Developer: Shiro Games
Publisher: Shiro Games
Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Available On: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Official Site: Northgard.net
Release Date: PC, PS4, Switch
Version Tested: Switch
Where to Buy it: Steam, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Northgard from Shiro Games is an RTS chock full of nostalgia. RTS games have always had a special place in my heart. There were two specific games that have always been near and dear to my heart. WarCraft 2 and StarCraft are arguably two of the greatest in the genre. I would go to class thinking about strategies to beat the levels I was stuck on. They were perfect games in my mind and had a magical quality about them. Northgard reminds me of a lot of those games. If someone handed me a copy of Northgard twenty years ago, it would have fit right into my gaming staple. The game does have some flaws and is by no means perfect, but it’s a trusted formula that works.
Northgard works like most other RTS games. The player must first select which clan he or she wants to play as. Like the Protos and Humans in StarCraft, there are distinct attributes that come with each clan. Whom you choose will have a direct impact on how you play the game, so decide carefully.
Each level starts out as you would expect. There is a townhall type structure, a few villagers, and a mostly vacant piece of land. The game doesn’t hold your hand much, leaving you to figure out what comes next. Gathering resources is key in the beginning, so tasking villagers with mining, lumberjacking, or farming is crucial. You’ll have to build more houses to attract more villagers, who then proceed to produce more for the village.
The computer will prompt you to build certain things if needed, but mostly, the player must figure it out. One of my gripes is that some of the buildings aren’t self-explanatory. I know what a house is and a training camp, but I can’t for the life of me figure out what a few of the other structures are for. It comes in time, but it can be detrimental to a winning strategy if certain structure uses are difficult to figure out.
Another gripe I have is actually with the computer prompts. While playing on my 50” TV, I find it hard to read the text. My eyes aren’t the best, to begin with, but the text is quite small even by my standards. The text that appears is very important to the game, so being hard to read makes things a little difficult. Others might not have this issue, by I found it to be a big detriment to the experience.
The area at the start of gameplay is typically on the small side. In order to expand one’s territory, you must first go exploring. Each new land that is discovered must be colonized, but it takes an increasing amount of resources to do so. As you expand, your clan will have access to more resources such as mines, farming land, timber, and so on. This is all very important as there’s a limited amount of buildings you can construct in each area. It feels like there’s an invisible patchwork of plots, and when it’s out, it’s out. You can demolish buildings, but oftentimes, you can’t build different ones until you rebuild the one you just got rid of. I found that to be slightly irritating and often times frustrating. I had to restart a level once as a result.
RTS games are built on the back of resources. The more resources your clan has, the more you can build, attract, expand, and conquer. Northgard and the world within is full of resources, but you need to be smart about how and when you use them. Use things up too quickly and you’re going to get stuck. As I mentioned, I couldn’t build any silos because I ran out of usable land. I couldn’t expand and colonize because I didn’t have enough food. There was no way around it so I needed to restart the level. Don’t go into the game building and creating with reckless abandon.
Fame is a resource in Northgard that is highly valuable. Defeating enemies and helping out fellow-clansman are driving forces in the game. The more fame, the greater the rewards for your clan. It drives expansion and victory.
Villagers are the heart and soul of the clan. They can be assigned to do any task, including gathering resources, training as warriors, and even studying lore which leads to tech advances. Players must keep villagers happy though, so throwing feasts is a regular occurrence.
The weather changes in Northgard from spring to summer and into fall and winter. It’s not just for aesthetics. This directly affects your clansman and the game. You must research better clothes and adapt to the surroundings in order to get an edge up on your opponents. It’s refreshing to see that different weather patterns have meaning and aren’t just for background visuals.
Once a villager is assigned a task, they can easily be reassigned. If you’re not going to war but need more food, assign your warriors to do some farming. The same goes for any task. I loved this feature as you don’t always have to attract more villagers in order to get something done. From what I can tell, the player can’t choose a specific villager directly. Not a huge deal, but it would have been nice.
The best way to play an RTS game is on a PC with a mouse and keyboard. The freedom of movement can’t be replicated. Northgard would be a dream on a PC, but it still works on most levels on a console. You can easily send warriors to attack a certain area with one click. I would love it if you could select individuals or groups at will, but the game still works regardless. Expanding territory to the far reaches can take a while to scroll to, but it’s a small hurdle that doesn’t encumber the game too much. This is one of the few cases where handheld might be an easier experience. The touch screen will allow players to do and move things with a greater quickness than the controller.
Graphics and Sound
Northgard looks great. It really does harken back to the ’90s and that’s a good thing. Beautiful animation style and environments give the game a wondrous atmosphere. When I first started the game, I noticed the screen went above the edges of my TV. Luckily, there is an option to resize the play area to fit your TV. The sound design is simple but effective all around.
Verdict: Northgard is a well-made RTS that borrows from its predecessors and improves upon it. It has its flaws, but the positives outweigh the negatives. If this were the PC version, it would be a little easier to navigate, but I still had fun regardless. If you’re a fan of RTS games and are looking to declare war on friends, I recommend you give Northgard a try.
- Nostalgic look that harkens back to the '90s
- Beautiful animation and landscapes
- Challenging and well-rounded gameplay
- Hard to read text
- Controls would be better with a mouse/keyboard
- Confusing at the start