Early Access Preview: Northgard

By Josh Brown 12 Apr 2017 0

If you hadn't heard of Shiro Games before Northgard, you've likely heard their name now. Previously known for blending every era of RPG together for Evoland and its sequel, Northgard  has managed to top Steam's 'Best Sellers' chart from the moment it was released. Continuing in their quest to make the best use of that blender they bought years ago, this latest endeavour blends two other well-known genres – TBS & RTS. They're not the first to try, but they're already doing better than some.

Northgard presents itself somewhere in region of if Warcraft II met Sid Meiers' Civilization and as they both attended a Norse mythology class. You're dropped onto a newly founded island which, in a shocking twist, is called Northgard, and you're tasked with proclaiming your rule before the other clans beat you to the throne.

Northgard 1

The Game

Victory is achieved in a typical 4X political/diplomatic manner with most of Northgard's finer details playing out in a more involved real-time scenario. With a single piece of the game map under your control from the start, you're to slot your villagers into key working roles as they trickle out of Town Hall. Harvesting wood, collecting food, scouting out additional land and brandishing weaponry are key decisions to be made as you either turtle up to focus on amassing a fortune or head out to claim victory by snapping up the majority of the land from the opposing clans. With resource management playing a key role between the Summer and Winter seasons, and with troublesome natural disasters plaguing you every so often, the villagers of Northgard must adapt to the changing situations by constantly swapping out roles to meet the current needs of the clan.

Villagers are given specific roles by entering a built-up facility like the Barracks or Woodcutters Hut while others can take up roles like Healers to patch up wounds that might be casuing your population to shirk in their duties. Each 'tile' of Northgard is only capable of housing a particular number of structures, some which other offer boons to specific resources. Expansion is key, and this is true for the rest of the Clans as well. Between them, the elements and the Draugr, there's alot of competition for your land.

Taking in the best parts of both genres, the gameplay of Northgard typically sticks to a real-time approach while the land around you is split into indivudial tiles similar to  its turn-based cousins. Other than sapping a few features like 'research' and claiming land, Northgard is primarily a real-time affair, however; so don't go in expecting to have much time to think about your actions. It's quite the opposite.

For the most part, Shiro Games is onto something here. Northgard is nothing new by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a blend of two typically well-recieved strategy game designs that can happily co-exist within one another. For those who prefer to achieve victory through politics rather that mortal combat - you can do just that. While those who prefer a game that keeps flowing smoothly on all fronts, the real-time approach will keep them on their toes.

The Problems

Northgard 4

Being an Early Access game, Northgard is in a better state than most, but still short of what many consider a “polished” 1.0 release. Coupled with the fact that the developers have had no real experience with strategy titles before now, there are definitely some changes I feel we need to see before giving this any kind of official recommendation.

Pacing is a major issue right now – whether the problem is optimization or general flow/balance, each play-through seems to to struggle with an all too fast early game, and a late game that drags on longer than it really should.

The seasons also need a bit more work as well. With Northgard relying heavily on resource management, it makes sense to have a few surprises ready to throw a spanner in the works.  Summer is a prosperous time for produce and productive work and Winter slows down the advances of your troops while eating up excessive amounts of food and burning through precious wood. That's all fine, and it makes sense. But the rate at which it kicks in leaves little time for experimentation and, when paired with natural disasters and hungry virmin, only adds to the stress. For newcomers enticed by the game's relatively low price, the learning curve might prove a little too much and is potentially off-putting.

Northgard 6

Similarly, a few upgrades in the UI department surely wouldn't hurt. Shiro Games are going down the right route of having almost every piece of the user interface on full show,but it still feels difficult to pull off 'at a glance' decisions in the short time-frame you're typically given. We found ourselves often losing track of our warriors in pivotal moments, sometimes struggling to tell them apart from other nearby villagers - espeically the Woodcutters - leading to loss of land we rather needed. The traditional highlight drag selection method would rarely take effect while the notifications in the top-left would alert us to an enemy at the gates only some of the time.

If you're hoping to amass an army to take on the other clans before they come for you - don't go devising grand strategies of archers on high-ground or synchrnised a pinser attacks. Northgard isn't quite that in-depth yet. The armies of Northgard are comprised of nothing but footsoldiers and the occasional Warlord (if you've got the money for one), and it's essentially a game of numbers at this point. There's some micro-management possible to play havok with an opposing army, but that's about it. Heck, each Clan essentially looks the same. The only real difference is in their research bonuses. 

The Future


Northgard hit Early Access with a formiddable force when it released on February 22nd, 2017; climbing to the heights of the Best Sellers list and staying there for a number of weeks. With its ninth major update on the horizon, fresh builds have slowed down while Shiro focus on implimenting a solid Multiplayer mode set to go into testing soon.

Most of the major fices to date have focused on integrated GPU support end balance tweaks, but the small team have oulined how the initial would be the 'Core' of the game. Six days before landing on Early Access, Shiro Games outlined a general roadmap of upcoming features that's still relevant to this day. New clans have made their debut already, but additional victory conditions, a story mode and neutral factions have yet to be implemented. The potential for more radical upgrades to the combat system were also mentioned in the release roadmap but were said to be situational depending on player feedback.

Closing Thoughts

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Being Shiro Games' only currently announced project, we can imagine Northgard will be getting a lot of much needed attention over the coming months. The foundation has been laid for a intriguing return to a simple, yet alluring, RTS concoction, but there's still a lot of work to be done.

Additional clans, more varied lands and a greater emphasis on individuality is needed in droves, but it's a solid enough game already and there are far worse ways to spend £15. The only major caveat for us is that repetition can set-in quite quickly, and you'll soon feel like your treading old ground. We'd perhaps wait for the muliplayer to drop at least, so you have something else to do.

With plenty of time left on the Early Access clock, there's no doubt in my mind that Northgard will become something of a gem within the strategy community. Though a little rough around the edges right now, there's no solid reason why this particular genre blend should never have been concieved. Pick it up today for a fine taste of the future or let it ferment for a sweeter return. There's no right or wrong right now, and that's an exciting prospect.

Northgard entered Steam Early Access on February 22nd, 2017. Current information states that it's due to leave EA within 2-6 months of that date.



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