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Northgard Early Access Impressions – “Valhalla Bound”


Developer: Shiro Games
Publisher: Shiro Games
Previewed on: PC
Code Received.

Northgard is a Viking-themed real-time strategy game that focuses on city management over conquest. You must gather resources, explore, and expand from meagre beginnings on an inhospitable island. But you’re not alone, so you must move swiftly, yet cautiously, to make sure you take what you need in order to ensure the survival of your village. In it’s current state, Northgard is functional and fun, however, it lacks a lot of depth that typically comes with these types of games. It’s yet to be seen whether Shiro Games can take a solid base and expand, making it into something that will remain accessible to newcomers, but also offer the depth that RTS fans crave.

Expansion is key early on.

Currently, there is only a single-player skirmish mode than pits you against up to three AI opponents on a randomly generated map. There are three factions to choose from and the selection screen has two empty slots, presumably for future additions. Each faction comes with a set of perks and bonuses, emphasising either combat or resource consumption, allowing you to play the game how you want.

The most unique feature of Northgard is the region settlement system. Each map is divided up into separate regions, each featuring a particular resource. A single region won’t have food, stone, and iron, so you must explore and settle in order to get what you need. This feature both limits aggressive expansion because of the compounding requirements to settle, but also leads to inevitable conflicts with other clans as resources run dry. Some regions even offer unique bonuses like Lore to research, which is Northgard’s version of “technology”.

There are four distinct victory conditions: Domination, Fame, Trade, and Wisdom. Each one is just as easy to accomplish as the other, with the Conquest victory taking the most time. In fact, the requirements are so low that it’s relatively easy to achieve any of the victory conditions as long as you focus your resources. I hope the final game will allow for longer, more challenging matches.

The transition to winter is chilling yet beautiful.

Northgard is also a great looking game with a slightly cell shaded, pastel color pallette. Villager animations are fluid andterrain details are sharp as long as you don’t zoom in. I really enjoyed the weather effects. When winter nears, snowflakes begin to fall and suddenly the green pastures are blanketed in white. While everything has a Viking aesthetic, I feel like the themes of the setting will come through more in the campaign than the skirmish mode. The menus are also clean and functional, although you won’t be spending as much time in them as you would in other strategy games.

If I had one legitimate complaint to levy against Northgard it has to do with the way villagers are handled. Once assigned a job, a villager cannot be reassigned. This typically isn’t an problem because you’ll always want to be gathering food or chopping wood. However, there were a handful of times when I absolutely needed a villager to build a guard tower or become a soldier, but didn’t have a free villager. This is because the game automatically generates them based on your clan’s happiness. If happiness is low, which it is likely to be early on, fresh villagers may take a while to generate or stop completely. This can lead to precarious situations where you are being attacked, but can’t defend yourself sufficiently.

The obvious solution is to simply not get into this situation, but sometimes it’s unavoidable depending on your random starting location. I had to restart a few games because I worked myself in a corner where I couldn’t build anything because I had no unassigned villagers, but couldn’t get new villagers unless I built something that raised happiness. I would really like to see an option in the final game to allow you to unassign and reassign villagers to different jobs.

Thar be dragons!

All in all, Northgard has a solid base from which a great RTS could be built from. It’s currently missing a campaign, online multiplayer, and some factions, but what’s there is fun and entertaining. It also performs flawlessly, which is commendable for an Early Access title. If you are looking to pick the game up in Early Access just keep in mind that the current content is limited and may not keep you engaged for more than a few matches. However, the game does seem to be headed in the right direction, so if it looks like something you’d enjoy I wouldn’t hesitate to check it out.

I remember playing Super Mario Bros. and Metroid on the NES with my older brother, and never being able to land on the aircraft carrier in Top Gun. I faked being sick so I could stay home from school and play Quake II once, but now I request days off from work instead of lying. Age of Empires II is still the best RTS, Half-Life is still the best FPS, and I still think the end of Mass Effect 3 was great!