Northgard is an utterly addictive Viking themed strategy game where you’ll be trying to conquer this mysterious land, all the while preparing for the devastating effects of a brutally cold winter. As if freezing temperatures weren’t enough to deal with, you’ll also have to protect your clan from the likes of dire wolves, rival Viking clans, wyverns, and other mythical beasties.
I always like to begin these types of games with the story mode as it generally seems to be a good place to pick up the basics. You’ll begin by playing as Rig, son of the High King, who is trying to avenge his father’s death while also seeking riches and glory in a new land. It’s a fairly simple storyline which isn’t particularly memorable but provides plenty of reasons for the game to throw lots of interesting and varied scenarios at you.
A New Story Begins
The very first thing I noticed when I launched into the story was the absolutely gorgeous artwork used to tell it. The second thing I noticed was the horrendously teeny tiny writing. It might not have been so bad if it was just the subtitles in the cutscenes that suffered from this but unfortunately the user interface in general is pretty minuscule. I really wish that more games had adjustable text size instead of forcing players to sit inches away from the screen in order to read stuff.
After begrudgingly moving my chair much closer to the screen (and risking eye strain) I was able to begin my time in Northgard’s harsh and ruthless world. Although the story mode is a great place to start it doesn’t really give you a very detailed tutorial. Instead it’s one of those games that gives you little tidbits of information and then expects you to experiment and figure things out for yourself. Despite the somewhat unforgiving nature of the game it works surprisingly well. You’ll soon pick up the basics, although it’ll take a while before you really understand all the nuances of the game.
For a game that started out on PC, the controls work fairly well on a PS4 controller. The game auto-suggests contextual actions when you hover over different areas of the map but there’s also a radial-style menu that’s quick and easy to use if you don’t like the game’s suggestions of things to build or do. The only thing I found a bit fiddly is that there isn’t a central detailed menu. Instead you access different portions of the menu by pressing different shoulder buttons. It just feels a bit unintuitive to have actions to do with, for example, your troops in two separate menus instead of accessing it all in one place.
Building a New Future
Initially, the most important things to keep your eye on are the amount of food and wood your clan has. Food will keep people fed, and wood is used to keep them warm and also to build stuff. Just as you’d expect from a bunch of Vikings, they’re a remarkably hardy and versatile bunch. You can quickly give people different jobs by assigning them to different buildings. It makes the game feel really fluid as they aren’t fixed to specific roles and can easily be reassigned.
There are all sorts of different buildings you can make and therefore different job roles for your people. Everything from training huts to create warriors, woodcutter lodges, fisherman’s huts, and even docks to send your Viking brethren out to pillage and plunder to their little hearts content.
You won’t be able to create densely populated areas though as each tile of land can only support a few buildings. This means that you’ll pretty quickly want to start expanding your territory outwards but this requires you to give up a chunk of your food resources. It’s a never-ending balancing act to try to expand outwards while also making sure that the needs of your population are met. The more areas you’ve expanded into the higher the cost to take over the next bit of land and so you’ll be limited in how quickly you can grow.
Winter is Coming
Time will gradually march onwards and every year a bitterly cold winter will come. Everything will be covered in snow and ice which, as well as having a pretty visual effect, also has a dramatic impact on the amount of food and wood you can gather. The clan’s consumption of these resources also drastically increases. This all means that you have to constantly plan ahead every year to make sure you have enough supplies to last through the winter.
While a harsh winter is an event that is guaranteed to happen every year, there are also plenty of other random events that can scupper your clan’s chances for survival such as earthquakes, rat infestations, and plagues. Things can start to go downhill very quickly but even though the game can be pretty tough it rarely feels unfair.
Northgard isn’t just about hoarding food and wood, there are other things that you’ll need to keep an eye on. Things like your clan’s happiness, which impacts population growth, as well as other resources like money, iron, and stone. You’ll also slowly accumulate Lore points that can be assigned to a simple skill tree which will increase your proficiency in trade, swordsmanship, as well as food production.
For a small fee you’ll be able to train some of your Viking minions in the art of throwing axes, bearing shields, and also swords. You can then split them into separate groups which can be controlled independently from each other. There’s loads of fun to be had in carefully positioning troops and manoeuvring them out of harm’s way when they start to run low on health.
Northgard Review - Winter is Coming - PlayStation LifeStyle
The story mode will keep you busy for a fair while, especially if you decide to try to complete all the bonus objectives in each chapter and win on the harder difficulties. There’s also a single player skirmish mode which will pit you against AI’s. You’ll be able to change various different settings, like the type of map you play on, as well as which clan you want to be. There are six different clans to play around with and they all have very different perks and skills which makes a real difference in how you need to approach each game. You can also try your hand in the online multiplayer mode where you can battle it out against other people to see who the true high king of Northgard is.
The game can be quite the challenge until you really get the hang of all the various systems, being able to manage what your people do and who they fight is incredibly addictive. It’s also really thrilling whenever you manage to pull your clan back from the brink of disaster. If you’re a fan of strategy games then it’s definitely worth giving Northgard a try.
Northgard review code provided by publisher. Version 1.00 reviewed on a standard PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.