Developer: Shiro Games
Publishers: Shiro Games (Self-Published)
Available for PC
(Reviewed with Press Code)
“Northgard” isn’t your usual RTS. I’m saying that from the offset but I don’t mean that as a negative. It’s just more complex then it can be perceived in just text. I’d usually start with the story but like the RTS games of old, the story campaign is just an extended tutorial and the big draw for the game is multiplayer. So lets start with the gameplay, and that ‘not your usual’ phrasing.
It’s often called just as an RTS but it’s more complex with game mechanics of the RTS sister genre, the empire/civilisation Strategy game. The best example would be the ‘Civilisation’ series, as a core part of the mechanics is tile management simmer to ‘Civilisation’. The map is divided into tiles and your have to control the tiles before you can build on it. A difference from the traditional ‘sphere of influence building’ most RTS games use. The tiles also limit the amount of buildings you can have as there is a building limit for each tile. So after building your initial resource gathering buildings and scout building (who goes through the ‘fog of war’ that limits your vision), you have to start moving forward, taking more tiles, and expanding. You really do have to hit the ground running or you can end up on the back foot compared to your enemies.
That means that the game is very unforgiving. Not hard, unforgiving. One delay, one slow down, or one miscalculated attack and it can be a drawn out walk towards a game over for you. I think it’s why one complaint that seems to appear in the Steam forums regularly is player dropout (players dropping out of online matches early when a loss in inevitable). Their are more complex interactions with the RTS and strategy mechanics, namely the winters that dip resource production and increase resource use, but on the whole game is actually very easy to understand. It’s just that generally ‘speed is key‘ to victory.
It’s why I would say that finishing or mastering the story campaign would be a good start to learn your style of play and the intricacies of the mechanics. On that, the story.
The story follows Norse king Rig, who kingship and clan is taken away from him as his village is attacked by the Raven clan and their leader Hagan. So you start your quest of vengeance but uncover a darker and more sinister plot that crosses all of the mystical island of Northgard. Here I need to talk about the plot, especially the ending so for the next paragraph or two ‘here be spoilers‘;
The mid-game twist is that the big evil isn’t Hagan but a man called Hvedrung. Hagan gets killed off by the new leader of the Raven clan who joins your new quest, which is to kill Hvedrung. This is when it’s revealed that the horn of Rig’s clan that was stolen when his clan was attacked (right at the beginning) is the Gjallarhorn used by the Norse gods and will be used by Hvedrung to bring about Ragnarök. So the second act twist is that that story moves from ‘revenge plot’ to a ‘save the world plot’. But then there’s the ending.
The game ends on a cliffhanger. You ‘kill’ Hvedrung (it’s in quote marks as it cuts away before he dies and even then no ones trying to kill him now for some reason,) and he says that you didn’t stop Ragnarök and ‘there’s more you don’t know’ yadda yadda yadda. It’s a generic ‘to be continued’ ending so there’s no real pay off as the plot just turns round and says you failed anyway.
[The spoilers are done here, you can come back now.]
There is a reason for the ending to be like that and that is because of post release updates. On release the developers said there will be six major updates periods (although I say seven but it’s semantics). Three of the updates will be multiplayer balance updates and the other three will be a ‘large update & clan’, (it’s why I say seven as the seventh period would be the balancing after the last clan is brought in). So it’s safe to say that as part of those ‘large updates’ there will be more story centred around the new clan being the next bad guy. At least maybe? Shiro games are a little vague saying “It is too early to get into details” and “…we’d like to make the expansions available for free and add specific clans that take advantage of the new systems in each expansion as a paid DLC,” in an interview with Rock Paper Shotgun. So it feels like there will be more story but it remains ambiguous because of their language. The cliffhanger could just be the story going ‘and it continues in multiplayer’ as a way to connect the two.
So time for the big summery; Is it good? Yes. It’s not your usual RTS because of the combined elements from the strategy genre which make it a little more complicated. The RTS ‘big army tactic’ isn’t a sure fire win as with others. Is the multiplayer balanced? Well there’s been two updates since release so they’re already keeping on top of it. And the strategy side of the mechanics means there’s quite a few way to win with different play styles. Is the story good? Well the thing that ended up impressing me more was the accurate pronunciation of the Norse words and mythos. Kind of a sign that the story itself gets beaten by the narration. Still intrigued by the ending though, as long as the story actually get a conclusion. Last thing the game needs is a ‘[never] to be continued’ ending.
It is worth buying and it does get a hearty [and Norse bearded] recommendation. Just make sure that it’s the kind of game you like as the big draw is the multiplayer. The campaign is good but short (just for now hopefully) and has a habit of throwing curveball objectives just to force teach the mechanics you may not have a knack for, (that fame victory chapter seems to be a particular bug bear for many). It looks good and is designed well, plays solidly, and Shiro Games seems to be very much on top of getting out the updates. A good solid structure, while needing those touch up updates, to get through those cold gaming winters.