Northgard is an intense and engaging strategy game that offers fun gameplay while forcing you to make tough decisions.

Indie city-building RTS game Northgard drew quite a few followers during its time in Early Access due to its particular graphics style and intriguing mechanics.

Now that game is officially released, its time to take a closer look at this Viking management game.

Your role is to lead a band of Vikings that have recently landed on the shores of Northgard. There are several different clans to choose from, each with different abilities that enable interesting new ways to play the game.

The Stag clan, for example, starts the game with more resources and the ability to construct the Skalds Hut which is an improved version of the other clan’s brewery.

Once The map is split into regions, with each containing either resources or unique improvements. There are a lot of them spread around the map, and I’ve quite enjoyed exploring and seeing what everything does.

To take over a territory, you must first clear out the enemies inside of it. Those can range from wolves, the zombie-like Draugr, Valkyries, and rival clans. Once a region is clear of hostiles, you can colonize it by spending some resources on it. Pretty standard RTS gameplay so far.

When playing through the single-player mode, you have various victory conditions. Like in many strategy games, those range from defeating the other clans to completing a set amount of research or trade.

There are also slightly more unique conditions that play into the game’s settings and tone. For example, Magma regions allow you to win the game by reforging the Sword of Odin.

There are also random events throughout the game such as tremors which damage your buildings, or Draugr portals that spawn enemy units inside your territory. You always get a notification about those events in advance so you can prepare.

Northgard review

The main method of controlling the villagers in your village is by assigning them to different buildings which causes them to change their assigned jobs. These re-assignments don’t cost resources, for the most part, so you can adjust your focus at any given moment as necessary.

Having a “fluid” workforce is a clever system, but also a necessary one in a game like Northgard. To survive in Northgard, you must manage your stocks of food and wood with consideration of the coming winter.

Winter comes every year on a repeating cycle. During wintertime, your food production is significantly reduced, your firewood consumption is increased, and your military units power is decreased. During the early stages of the game, it’s nearly impossible to continue gaining resources during the winter, so you are forced to maintain large stocks of food and wood beforehand to survive the cold.

At first, I found the winter system unnecessarily punishing and frustrating. However, as I grew used to the game, I learned to enjoy the management decisions I had to make and the tight situations I was forced into thanks to all my weakened military units.

With that said, one bad winter can send you into a downward spiral you might not recover from, especially if it happens in early in the game. I often found myself forced to restart a game early on after a bad run.

If you run out of resources during the winter, your village’s happiness levels start to drop. Happiness is tied directly to production, so if it falls below zero, production grinds to a halt.

You village also stops spawning new villagers when everyone’s unhappy. Since the labor force is suddenly limited, you have to adapt and start assigning more and more people to food production. To add to the challenge, villagers can get wounded in combat, or fall sick during the winter, which are all severe blows to your output.

It’s easy to see how one bad winter can completely ruin an entire campaign.

While it is possible to recuperate, I found that it requires a lot of time and effort. More often than not the winter will come rolling back around before you manage to restock fully, and the cruel cycle starts all over again.

Northgard review Winter

While I enjoyed the management side of the game quite a lot, the combat fell short of my expectations. Fighting the wolves and the Draugr isn’t particularly challenging, and battles with other clans are often determined purely by who can throw more bodies into the fight.

I often found that attacking areas protected by guard towers is very difficult due to their high damage output. I couldn’t come up with any practical solution to overcome those since the closest thing the game has to a siege unit is the Shield Bearer. It takes reduced damage from tower attacks but still isn’t very useful in taking them down.

What I’m trying to say is that there are still some slight balancing issues Northgard needs to attend to when it comes to the combat.

Another issue I had with combat was the lack of a proper formation system. When sending units into battle, micromanagement seems to be the only way to properly control your units, as they don’t make any attempt to maintain their ranks. The range units usually run ahead and quickly get picked-off, which is a bit frustrating.

It’s something to bear in mind when you play. I’m so used to strategy games having some sort of a formation system that it almost feels like an oversight on the developers part.

I was also slightly annoyed by the lack of proper diplomacy in the game. Creating trade routes with other players makes them friendly towards you, but this is ultimately rather meaningless because it never leads to anything more than resource trading.

Northgard review

The graphics are simple, but they were part of what drew me into the game in the first place. They are simple but beautiful, and the different regions look great in their own way. The subtle particles effects during events and the winter added a lot to the experience.

The music is also pretty well made and fits the overall atmosphere of the game. It helps you stay engaged throughout everything, even the more frustrating parts.

Northgard is an intriguing strategy game which I truly enjoyed and would highly recommend playing despite its flaws.

The unique expansion mechanics and the challenging management of resources for the coming winter are enough to satisfy any strategy fan. The highly diversified map generation for each campaign only helps to enrich the experience and create interesting scenarios that kept me wanting to come back for more.

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