Review: Northgard (PC)
Northgard is an RTS that’s set in the mythological world of the Norse. It’s out as an early access game on Steam (PC) for $19.99 and as with most early access games, should probably not be purchased until the full release.
Northgard has some good things going for it: its music is light and lovely thematic music for the subject matter of the game. There’s few instrumentals and they pieces are well crafted for the background of an RTS game. I believe that for an RTS, music should never be the focal point, instead, it should be supporting the experience, and the developers of Northgard really accomplished this.
Overall, the game reminds me a lot of when I first played Age of Empires II--it’s interesting and challenging at points, but also calm and methodical. You start on a tile of land, usually with water access, with a few villagers and a town center. There are various buildings that you can build first, including a woodcutter’s lodge, house, and scout’s lodge. You need to get a scout out exploring the land because when you start you can only view your own tile. Your scout slowly uncovers the map and, at some point will likely die because of some of the AI enemies patrolling the various zones, which can include wolves, grizzlies, or a large and terrifying dragon. These AI enemies sort of remind me of Endless Legend, there are some you can trade with to improve your reputation, but they also seem half realized to me. I think they are setting up a potentially interesting system, but right now these sort of feel incomplete.
As you uncover more of the map, you eventually meet your opponents who no doubt are expanding their territory, just as you should be doing. You purchase territory with food, which can be frustrating, as it seems that everything you do revolves around gathering food and there really seems to be a damn shortage of food, no matter what you really try to do. There’s other resources you have to gather as well, including wood and stone, but the game truly seems to revolve around the question--do you have enough food? Which, as far as resource management goes in RTS games, can be sort of boring. I’ve found that every game I’ve played, I’ve always had a shortage of food at some point in the game, which causes a domino effect of problems for your villagers and your control of the game.
An unpopular opinion might be that I actually like the combat system--it's very straightforward and simple, I just wish there were more units to choose from and a bit more complexity. Right now you simply gather your warband and right click on an enemy - and that’s really it. No micromanagement or strategy.
Perhaps the one thing that Northgard does the best is emphasizing various paths to victory, not just one. I have found that in many RTS games there is always an easiest way to victory, and that way is often domination, or destroying your opponents via military might. Northgard of course has that method, but also has a few others--a trading victory, a faith-based (tech tree) victory, and a renown-based victory. In my opinion, they all seem equally valid and I actually won my first game with the tech tree victory instead of domination.
As far as an early access game goes, Northgard is looking in the right direction--a lot of the game is polished and ready to go. However, it is absolutely an early access game and I would not recommend purchasing it just yet. The multiplayer community is extremely small (read: nearly non-existent), there’s only one race (but multiple clans to choose from), a tutorial mode isn’t fully built out and so some things are slightly tricky to figure out at first, and an in-depth statistics page is sorely lacking. I applaud the dev team of Northgard for making a very pretty game, but we need to see some big improvements before launch for the game to be a big success. Keep your money in your wallet, or if you’re really craving a strategy game right now, go buy Endless Legend, it’s fantastic.