Developer: Shiro Games
Publisher: Shiro Games
Coming from an Age of Empires background, my eyes lit up at the sight of Shiro Games’ Northgard, a lush, detailed isometric world blessed by the almighty hammer of Thor. While there isn’t exactly a dearth of strategy titles out there, the Viking-culture influenced Northgard differs heavily from the cartoon loveliness of games like The Banner Saga and changes focus from Civilisation V’s Denmark: The Vikings DLC towards something more mythological rather than historical.
Northgard wastes no time in plunging you head first into its vibrant, thriving atmosphere, charged by a brilliant adaptive symphonic arrangement of bagpipes, flutes and harpsichord, and the gushing calm of the wind. The smoothly rendered, high-quality graphics also help create a fantastic first impression, but of course, the gameplay shines in a spotlight of its own: With the core objective of advancing your chosen clan, Northgard keeps you busy with a multitude of micro-level assignments such as gathering food, wood and kröwns (the game’s currency) to drive the synthesis of housing and higher level structures, as well as your ability to explore and colonise neighbouring environments. The progression system has a tight, clear design which introduces a refreshing new element reminiscent of The Sims: The top bar includes a happiness tracker, which not only better reflects Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but also forces the player to manage another constraint. Unlike the villagers in Age of Empires, Northgard’s civilians feel the cold, have their food infested by rats if it isn’t adequately guarded, and can ultimately die of starvation. This additional layer of ‘humanity’ is a clever addition to the game’s inherently robust strategy formula.
The difficulty curve isn’t too tough to manage for those experienced with the genre, although due to my lack of familiarity with Northgard’s mandatory colonisation of new territory before being allowed to build anything on it, my first playthrough proved cyclical and slightly frustrating – even on normal. Despite this, Northgard still felt utterly engaging. It was subsequent games that taught me to act fast, and with a dash of wisdom now up my sleeve the challenging beauty of Northgard expanded before my eyes into a full blown realisation: In a battle for colonial supremacy, timing is king.
A superb audiovisual canvas brought to life by a solid progression system, satisfying strategy gameplay and hints of Viking fantasy narrative, Northgard is a hidden gem, not to be missed by anyone fond of real-time strategy games. You can play it now for $17.99 USD (currently 10% off) on PC.
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A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this preview.