Northgard (2017, PC)

By Bankipriel / February 28, 2017

I had a lot of fun playing this game, but I just expect more from a strategy game. Northgard is beautiful, with great base mechanics, but it is shallow — terribly, tragically shallow.
   Many of the game's best features are rendered pointless due to the rapid snowballing of the mid- to late-game. When Northgard reaches the point of expansion and development where most strategy games start to really stretch their wings, it is over. This makes the map seem too large, as most of it is never used, exploring the whole continent is pointless outside of a domination victory, and the potential for real strategic play based on geography is lost — which is really unfortunate, because the map is gorgeous, and the exploration mechanic is great.

   A deeper, better imagined sense of building and kingdom development in conjunction with the gorgeous and well diversified map could have made this a real strategic gem, instead of a dud. If a real layer of long-term strategy emerges during EA or before final release, I will happily edit this review.
   The other great disappointment of this game is the abrupt and simplistic victory conditions, which are painfully easy and reached in a few hours of play. This would not be quite as bad if the game had any real strategic depth, but alas, it does not. Some people may take exception to my criticism, because there are tough choices to be made. And those choices matter a great deal, but I would contend that they are more akin to tactical choices rather than stategic ones that require planning and allow for early moves to yield long-term fruit. The game is simply too short for any real strategy.
   There are many necessities to be met in this game, and aside from military strength, they all come in the form of resources. I found myself making choices to meet my most pressing need, and then the next, and then the next, and then the game was over. Any plans I had about how to focus and compete against the other clans was irrelevant. From a single late-game save, I was able to achieve every victory condition except domination within four-five minutes of the save point. I was not aiming for any of the victories, but simply doing my best to build the strongest clan I could.
   And that seems like shallow design to me, or poorly designed victory conditions at the very least. In a well-designed strategy game, reaching different victory types should require at least a little bit of variation in what strategy is employed. In that regard, then, Northgard is not a strategy game, but a very complex tactical game where what victory condition you want is more of an RP choice than anything else.
   By all of the positive reviews on Steam, it seems that many people enjoy very short games that begin and end in a few hours. I do not. With only a single improvement level to each building and such rapid pace, a new game feels exactly like the game I just finished.
   So replay value seems extremely low. With short games, and almost no replay value, this is a game I would refund if I could — despite the fact that I had a great time playing those first 12 hours.
   If you enjoy multiplayer, then I can see you getting a few more hours out of the game than I did, but not many more.
   Perhaps with the addition of the campaign, or some desperately needed adjustments to pacing, victory conditions, and mid/late-game tech & building costs, I might recommend this game.
   After 12 hours, I feel as though I've seen everything this game has to offer. I will try the campaign when it is released, but otherwise, I don't see myself playing this game again. There are too many other games that offer real strategic mechanics and challenges. For these reasons, I cannot recommend Northgard.
   If you've got 20 dollars burning a hole in your wallet, or if Northgard is on sale, this game does provide a really fun, good looking 10-20 hours of play. I just can't recommend it, when there are great RTS games that provide hundreds if not thousands of hours of play, and much greater challenges to boot.