Northgard was originally released on PC back in 2017 on Early Access and it left Early Access in early 2018. Now a year and a half later Northgard has finally come to consoles. While I never played Northgard when it was released on PC, with the new console ports coming out I decided to finally check it out. I was intrigued to try it out because Northgard has all of the makings of a game that I would really enjoy. Ever since I was a kid I have been a big fan of RTS and city builder games. Northgard looked like an interesting combination of the two genres while also adding in a Viking theme. Northgard creates a truly original gameplay experience combining RTS and city builder mechanics into a fun experience that may not be for everyone.
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank Shiro Games for the review copy of Northgard used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.
In Northgard you are the leader of a Viking clan. Your objective is to keep your clan alive while also either destroying your opponents or meeting another objective. The world of Northgard is split into different tile spaces that the different factions fight for control over. You begin each game with control over one tile on the map and a group of villagers. All of the gameplay in Northgard revolves around how you choose to use your villagers.
In the game you will use your villagers to create buildings on the tiles you control. Northgard features various buildings that provide different benefits for your clan. Many of the buildings in the game are used to generate resources that are used to develop more buildings or for other actions. The game has four main renewable resources and two limited resources. The two key resources in the game are food and wood. Food is mostly used to feed your clan. Wood is used to keep your clan warm during the winter and is used to develop buildings. In addition there are gold coins which are used to buy things and happiness which keeps your villagers productive. The two limited resources are types of minerals that only provide a limited amount before they are exhausted. These minerals are mostly used to purchase upgrades for your buildings. In order to gather resources in Northgard you need to build the corresponding building on a tile with the resource and assign villagers to it. As soon as the villagers are assigned they will start generating the associated resource. The villagers in the game are interchangeable so they can be assigned to any building and can be moved to another building when required.
Due to Northgard’s tile system you need to think about each building before you decide to place it. Each tile on the map has a limit on how many buildings can be placed on it. These limits usually range from two to five buildings. Therefore you need to make tough decisions on what buildings you would like to place on each tile as you can’t place all of the buildings that you would like to on a tile. This forces players to decide what they will focus on for each tile. Will you focus on buildings that generate food and wood to survive the winters? Will you use a tile to create buildings to expand your population limit or provide other benefits for your clan? Or will you use a tile to build military units to attack your opposition or wild creatures located on nearby tiles.
The combat in Northgard is pretty straightforward. As your clan grows in size you will need to grow your military force in order to fend off rivals or wild animals that attack your clan. To grow your army you need to build military structures. When you send villagers to a military building they will be turned into the corresponding military unit. When you are ready to attack you select the army you want to use and direct them to the tile that you want them to attack. Your units will then attack all of the enemy units on the selected tile. If you clear the tile of enemies you can use some resources to take control over the tile so you can then add buildings to it. The military aspect of the game is mostly used for either defending your territory or wiping out your opponents in order to win the game.
Attacks from enemy units aren’t the only threats that you will be facing in Northgard. Mother nature itself may be the greatest foe you will face in the game. Northgard features a weather system that basically breaks down into winter and other seasons. In every season other than winter you produce and use a normal amount of food and wood to support your clan. When winter comes resources become scarce. Food sources produce a lot less food and you need to use a lot more wood to keep your clan warm during the winter. Due to you having to use up a lot of your resources during the winter you need to use the rest of the year to build up your reserves so you can survive the winter. In addition to the winters the game occasionally throws other disasters at the players which will impact your villagers, your resource supplies, or other aspect of your clan.
To do well in Northgard you basically need to balance between stockpiling resources, growing your clan and expanding your territory, and having enough military to attack your enemies and fend off attacks. You need to balance these three aspects or your clan will suffer which will likely lead to your defeat. You can’t dedicate too little or too much to any one aspect. You need to gather enough resources to survive the winter and expand. If you just gather resources and don’t do anything with them you are wasting them. Growing your clan and expanding your territory is important in order to gather more resources and have more places to build buildings. Expand too far or too quickly and you are going to have a hard time surviving the winters or enemy attacks. Finally you need a strong enough army to fend off attacks or defeat your enemies. If you dedicate too many resources to your military though your economy will suffer. In order to be successful in the game you really need to balance these three factors.
Northgard has four different gameplay modes which includes the story mode, single player skirmishes, online multiplayer, and Ragnarok mode. Of the different modes I have spent the most time with the campaign mode so I will start there. In the single player campaign you play as Rig. In a raid on his homeland Rig’s father (the king) is murdered by the Viking Hagen. Rig is obsessed with getting revenge on Hagen so he follows him to the newly discovered continent of Northgard. Northgard is unlike anything Rig has seen before as it is filled with mysterious creatures and unseen forces. In the process of getting his revenge on Hagen, Rig finds out that there may be a much greater threat to him and his clan.
The single player campaign is basically what you would expect it to be. The campaign is a set of eleven missions that kind of plays like the tutorial for the rest of the game. Each mission in the game focuses on different mechanics teaching you how they are used to reach the different winning conditions. Throughout the missions you are also introduced to the different clans and what they excel at. While the campaign basically serves as a tutorial for the rest of the game, I think it is still quite enjoyable. First I thought the story was interesting even though it is not highly original. The best thing about the campaign is that each mission feels unique as they have different objectives. I haven’t finished the campaign yet but I will definitely be finishing it.
I want to briefly talk about the other modes. While I haven’t checked out the multiplayer personally, it sounds like quite a few of the players will utterly destroy you if you don’t know what you are doing. Therefore it sounds like a mode that you will have to practice for if you don’t want to get killed. The single player skirmish and Ragnarok modes are basically what you would expect. The Ragnarok mode is basically the same as the typical skirmish modes except there are more disasters which makes it more difficult. For both of these modes you compete against other AI controlled clans to see who can come out on top through conquest, fame, lore, or trading. I would say that the AI in Northgard is a little hit or miss. The game’s different difficulties can vary quite a bit. The easiest difficulty is so easy that you almost have to actively make bad decisions in order to lose. The harder difficulties can be really challenging though where you need a really good strategy and some luck in order to win. While the AI can be difficult at the hardest difficulties, the AI still makes some stupid decisions from time to time.
Ultimately it is kind of hard to truly describe what it is like playing Northgard. I began this review by talking about how it is a combination of a RTS and a citybuilder. While that is accurate as elements of both genres are present in Northgard, it feels like there is more than just those two mechanics in the game. This might not be a great comparison but while playing Northgard it reminded me a lot of a board game. Clearly it is not your typical board game as it is played in real time, but otherwise it shares quite a bit in common with board games. The whole idea that the game world is built off of tiles is just like a board game. Even the way you have to build up your clan and gather resources is similar to a lot of board games. As a fan of board games I actually really like these elements of the game.
All of these different mechanics combine together into what I would probably classify as a more introductory/simplified RTS. I would say that it is an introductory RTS because it streamlines a lot of what you would find in a typical RTS. The game significantly reduces the number of units you can recruit in the game and lets you easily change the roles of your villagers. Instead of a bunch of different military units to mix and match to defeat your opponent’s armies, you can only choose from a couple different unit types. You will also be controlling significantly smaller armies and only have to choose which tile you want them to move to and they will attack on their own. The number of different types of buildings and upgrades available to you has also been simplified.
This more streamlined approach to the RTS genre can be seen as both a positive and a negative for Northgard. On the positive side it makes it much easier to get into the game. If you have never really been into the genre you don’t have to waste a bunch of time learning how to play the game as you can pick it up quickly. This is helped by the fact that the campaign works as a pretty good tutorial. Even if you know the genre pretty well this streamlined approach is a unique twist to the genre. Instead of having to know the strengths and weaknesses of a bunch of units you can spend your time building up your clan. Northgard feels different than most RTS games and I appreciated that it tried to do something new.
The problem with the streamlining is that it will probably turn off the more diehard RTS fans. Northgard is a more simplified RTS game and thus doesn’t give you as many options. People who like to quickly build up a base to gather resources and then build a giant army to crush their enemies are probably going to be disappointed. Instead the game is more focused on building up a sustainable base and then developing a smaller army as you take control over more areas of the board before finishing off your enemies. This plays quite a bit different than your typical RTS game and it might turn off players who are looking for a more traditional RTS experience.
While I don’t think Northgard is perfect I really enjoyed my time with the game. The gameplay is really satisfying as it is a good combination of mechanics from a couple different genres. There is quite a bit of strategy in Northgard as you need a good plan to win and even survive the winter. If you just wing it you likely are going to fail pretty quickly unless you play the game on the easiest difficulty. As I talked about earlier you need to balance between gathering resources, growing your clan, and fighting/defending against your opponents. As a fan of strategy in board and video games I enjoyed having to develop a strategy to make sure my clan survived.
As far as how much time you will get out of Northgard it depends on which of the modes you plan on playing. The campaign features eleven missions. I would say that outside of the early missions most of them will take at least a half hour with the later missions potentially taking quite a bit more time. If you play on the higher difficulties it should take even longer as you will probably fail at least once. If you are into playing skirmishes against other people online or against computer AIs I think you will get quite a bit more time out of the game. Like with a lot of RTS games you can get a lot of time out of the game if you are a big fan of skirmish modes. If you are mostly only interested in the campaign though you will get quite a bit less time out of the game.
With the console releases of the Northgard coming out today, for this review I ended up playing the game on Playstation 4. With these type of RTS games I am always a little leery about how they will play on a console as the genre is more of a natural fit for PCs. While I have never played the PC version to compare them, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by how well Northgard plays on consoles. I credit this to the game doing a good job pairing the various controls to the buttons on the controller. The game maps three of the buildings you are most likely to build on three of the buttons. It then uses the x button to open a menu giving you more building options. The rest of the buttons are mapped a specific function which mostly involve displaying various menus. While it takes a while to adjust to what all of the buttons do, I honestly think the game did about as well as you could expect a game from this genre to work on consoles. If you were concerned about buying Northgard on consoles for control reasons you have nothing to worry about.
Northgard decides to do its own thing by combining a RTS with a city builder and it succeeds for the most part. The gameplay mostly revolves around using your villagers to build buildings and work at them to generate resources or other benefits for the clan. These resources are used to expand your clan and territory as well as build up an army to defend yourself and defeat your opponents. You defeat opponents by either eliminating them from the map, gaining enough fame or lore, or growing your trade routes. Northgard creates an interesting combination of mechanics that work quite well together. The ultimate package feels like a more streamlined RTS that may appeal to people that don’t usually like the genre but may turn off some players as well. The campaign is quite good for a RTS game and the skirmishes are pretty good even though the computer AI can be kind of hit or miss. Overall I really enjoyed my time with Northgard.
My recommendation comes down to your opinion on Northgard’s premise. If you have never liked RTS games or prefer more complicated games in the genre, Northgard may not be for you. People who are looking for an interesting twist on the genre that may be a little more straightforward should enjoy their time with Northgard. I would recommend that they look into picking up Northgard.