP. As you gain enough, perks can be acquired, buffing stats and giving you an easier time of things. These only last the current round mind, but are a welcome addition.
There’s also a short story mode included, seeing you off on a tale of vengeance. Here, win conditions are mixed up; one might see you simply needing to colonise a certain amount of areas, while another will see you defending a new ally. The story is passable, and adds a little extra flair to proceedings, but I doubt it’ll inspire repeated plays. That is where the multiplayer mode comes in. If I can’t hold my own against the AI, I’ve no hope against players, but if Northgard gets it’s hooks into you then I can see you settling down for a night with a round of this.
Those with the patience of a Norse war chief will no doubt feel right at home in Northgard. There’s an impressive amount of granular detail to get lost in, allowing you play to your strengths. The visuals are nice and colourful, and if it gets its hooks in, you’ll have a title to play for a long time yet. But fiddly UI, unclear systems and a slow pace will likely put off as many as it attracts.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.