I don’t know if I could ever get enough strategy games about past civilizations. I mean, the Civ series kind of has that idea on lock, but I’d jump at the chance to play a game about a Mesopotamian society or tend to the hanging gardens of Babylon. But developers often fall back on one group – a group that not only ensures that you’re going to have a formidable combat element, but one that also has a rich history to draw from. That group is Vikings, and although it’s currently in early access, Northgard shows promise.
Before I even started a match, I was impressed by the open-endedness of Northgard‘s strategic framework. While a lot of RTS games are tightening their win conditions to a simple demolish and destroy mechanic, or even distilling it down to “destroy the enemy core,” Northgard has five – based on warfare, accumulation of knowledge, trading, fame, and map specific conditions. You can swap out any and all of them as long as you have one, which is a nice touch.
Beyond that, there isn’t a whole lot in terms of customization right now. You can alter team colours (for four clans in total) and the difficulty setting, and that’s about it. Each clan has a little bonus attached, like enhanced armies or better food rationing, which is a little one-note, but I see the potential. Plus, drastic differences could lead to imbalance, and each one can adjust accordingly to the win conditions set in that match.
But Northgard is more than just potential, as it already looks fantastic. I love the lush forests, the detailed character models, and the incredible watercolour visual scheme. It hearkens back to 90s RTS titles without feeling dated, which was most likely the end goal.
The menus are a little more awkward though. It’s tough to figure out what each building does, and the tooltips are wholly unhelpful. While I did acclimate roughly an hour in, there’s still a lot to juggle, and the buildings themselves aren’t pronounced enough to make quick decisions even at a glance. The team could stand to make some improvements on that front, especially given the fact that several structures look almost identical to one another – if not for pragmatic reasons, then for aesthetic ones.
Again, it is something you can get used to, and the flow plays out nicely. Happiness spawns villagers constantly (if you have homes for them), and you can alter that generic gatherer status by clicking on them then clicking on a building. You need to convert scouts to find new areas, create warriors to do more damage in combat, and so on. It’s an easy concept that works within the confines of Northgard better than clicking an individual building like a barracks to build troops.
Speaking of troops, I dig the way combat works as it’s not just battling other CPUs or players. Warcraft III style, Shiro Games populated maps with a ton of neutral creeps, which range from realistic critters like wolves to undead creatures from Norse mythology. In some cases you’ll need to assemble a swarthy crew and kill spawn points to gather nodes – there’s just so much to do in any given random game even if you’re just operating on a single victory ruleset. Gameplay-wise, I only found one major Achilles heel. I know it’s early access, but it’s hard to micro units sometimes. Clicking on some during certain activities will instantly allow you to control a given unit, but in other cases they’re unresponsive.
Northgard will eventually sport a campaign and a multiplayer element, but for now, they’re not available in the early access version. If you’re buying in early you’ll eventually get them (provided that Shiro Games finishes it, which, based on their track record, they likely will), but at the moment it’s just straight skirmishing. That’s fine with me given the sheer amount of polish here – it just needs a few minor improvements until it feels like a fully-fledged 1.0 product.