Northgard Early Access Preview

Harkening back to titles such as Settlers or Cultures, Northgard is a city builder worth keeping an eye on.

By Woozie, Posted 12 Jul 2017

Northgard puts you at the helm of a merry band of Vikings who’ve stumbled over a new continent and are bent on colonizing it. From your humble beginnings in randomized starting locations, you’ll set off to having a basic chain of production and, most importantly for the early game, Scouts. They are required if you plan on doing anything as maps are sectioned into territories. Some territories have certain types of resources, while others may contain foes which include Draugr, Wolves and Valkyries, the latter of which regularly guard special victory conditions. In order to expand your base to new territories, you first need to explore them with a Scout, then colonize them (using food, gold or special units, depending on which faction you’re playing), after which structures can be placed there.

Northgard, Screenshot, Early Access, Preview

Your settlers start off as villagers and get assigned roles once you send them to a building. Once assigned, they go on about their work. City builders don’t always allow you to control your villagers, but Northgard differs in this respect, for the most part. Every individual can be selected, assigned to control groups and moved around. Military units can be ordered individually, which definitely comes in handy. On the other hand, healers cannot be assigned a specific target to heal, doing so at their own whim. This stands out and can badly impact your clan when more units are wounded, as healers can target villagers that are at the center of your village instead of those in areas which are close to enemies.

Every area has a cap as to how many buildings it supports which can be raised by 1, via an upgrade that costs gold. There’s certainly a bit of planning required, despite the synergy between buildings being relatively minimal. The Food Silo is the only construction that increases other buildings’ output (food generation buildings, that is), however, you may want to plan out where you’re placing your military buildings in order to be able to quickly move soldiers to potential threat locations. The production chains themselves are fairly straightforward. Fishermen fish, woodcutters chop down wood, healers heal and brewmasters keep your people happy. There are no real intermediaries to manage at this point in time.

Northgard, Screenshot, Early Access, Preview

While one game is enough to get a grasp of how most buildings work, every faction has its own strengths and weaknesses. The wolf clan has a military edge over the other factions, while the goat clan is more efficient at producing food (although, this does come at the cost of some buildings requiring extra gold to be built). There are currently four clans in the game, with a fifth being expected sometime in the future. The core gameplay remains the same, however, you do need to alter your approach depending on which clan you play. Thus, what comes off as a difference in nuance does end up influencing the way you organize and build stuff. Furthermore, every clan has improvements that can be bought with lore (basically a research tree). Some of these are available to all, while others are clan specific. The wolf clan plays to their strengths, having an upgrade to further increase your military units’ power and greatly decrease the amount of food required to sustain them. The raven clan, who focus more on raiding, exploration and obtaining gold, has research that increases your military units’ power based on your supply of gold and your clan’s happiness based on how many areas you’ve explored.

Happiness represents one way to gauge how well your clan is doing. With higher values, you get new villagers quicker. When values are negative, villager production stops and certain things need to be addressed. In the games I’ve played, the most common cause for this was a lack of food (ushered in by winter) and the sickness it can cause. Happiness can be obtained from a different number of sources, however this is where one of the bigger issues I’ve had with Northgard pops up. Said issue comes with there not being enough information about certain resources. Hovering over happiness usually tells you that your villagers may want better housing, or that too many of them are wounded. Be that as it may, managing it can be tough at times, especially how villager production stops upon negative values. This can often get you in a spot where you can’t reliably get happiness higher, because that stone source you need to upgrade buildings is two tiles away. This gets worse with Food, which only shows a “consumption” level, without ever detailing where the largest consumption comes from. This makes working around it really difficult and led to my clans getting sick and dying to the point where I had to restart a good couple of games. On top of that, resource gain also tends to fluctuate quite randomly at times, the reason for that being quite difficult to make out.

Northgard, Screenshot, Early Access, Preview

Northgard can definitely stretch your resources thin and does require you to plan ahead. Winters mean your production slows down, even more so when there’s a blizzard going on. Blizzards also make it difficult to see when totally zoomed out, which I found to be a nice touch. Wolves and Draugr will attack your villagers. Rats may appear and eat your food unless you have a silo to store it in. At times, Helheim portals will spawn in your territory which requires a military response from you. These are all neat touches that do keep you on your toes.

When it comes to setting up a game, Northgard could benefit from some further customization options. Aside from map size, number of clans, color and victory conditions there isn’t a lot else to be found. A neat touch would be to add a way of determining enemy numbers and the likelihood of stuff like blizzards and earthquakes. Regarding victory conditions, they do give a good amount of ways to approach winning a game. You can eliminate every other clan, gain a certain amount of gold, capture enough territory or discover enough lore upgrades. Furthermore, as you explore you may find stuff like lava flows, which allow for crafting the Sword of Odin, or the Gates of Helheim which, if held for a year, will bring you victory. There’s definitely variety here. But aren’t, say, the wolf clan locked into following a military victory? Not really. While some clans may be a bit more efficient in chasing certain victory types, you can, essentially, go for any of them. My first victory as Fenris (the wolf clan) was not an elimination victory, despite their military focus. I, instead, conquered 12 territories, gathered the required amount of Fame and built a required building (Altar of Heroes). This allows for a good deal of flexibility and does usher in replayability.

Northgard, Screenshot, Early Access, Preview

Combat is something I’ve never really enjoyed in city builders. While Northgard does do a good job of allowing you control over your units, its combat is fairly simplistic. Three unit types plus a hero unit are what you’re dealing with. It’s more often than not a question of numbers, of course, with relevant research popping in when that is the case. You can, however, also cheese a good amount of fights. This happens mostly because the AI will not cross into your territory when provoked. What you can then do is draw a wolf (or Draugr, or enemy soldier) to the border between your territory and theirs and tilehop between the two. You’ll land an attack and get back before they can hit you. On top of that, Draugrs can be led around a building, as they’re particularly slow, and attacked from range. On one occasion, I was attacking a foe’s final territory. In a desperate attempt to survive, he had his people go towards the one military building left to turn them into soldiers, assuming he had the gold. I managed to block his 7 villagers with just 4 military units as none of them were particularly inclined to go around my soldiers to reach the building.

With its quirks and flaws, I’d lie in saying Northgard didn’t absorb me. There were, certainly, games where I had to restart early on due to the start position being quite low on food. But it does harken back to titles such as Settlers or Cultures and watching a village work properly is pure joy. While it does seem to head in a casual direction, there is enough difficulty to be found in the various dangers that await colonizers-to-be (especially on Hard mode). Hardcore strategy fans will most likely not find their satisfaction here, but as it stands Northgard is a good pick for those interested in city builders.

Note: This article is based entirely on single player matches against the AI. Northgard also sports a multiplayer component to which we’ll get at a later date.

Bogdan Robert, NoobFeed
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General Information

Northgard

/100

Platform(s): PC
Publisher(s): Shiro Games
Developer(s): Shiro Games
Genres: Real-Time Strategy
Themes: Real-Time Strategy
Release Date: 2016-12-31

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