Played on Windows
Also available on macOS and Linux
Northgard’s story starts pretty simply, it’s a revenge story, where your family has been slaughtered, and you’re out to make those who did pay. Simple, but efficient setting off a great course of events. The odd thing is this isn’t a typical action or adventure game, instead what we have here is a throwback to the old days of the RTS. But is it any good?
This is the first in my series of Humble Monthly Bundle reveeiws for April 2019. We have Northgard, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden, and Absolver. We’ll talk about the other two soon, but for now let’s take a look at the Northgard.
Graphically Northgard looks decent. It definitely looks like it belongs more with the RTS crowd, while there are discussions and the story has characters who relay pieces of dialogue, the majority of the game uses an isometric view where the player is just clicking around the map ordering units.
Northgard has a limit to how much you can zoom in and out. You can see each battle as it plays out and that’s rather nice, though you can’t get that close, similarly you’re never able to see the full map unless you use the minimap that’s presented. These limitations keep you focused more on your job of running your clan than watching how the world progresses, but it leaves the player feeling a little disconnected from the events outside their view. Only a few times does the game allow you to look at objects closely, and it’s all in cutscenes.
The characters models are nice if a bit small, but after a while it all blends together. Each faction in the game is assigned a color and a similar character model. You might have blue warriors and another team has Yellow warriors and besides the color, both teams look similar, but looking at a distance makes them all blend in over time. In addition, while some characters, or “clans” have unique units, the majority of units are generic so it just brings the player to feel like they’re playing the same team fighting the same team, which in many ways they are.
That doesn’t mean Northgard has nothing to look at. There are wolves, draugr and even valkyries, as well as kobolds and Jotun giants, but again the game is more focused on player control than trying to dazzle the player.
The story of Northgard starts rather interestingly The prologue starts with another clan slaughtering your clan and your father, the current “King” of these clans, and your father’s prized horn is stolen. This sets the main character Rig on a path of revenge. This becomes a flimsy pretext to learn about the game and conquer a variety of maps, but Rig will fight his way through a variety of clans and gain many allies along the way.
One thing that makes the story work is that Rig isn’t a playable character, but he teams up with a number of Warchiefs, each from a different clan, which allows him to utilize that clan’s abilities and bonuses. By the end of the game, the player has played as all six clans and the differences between the various clans are made clear.
Though I will say the Northgard’s story ends on a kind of dumb moment, though it feels like the developers were trying to leave the story open for potential DLC it turns into a different map, which was a free expansion but doesn’t add or finish the story in a notable way.
Overall though, the story is just a framing device for the story missions, which are really just a form of a tutorial. It works, but it’s just a reason to play the various missions and gameplay.
There’s quite a lot of different low or “Tech” that allows a variety of different builds to work.
The gameplay is always the same, sadly. You choose a clan and start with a clan hall and four followers. In story mode, you are gifted a named war chief but in all other modes, you need to buy that chief as the game goes on.
At the beginning of every game, you can build a house, a scout camp, and a woodcutter’s lodge. The house just adds to the possible unit count, but the scouts will find new areas of the map that the player can colonize in exchange for food. Woodcutters will create firewood and all unassigned units will gather food when not used.
From there the player can expand out into a variety of buildings each with a special use. If the player runs low on money, he can build a marketplace. If he wants more food, he can build fields, fisherman’s hut, or even Hunter’s Lodges as long as he has the right resource in an area. There are over twenty buildings each player can build and some clans will get a special one.
As I played Northgard I really thought a bit about the original Warcraft and it does have a lot of similarities there. However each building employes a set number of people, changing them to their type of worker so they’ll do a specific job such as healing other units, becoming warriors, or mining ore.
In fact rather than Warcraft, Northgard is more akin to a real-time version of a board game where the game revolves around worker placement, or choosing what your clan members do, and getting constantly rewarded after a certain time period.
The game also builds on limited resources and limiting the room for housing, as well as a few progressive costs, such as the colonizing cost to buy a new area of the map. Much of the game is managing your works to efficiently build towards goals.
Though once your workers are placed and you’re waiting for more resources to build the next stage, you find that Northgard has a lot of downtime. While I didn’t notice this as much in the first couple of missions, as the game went on I moved up to missions that could take me fifty to sixty minutes and started to realize I was doing less and less as I looked for something more to do. Sadly the number of interactions you have with the game declines as the game goes on at least in my experience.
Each building has a very clear purpose.
At the same time, players can get more involved in combat in the game. Players are able to build warbands for their war chiefs filling them out with warriors, axe throwers, and shield bearers. Those three units create a form of a rock scissors paper power triangle where the warriors can devastate a shield bearer but have trouble with the range attacks of Axe Throwers.
Combat is one of the weaknesses of Northgard. It’s very hard to use properly and a bit too easy to cheat if players really want to. When the players target a location the group will attack as fast as possible rather than taking a formation. Players can lay out their warband as they want, but it’s an extra step that feels annoying, sadly that means your weak specialty unit might be attacked first as the enemy will target the first units that walk across the border.
The problems with combat don’t end there, anyone involved in combat (including unassigned workers) have very simple AI. They will attack their target until they move, so a simple trick is to take any unit that’s about to die and make him move a small amount and then return to the fight. This tricks the enemy AI to stop combat and choose a different target. Players can also retreat any of their characters accruing damage but that doesn’t seem to be as required, though high-level players will tease it quite often.
The whole system is ripe for abuse against the AI. Other players can give direct attack orders that will ignore these flaws but can create issues where characters can be “kited” around and killed if players aren’t paying attention.
However, Northgard has another problem with combat. It’s not very satisfying. You can easily take the land from the unaffiliated units, such as wolves, draugr and valkyries mentioned before, but clan vs clan battles are underwhelming.
The problem is in head to head battles, That defenders have a few bonuses with defensive towers and more. In fact, those defensive towers are just deadly and they take a lot of damage. There are a number of tricks to try to maximize damage to the opponent and minimize the damage you take, but all in all, I found the clan vs clan battles a bit dull. The speed to losing an area is also a bit slowing giving a very strong chance your opponent will push you out of it eventually. It allows you to harass an enemy but doesn’t produce a better game for it.
There are multiple ways to win so there’s different goals you can strive for.
The neutral enemies also don’t heal giving you a chance to continually attack and retreat, while the opponents may heal through the use of a specific build (Mender’s hut), so damage between clans may not even leave a lasting mark if done incorrectly.
Northgard has a number of victories, each taking a different approach as well as a unique victory per each map such as having to gather 45 iron and build a special sword on the map. The game will also keep track of the progress, so players can see when someone else is approaching a win state and players can team up and take them down.
The one downside is that most of these victories tend to take a long time. This allows counter-strategies to appear which is good as it would be unfortunate if there was no time to stop someone from winning, but the strategies involved can be limited. Many of the win conditions are intangible values that can’t be directly sabotaged even with combat such as research, fame, and so you can only slow the growth, rather than damage their progress. It becomes a race for the goal while harassment due to combat can be done it’s not as major a part of the flow of the game in my experience.
Honestly, Northgard is an acceptable game. I would have preferred a little more combat, or no combat depending on which way the developers wanted to go, and a speed up button would have been nice, but at the end of the day, I really struggle to find anything wrong with it. It’s not my favorite game, and admittedly I think it’s aimed more for online play than anything. Northgard only has a basic story and a single player mode that probably won’t keep players entertained for very long, but the gameplay is solid and has a lot of nuance to it that will keep people playing competitively for a while.
I give Northgard a
I struggle with this one. I am probably not a big RTS fan which this is aimed for, but it’s a lot slower than I expected as well, which might turn off other RTS fans. I still see a good game, but it just wasn’t one that spoke to me at a deeper level beyond a mild interest.
Final thoughts: This is a RTS that doesn’t focus as heavily on combat. It’s more of a worker placement game, which produces a different feel, and slower gameplay, but is interesting for most of the time.
Stats: 18.3 hours, 22/109 achievements