For a number of years, around the end of the 90s and the beginning of the aughts, real-time strategy looked like a fading genre. Even the stalwarts of the genre were struggling to find new ideas.
But after a long lull, real-time strategy is starting to experience a resurgence. But that’s not to say that all that is old is new again. Those exhausted tropes of RTS are still just as exhausted, and breaking back into this genre still requires some brand new ideas, something novel beyond a fresh coat of paint.
Enter Northgard, #ShiroGames entry into this challenging market. A Viking-themed RTS set in the bleak, arctic north, Northgard weaves old strategy tropes together with some fresh takes and a number of interesting design elements to produce a fascinating gestalt.
The basics of Northgard
It starts on a strong, familiar foundation: construct a base and produce settlers to gather resources and battle your enemies. But even these bedrock systems have a flavor unique to Northgard; your Vikings can be assigned to roles as basic as warrior and farmer or as diverse as Loremaster, the wizened keepers of your tribe’s knowledge.
Hung on this basic framework are a number concepts traditionally thought of as belonging to 4X or turn-based strategy games. There are world events that influence the direction and development of your clan, from the destructive wrath of earthquakes to the more insidious work of scavenging rats, which slip into your foodstuffs and if left unchecked can lead to shortages and starvation.
There are also varied victory conditions, from gathering wisdom or fame to more traditional routes like martial domination of your opponents. The 4X influence is also evident in the way map control works, where you vie with rival clans to expand your (clearly delineated) borders and claim vital resources.
Speaking of the map, Northgard also subdivides its regions in interesting ways, meaning each area is home to different creatures (from the mundane to the mythological) and materials.
The areas feel almost like distinct biomes, an idea we typically see in survival and crafting games, but that suits the Northgard’s RTS formula well. In fact, the explosion of the survival genre has clearly influenced Shiro Games’ design in a number of ways, appropriate to the harsh frozen clime they’ve chosen for Northgard’s setting.
Beyond the savagery of rival clans, players will also have to contend with the killing cold of winter, and will need to rely on their healers to ensure their clansmen don’t succumb to injury or disease.
What's next for Northgard
While the bones of an excellent game are already in place, planned features will look to properly round it out and provide an even richer, deeper experience.
Currently in Early Access on Steam, Shiro Games promises a number of upcoming additions, from a single-player campaign mode to fully featured multiplayer, as well more in-game content like new clans and more trading and diplomacy options (further blurring the lines between traditional real-time strategy and the 4X genre).
As satisfied as I’ve been playing with the limited content, I’m hungry to see where Northgard goes next.