I’ve got hungry people to feed, my coffers are empty, I’ve run out of wood and stone, and my clan is unhappy and diseased. This happens quite often when playing Northgard. It’s a Viking-themed real time strategy (RTS) video game from indie game studio Shiro Games. That doesn’t mean it’s difficult though. On the contrary, it’s one of the easiest RTS games anyone can get into. You could be a veteran of the genre or be an absolute amateur and still find something about Northgard interesting. Personally, I’m more of a turn-based 4X strategy player – thank you, Sid Meier – so I did expect it to be tough to get into. To my surprise, it has some pretty simple game mechanics, making it very accessible for anyone interested. That being said, there’s definitely also a high skill ceiling, so there’s really no limit to how good you can be at the game.
Simple, Familiar, and Unique
So how does the game play? Well the mechanics are pretty familiar. You start with a main town hall that you’re going to want to protect, and it churns out villagers as long as your clan is happy. To have villagers with specialties such as miners or woodcutters, you’ll need to build special buildings. It’s micromanagement that is demanding yet not overbearing. Unlike the need for 9000 APM a la Starcraft, Northgard is pretty slowpaced, yet still requiring players to think on their feet. You’re the leader of a clan, and each clan has its own specialties and traits. The Clan of the Wolf for example would be great if you’re looking to be aggressive with your military. The Clan of the Raven meanwhile is the better option if you’re aiming to build a strong economy. Depending on which clan you’re playing, there are a few victory conditions that you can go for. This is a nice touch to add variety to the game. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of going for victories through combat; I like winning through science or diplomacy in Civ V for example. As such, in Northgard, I like going for Trade or Wisdom victories, which involve either amassing large sums of money plus having the right buildings, or unlocking the most ‘ancient knowledges’.
But the one big gameplay mechanic that really makes Northgard a memorable and unique experience is winter. Every year in-game brings with it winter. When winter comes, you’re definitely going to want to be prepared because it is a brutal choke on your resources. Indeed, the winter mechanic took me by surprise and I lost the first few games because my aggressive turtle and boom strategy meant that I often don’t have enough resources to survive the harsh winter. This is where the better you are with micromanagement, the better you’ll do. Forget to keep enough food or place a villager into the wrong building and winter would punish you terribly. Bring enough resources and have optimal villager allocation, you’ll breeze through winter like it was nothing. It’s a mechanic I’ve never seen in other RTS or 4X games, and I love it – despite how cruel it can be.
Minor Blemishes Here and There
Northgard however isn’t without its cons. There aren’t any major negatives, but there are quite a number of minor nitpicks that blemish an otherwise amazing RTS. One issue I see is that of balance. Balance is definitely a problem as some clans seem very underpowered. However, Shiro Games have been updating the game quite often; I’m certain that balance is something that they can iron out eventually. Besides, they are just an indie team and if anything, you can always pick the underpowered clans for a challenge. However, there are as of now only six clans. This highlights another issue: a lack of content. I would appreciate more clans or even some challenge modes. Maps could definitely be bigger too. The campaign meanwhile is alright, but it’s not amazing story by any means. Multiplayer meanwhile isn’t very impressive either. When I was playing, there were only seven multiplayer matches going on in my regional server.
Solid Modern RTS
Don’t get me wrong, Northgard is already an impressive RTS for a relatively unknown indie team. The low skill floor makes this a great game to get into the genre, while veterans would enjoy it too. It also has some fresh and unique ideas for the RTS scene which has been in decline in recent years. If Shiro Games adds a little more content and balances the clans better, Northgard could just be the next great RTS game out there.
Northgard is now available on Steam.