Northgard Switch Review – Viking Real Time Strategy at its Finest

Winter is coming!

A new continent has been discovered just across the sea from the home of the Vikings. Just before you’re due to set sail to new lands, you’re invaded and everyone is killed except for one survivor; Rig son of the high king of the Vikings. Now you set sails for Northgard to avenge your father and claim this new land for yourself.

There’s a lot to look at in Northgard.

Northgard is a civilisation building, real time strategy in the same vein as the old Settlers PC games; build your basics to get supplies, build an army and conquer!

When I first started out in Northgard everything was hunky dory. I was expanding my small Viking empire towards the shore to build a boat, loving the fluidity of the gameplay. Then it crashed (a bug currently in the game, don’t look at status icons during winter). Okay nevermind I thought I know what I’m doing now it’ll be quick to redo. This time I expanded too quickly and most of my villagers died in the cold; righto houses aren’t just for show, now for attempt three at the first level. Later I found out that actually they had starved, the game limits the number of villagers in your clan depending upon housing space. I wasn’t paying attention to the little icons that pop up on the right hand side of the screen that tell you whenever anything is wrong. There is enough tutorial to get you started but Northgard sure doesn’t hold your hand, especially with hard being the default difficulty. 

Taking down a Valkyrie.

Like most civilisation building games there’s a basic route to start each level, build a wood cutter to gather wood for building and a scout as you start in a tiny area and need to scout new land that’s broken up into segments. Then you look for a food supply, either farming, hunting or fishing and a house for some of your villagers to live in with each unupgraded house allowing 5 villagers in your clan. But after that it’s really up to you how to progress depending upon the map and the victory conditions. You might need to build an army next to take on foes defending an adjacent area, or build a longboat dock to start raids for lore (used for upgrades to your clan such as increased military might and healers being more effective). How you play is up to you but you’re quite likely to settle into a vague scheme of building what you think is important first.

Win a single player game and get a cool review of the game.

A real beauty of Northgard is how streamlined it is, there’s no road building, the bane of your existence in some similar titles. Just plonk down your building in an area so long as you haven’t reached the max amount of buildings in that area (usually 2 or 3) and your villagers get to work. Northgard even features a helpful suggestion of what to build in each area at the press of a button. The conversion from PC console is a great one with this version running smoothly and being easy to play. The in game UI system is great wheel of ‘stuff’ with everything being easily selectable with the analogue stick. There’s only a little missing from the Steam version such as being able to select where your scouts go and select individual warriors to tell them to go heal. I’d also love a list of all my buildings or their names above them as it’s easy to lose where a particular building is once your clan has grown, this can be frustrating when you want to heal a specific character or take villagers away from one job for a different role.

A decent amount of buildings.

There’s a lot to balance in Northgard as you don’t just have to keep an eye on your food supplies, but wood for building and burning in the winter, money for some buildings and paying your army, as well as happiness which decreases if there’s anything wrong with any villagers (ill, hungry, hurt etc.) and it decreases as your clan grows in size but it increases a little as you expand your borders and with breweries, good ole beer. Then winter hits, suddenly you’re producing less food and all your wood is being burnt. Run out and your clan will starve and die, but unbelievably it gets worse than that because death is a luxury to you compared to the dreaded unhappiness! When your clan is unhappy production of everything slows and your clan won’t grow. That means winter might end but your unhappy villagers can’t be arsed to work hard to make food and will continue to starve consequently becoming even less happy, in an endless cycle of ultimate doom (or until enough villagers die that you are producing enough food). But now you know so you’ll keep food supplies high during winter. Then while your clan is happily growing a blizzard will hit and that’s really when the poop hits the fan. You take massive food losses with it taking most of the following year to recover the production, one blizzard I wasn’t completely prepared for crippled my clan for 2 years, luckily I wasn’t attacked during this time or I would’ve been frozen brown bread.

Destroy the base and the whole clan will fall.

Each map is randomly generated from a few different map types and three sizes. Within a map there all sorts of different tiles for you to colonise, they may contain a fish pond, deer for hunting, wolves, Draugrs, fallen Valkyries, iron, stone, ancient monuments, one in the Ragnarok map had a giant bird that scouted for me. Every now and again there’ll be random disaster events, such as an earthquake, portals of Draugrs opening up or a rat infestation.

Woo I got a giant bird.

The Switch version is missing the free conquest DLC and 4 extra paid clans (hopefully they’ll come in the future) but it has got 6 individual clans with different bonuses and play styles from the aggressive clan of the wolf to the more trade orientated clan of the raven. Plus it has the relics and Ragnarok free DLCs included. Bringing forging upgrades for professions, building relics to give boosts to lore, money earned, defence etc. as well as one unique relic for each clan such as summoning a pack of wolves. Ragnarok adds the Ragnarok map for single and multiplayer with harder difficulties selectable and a volcano in the middle of the map. 

Each clan has different specialties.

There is cooperative and competitive online multiplayer but I couldn’t test this as there was no one online to play with. I imagine it would run smoothly as Northgard isn’t the most labour intensive game. The only problem might be finding people willing to sit and play a game online for 2 hours or more and not rage quit when it looks like they’ll lose. Discord will be your best friend if you do want to play online.

Relics are helpful.

Through story mode you don’t just build your civilisation then conquer others, you encounter trade wars, a mission where all you do are raids and aren’t allowed to build at all and more as you gradually recruit other clans to join your cause. Story mode has some replay value in bonus objectives that are unveiled after you first complete each of the 11 missions.

You only see bonus objectives once you’ve already completed the level.

Northgard won’t win any awards for its graphics but they do the job nicely as you can zoom right in and watch your villagers hard at work or slashing away at evil Valkyries. The only problem is the classic small font from PC port syndrome, when playing handheld this is fine, just the font is very small, some people might need their reading glasses on. However when you switch to TV you find yourself wishing for a lower resolution just so you can actually read the text, I found myself standing right in front of the TV in order to actually play.

The music is peaceful and Nordic sounding setting a nice scene for your slow but steady conquest of Northgard. You’ll hear clattering of metal works and hammers banging in the background as your villagers go about their daily business and get sound effects to let you know when things are up, such as having enough lore for a clan upgrade.

Again each clan has different bonuses.

With a lengthy 11 chapter story mode and 6 different clans to play as for single and multiplayer; Northgard has a lot of replay value and you’ll be playing for a really long time if you enjoy civilisation building real time strategy games, just a medium difficulty, medium sized map took me 1 hour 40 minutes on single player so a hard, large map would take a lot longer, just for a single game. The price may be off-putting for some considering the graphics but that’s not what you come to real time strategy games for, you come for strategy and gameplay, by Odin’s great beard this Viking quest to conquer new lands is chock full of it.

Northgard is available both digitally on the eShop and physically 26th September for £31.49/€34.99/$34.99. A huge thank you to Shiro Games for providing the Review code.

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