The Viking Age was an era of survival, folklore and conquest. Whether it be clans, the wilderness, or the denizens of Norse mythology, the life of vikings was not an easy one. Since I was little I have been obsessed with vikings, mostly due to growing up being told we were distantly related to Sweyn Forkbeard, a viking king well know for having a rather large genetic footprint in Europe. This predisposition to loving vikings meant I was fairly excited for Northgard, the viking strategy game with strong classic Age of Empire influences from Shiro Games.
Northgard has spent just over the last year in early access and during this time it’s been met with a lot of positive responses. The time has come though for it to join the world of fully released games and it has certainly spent the last year perfecting its already tight experience.
The campaign mode sees you controlling Rig, son of a murdered king who pursues the treacherous leader of the Crow clan to the new world of Northgard. This operates as a kind of tutorial to introduce to the increasing dangers of the new world you are colonising, as well as what each clan can offer to aid you.
Outside of the campaign you will also have single player and multiplayer where you’ll choose a clan to lead and then aim to achieve victory from a handful of conditions, ranging from military dominance, trade prowess or becoming a prestigious king known throughout the land just to name a few.
Before Northgard even begins the art is breathtaking. The animal totems for different clans and landscape loading screens paint a sombre but vibrant picture of the region. In game the landscapes are wonderfully textured and the sprites are clear and easy to spot on the backdrop with a bit of an exaggerated cartoonish look. The art style elicits the idea of what the original Warcraft would look like with modern assets. The art style is aided by a lovely soundtrack that evokes imagery of high viking adventure. While most of your story will be presented in text boxes there are moments where Rig will offer narration. His voice is one of gravitas and really pulls you through his personal story.
Each round sees you start by choosing your preferred clan. The clan you choose will play a big part on how you’ll advance. The Bear Clan are stronger in winter, the Goat Clan brings many buffs around food and so on. From here you’ll start with a single tile and a handful of villagers. As with so many strategy games you first start with creating some buildings to turn villagers into specific roles. Most importantly you’ll want scouts, they will run to undiscovered tiles and map them for you, letting you see what is happening there, whether that be resources or evil Jotun looking to squash vikings.
Keeping your people happy is key, as while they are happy you will naturally generate more villagers to utilise. Obviously you’ll have to expand and you spend food to take over tiles beside your land to place new homes and buildings up to the threshold for your clan. Most importantly though you’ll want to keep one eye on the calendar in the bottom corner. As time ticks along it is the season of winter that can really hurt more than some enemies. Food and wood resources will lower as your clan weathers the cold and your soldiers become weakened. One hard winter can leave you reeling and a smart opponent will hit you just as you begin to recover. All of this before you also include events like earthquakes or Draug invasions from other worlds.
While very similar to a lot of strategy games we’ve seen before, the best thing about Northgard is that it doesn’t require micromanagement. Your clan folk will almost always have something they can be doing and if not it is easy to find them something to do. The skill tree that you level up through lore discovery isn’t over complicated but the clan specific skills mean that it offers enough variety.
In an era of strategy games being fairly daunting from the very beginning it is refreshing being able to jump into this, especially as someone who isn’t the most skilled at the genre. I will say though that once or twice I did find myself unable to recover from an ill-informed decision. In addition my villagers were occasionally aloof about what was making them mad, much like the partner that says they’re “fine” when you know you’ve done something wrong.
The Bottom Line...
I am not a strategy savant. Unlike a lot of strategy games out there Northgard won’t hold that against me and still invites me to sit at the table. A fun setting that mixes the realities of the viking world with the mystical realm of the Norse mythology which invites you to explore the world and care of your clan. Never trying to overreach itself it keeps it simple but offers enough variety that you’ll go back to try things a different way the next time. After a successful year in early access it’s exciting to see this title enter full release with a strong start and hopefully more content to come in the future.