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Northgard Preview

The Norse were a fierce and barbaric people but even they couldn't earn such a reputation without some intelligent guidance. Northgard puts that responsibility in your hands and lets you lead a small village of Vikings to victory in your chosen way. Harvest resources, construct buildings and train specialists to ensure your lasting survival in this ruthless world where your enemies, wild animals, and harsh winters are all equally likely to cause your downfall.

Northgard Preview

introduction

Northgard is a simplistic city management game from Shiro Games that puts you in charge of a small Viking village in search of glory and riches. However, as the game progresses you discover that achieving victory is not as simple as catching a few fish, cutting down some trees and storming the gates of your enemies.

Managing your tribesmen and resources is the key to mastering Northgard. Having an abundance of a single resource has its advantages but could mean that you neglected something else, an oversight you'll regret down the line. Similarly, training all your people in crafts and neglecting your military opens you up to invasions from your enemies. Don't forget to train a few loremasters, they will increase your knowledge and let you discover new technologies which will improve various aspects of your existence.

You can play as one of several clans, each with their own special attributes and bonuses. Currently, we have 3 available but grayed out blocks hold the promise additional people joining the fight on launch day. As in life, the path to victory in Northgard is not a linear one. You have 4 possible victory conditions and it's your mission to reach any one of these before your competitors.

Northgard puts the ancient Norse in a light we haven't seen before. Sure, you can conduct pillaging raids but your brawn will only take you so far here. This game reminds us that in addition to warriors, the Vikings were also skilled craftsmen and intelligent builders.

Northgard is an Early Access title on Steam. Check out this link to visit the game's page.

Northgard Preview. Winter can be cruel in these lands, make sure you have enough food stored.

gameplay

A game starts with 3 workers who automatically gather small amounts of food from the land. One can then be reassigned as a builder to construct one of several available structures. Do you build a woodcutter's hut and start gathering wood, or do you create a scout camp in order to train scouts and explore the surrounding terrain. Your town hall will keep spewing out new villagers whom you can assign to various roles in order to improve your quality of life. Just keep your eye on the housing cap which can be raised by adding homes.

A higher population requires more food so you will constantly need to be on the lookout for additional food sources. Wood can be gained from cutting down trees and you can also mine stone and iron when you come across a deposit. Things become a little complicated when you find you can only construct a certain number of buildings in an area to avoid things from becoming too crowded. You can then spend food to expand to new areas where you will discover new resources and can add further structures.

If you don't keep enough food then expanding becomes a serious problem. Don't expand and you won't discover the resources needed to keep your town's technology from fading into the dark ages. Spend too much time in one area and others will lack behind. It's all a delicate balancing act that could lead to your doom if you tip too much to one side. Luckily, I never found myself in a situation where I was unable to recover due to a bad choice I made earlier.

The land is filled with ferocious creatures ranging from wolves to club-wielding trolls to giant flying wyverns whom you'll need to vanquish in order to claim those lands for your own. You'll also need to prepare a worthy military in case of an invasion from another clan, although war can be avoided if you play diplomatically. Strangely, war is the lesser aspect of the game. You only have a single type of soldier available to you and you can recruit only one additional Warchief. Defenses are limited to only a guard tower which you rarely build since it takes up one of your valuable building slots. While this was surprising, it didn't take away from the gameplay in any way since the management offers more than enough to focus on.

Another factor to keep in mind is the seasonal changes. During Winter your food production is dramatically decreased and your wood consumption goes through the roof as your people build more fires to keep warm. Run out of food and your happiness drops which make your workers less productive. No food leads to starvation which leads to disease, and without a good number of healers your population will dwindle to nothing before the first flowers bloom in Spring. In addition to the bad weather, there are also natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes that could leave your once prosperous village in a heap of smoldering rubble.

Since this is the beta version of Northgard, I only had single player skirmishes available to me. While the campaign and multiplayer options were disabled, I was able to get a good sense of how things work and how far development has come. From the previews, I was expecting a classic RTS game like Warcraft 2 but the emphasis of the gameplay centered around city management which made Northgard much more comparable to the older versions of The Settlers. I've always felt that the industry lacked some decent management games like this.

the clans and victory conditions

Northgard Preview. A quick look at the Fenrir clan.First we have Fenrir, the clan of the wolf. This is an aggressive group which receives some bonuses to their military like increased movement speed and attack damage. Eikthyrnir is represented by the proud stag and is a great clan to choose when you aim to expand quickly due to their additional starting resources. Finally, we have Heirdun, the clan of the goat. They are masters of surviving the harsh elements and obtain the ability to herd sheep for additional food. The differences might seem slight but they can make a huge difference and make selecting a clan important depending on what type of victory you're going to pursue.

Speaking of victory conditions… Choose the domination path and you have to conquer your enemies by destroying their town halls. This means that you have to explore quickly to find your enemy's starting locations but keeping those scouts alive is a mission all on its own.

Expanding into adjacent territories raises your fame and later on earns you a higher title. The Fame victory condition is won when you own enough territories and you have risen to a state where your subjects call you king.

If finance management is your strong suit then you may consider a trade victory which is awarded to only the greatest merchants in Scandinavia. You will need to form solid trade relations to maintain a high income while also storing a good amount of gold.

Finally, we come to the Wisdom victory condition which combines the knowledge of the seen and the unseen in a pursuit of enlightenment and the blessings of the gods. Wisdom leads to the discovery of better technologies and may also see the gods smiling on your settlement with a blessing.

Northgard Preview. Here's an overview of the victory conditions and what you'll need to do to achieve them.

design

The game's visuals feel about 20 years old but by using a slightly more animated look, they managed to make it feel retro instead of outdated. In terms of audio, you'll be treated to some pleasant stringed musical performances during the game although the effects are somewhat basic. As far as designs go, Northgard does little to stand out but not so little as to spoil the game.
One flaw in the gameplay design I found is that in addition to scrolling around by moving your mouse pointer to the edge of the screen in the traditional sense, you can also left click on the ground and dragging it around. This might seem useful but it means that it's not possible to select multiple units by dragging a box around the ones you'd like to select. This makes unit management rather tricky because in order to select multiple units you either have to double click on one to select similar units on screen, which doesn't always work, or by right clicking on the unit icon in the units menu. The latter option, in turn, selects all those types of units which is a problem when you only want to use 5 of them. 

Unit management then is difficult and while this isn't a train wreck, it does stand out as the single worst element of the game which could easily have been avoided with a simple design change.

Northgard Preview. Fame is just one of the elements that could bring your victory.

conclusion

The first few minutes feel slow and drawn out but you quickly appreciate the slower gameplay when you start expanding and have to keep an eye on so many different things. Whether or not the game's pace will still be appealing twenty or thirty games down the line is another story and will require further testing.
Keeping in mind that Northgard is still in beta, I did experience frequent errors. Sometimes I could simply dismiss the popup but other times the game crashed and I was forced to reload from the last auto-save. I also had some issues with the randomly generated maps since I had to play one game with only a single food source and despite my extensive exploration, I couldn't find another anywhere nearby. 

However, looking past a few minor problems which will probably be resolved by release, Northgard was a pleasure to play. It combines a fine mix of strategy and city planning into a game that is neither too simple nor overly complex. The various victory conditions mean that there is no perfect way to play since your path to domination may be overshadowed by a competitors pursuit of ultimate wisdom. This promises enough versatility to keep you coming back for more and more.

I look forward to unlocking the remaining elements once the full game becomes available and seeing what else Northgard has to offer.

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