There have been many attempts to revive the RTS over recent years. While the glory days of the genre are over, the sheer number of games that try to bring them back is surprising. Each of these games has done so not just by trying to innovate, but by trying to prove that it’s from the same lineage as those older games. One game that really tries to go back in time in Northgard, a Viking RTS that looks and feels like a game from decades ago. This Northgard review will take a look at the various elements of the game to determine if it accomplishes its goals successfully.
|Type of game:||RTS|
|Total Play Time:||47 hours|
|System Requirements:||CPU: Core 2 Duo E4400 2.0GHz
GPU: GeForce GTS 450 v4
RAM: 512 MB
HDD Space: 1 GB
The World of Northgard
Much of the charm of Northgard comes from its world. The Viking setting is one that’s surprisingly uncommon in video games, and even less common in RTS games. While the game itself is well-reviewed thus far, it’s yet to be seen how much of an impact it will really have. Taking a look at how the game really works means not just looking at the game’s atmosphere, but also the game’s main characters, storyline, and even the reception to the DLC that has been released. By looking at all of these elements, it becomes easier to tell whether the game is worth a player’s time.
Atmosphere & Location
If you can’t tell by the name of the game, Northgard is absolutely about Vikings. That permeates everything in the game, from the names to the music to the backgrounds. You’re going to see a lot of snow here, largely in a way that’s not used in other games. You’ll also see many of the tell-tale signs of Viking fiction, from mead-halls to the occasional questionable helmet. It all feels incredibly familiar in a way that most other games can’t match, which in turn helps to ensure that players get hit with a sense of nostalgia that is arguably not earned.
The game also has something of a retro vibe to it, even though it does look quite nice. It plays and feels like a game from almost twenty years ago, but that means it’s really just hearkening back to the glory days of the RTS. This works incredibly well with the art style of the game, helping to put players in a mindset that wouldn’t be out of place when playing in an old LAN party. Making nostalgia part of the atmosphere is a great choice here, especially when the game itself so desperately wants to be a blast from the past.
It’s quite rare for an RTS game to have a real main character. In fact, most games cast the player as that character – a nameless and faceless general commanding an army. Some of RTS games from the 1990s, though, did populate their world with a handful of colorful characters to make telling a story a bit easier. Northgard definitely has a few of those characters around, though calling them colorful isn’t necessarily an apt term. These are very basic placeholders that give the story a reason to move forward, but nothing more. You’ll get access to a handful of these characters over the course of the game, but it’s tough to say that they have much characterization.
The first main character of the game is Brand, a Viking clan leader. In fact, all of the characters that you’ll control through this games are representatives of one Viking clan or another. Brand is likable, if flat, which is generally a description that works with all of the game’s characters. Egil and Liv are at least a little more entertaining than Brand, but none of the characters are really all that memorable. There’s no Yuri here, nor is there a Jaina Proudmoore. These characters stick around long enough to serve a purpose but they don’t do much more than that.
At the very least, it’s good to note that these are original characters. They might be archetypical, but they’re not drawn from any other sources. These are not characters that you’ve seen in other games, so they have the potential for growth that’s stunted in other franchises. There are sure to be plenty of opportunities to see some growth from these characters if Northgard is successful. It will just take a much different focus in order to turn these characters into the type of icons that people want to see again.
Northgard definitely fits the idea of a classic RTS in a number of ways, but one of the least positive of those is the fact that it’s fairly light on story. This is a bit surprising given the developer, but it makes sense in a way. The vast majority of the RTS games published in the 1990s were light on story, not really gaining a lot of narrative weight until the later entries in those series. Northgard, like most of those classic games, makes plot more of an excuse to teach the players the various mechanics of the game and to put them to the test before unleashing those players on other human competitors.
The story here is fairly simple. You’ll play as the leader of a Viking clan, exploring, colonizing, and dealing with various issues in the land of Northgard. Each campaign mission has its own unique goals and storyline, but you’re largely dealing with some fairly flat writing. There’s rarely a point in the early missions where you’ll be able to forget that you’re really playing through a giant tutorial, and the later missions don’t pack enough of a narrative punch to allow you to justify the time spent in the earlier spaces.
There are only eleven campaign missions, which is short even for a classic RTS. Each mission can basically be broken down into a process of building a base, learn a new mechanic, complete a goal, and move on. Those goals might be as varied as completing a specific objective or wiping out an enemy base, but they’re always quite basic. This is definitely the kind of game that you play for the fun of the mechanics rather than the deep writing, so expecting more out of the narrative is a bad idea. What’s there is nothing more than window dressing to help you digest the basic concepts of the game.
DLC & Expansion Packs
Northgard currently has a single piece of DLC, and it’s definitely divisive. The downloadable content in question brings in the Snake Clan, which definitely plays much differently than most of the other clans in the game. It doesn’t have the ability to obtain a Fame victory, for example, and it feels much sneakier and much more unpleasant than most other clans in the game. The DLC is cheap – only a few dollars – but it’s divided the community as to whether it’s worth a purchase. The free update that accompanied the DLC has arguably had more of a positive impact on the game than the DLC itself, and it’s hard to recommend paying money for a single new clan that you won’t necessarily want to play in the future.
Twenty years ago, Northgard would have been a solidly middle-of-the-pack RTS. Today, it’s a throwback that succeeds mechanically if not on a story little. You won’t get much out of the campaign for this one, but you may well enjoy playing multiplayer. If nothing else, it uses nostalgia effectively to remind players exactly how fun it once was to play games in this genre.