Switch version tested
Review code provided
One thing that cant be said about the Nintendo Switch is that it lack’s games. The back catalogue is riddled with everything from huge exclusives, third party greats and tons of indie games. What is lacking, however, is a selection of RTS (Real-Time Strategy) games, so it was welcomed news when we found out Shiro Games were bringing Northgard to our favourite hybrid. It’s no secret the RTS genre has had it’s up’s and down’s on home consoles, traditionally the gameplay style is better suited to a mouse and keyboard set up, but that’s not to say the genre can’t flourish on consoles if the developers put some thought in and Shiro Games have done just that with Northgard, let’s take a look at what’s on offer.
Northgard is a Viking themed RTS with the emphasis on survival as well as claiming lands to grow and develop your community. Three game modes are on offer to suit a multitude of preferences with three difficulty settings to choose from.
After a valuable regal horn and the map to Northgard are stolen from you by the Raven Clan, you set out to reclaim what is yours. Offering eleven levels this is the best way to begin your time with Northgard. The story is told through voiced cutscenes with sections of text dialogue in-game to guide you with objectives. Each level in the Story Mode will have a set victory condition to keep things fresh and also allows you to get to grips with the wider range of mechanics from launching raids to trading goods. Once a level is completed it can be replayed with new bonus objectives to complete if you fancy a tougher challenge. Along the way, you will meet various Viking clans who can help or hinder you as well as a range of beasts and monsters from Wolves and Bears to Draugr and Fallen Valkyries.
Single Player allows you to set up small, medium or large maps with up to five AI opponents to compete against. You can randomize the map’s and set specific victory conditions to suit your style and also spend more time getting to grips with the different clans who are impressively diverse.
Online multiplayer is everything from the Single Player accept this time you can go up against human players online. During my review, I was only able to experience one multiplayer game but I had no issues with connectivity throughout. Hopefully, the community on Switch will grow as Northgard has a lot to offer.
The bread and butter of the experience will be building your settlement and growing your clan. Starting out with just a few villagers you can choose which trades to apply them to. Building a woodcutters lodge will allow you to train villagers to become lumberjacks and supply your camp with a supply of wood which can be used to build more buildings and provide much-needed fire fuel during winter. The same concept applies to Hunters Lodges and Farms to supply you with food resources. Healers Huts, Forge’s, Quarry’s and so on will all play a part in how you choose to develop your settlement. The caveat here is that only a set number of buildings can be placed in each section of the map which is broken up into a grid similar to Civilisation. Training a scout to venture forth and reveal new areas will be a priority as well as knowing where to place your buildings. Setting up a Woodcutters Lodge in a thick forest, for example, will ensure a strong supply but don’t get carried away.
Ploughing ahead with building a huge settlement is all well and good until winter set’s in and you find your food and wood supplies are too low to sustain your clan while produce lowers and demand rises, as they start to suffer sickness and starvation the clans “Happiness” level will drop, as will productivity from your workers. Keeping an eye on supplies and growing your clan at the right pace will be the key to success. Setting up trade routes and market places can help manage resources while building a tavern or organising a feast goes a long way to boosting happiness and productivity.
As your scouts explore they may also uncover ancient ruins or monuments, exploring these or training a loremaster will build your knowledge and allow you to unlock certain perks and blessings. Lowering fuel consumption by a set amount in winter, require fewer resources to claim an area or making your warriors, hunters and smiths more efficient are just a couple of options available to you and help tailor the experience to your play style.
There is a lot to balance in order to be successful but the reward comes when your settlement becomes self-sufficient. Six clans are available to play as each with their own bonuses to help with varying play styles. Some will start with a higher level of supplies and favour a slower-paced farming playstyle where others may be more aggressive and focus more on gathering resources from venturing forth to kill wolves and bears. Whatever your preference, there has been a lot of effort put in to ensure accessibility for a range of playstyles.
Obviously, two of the main things any game comes down to is, how does it look and how does it play. Well as you can see from the screenshots Northgard looks beautiful. Cutscenes for story mode are presented in hand-drawn still art while the gameplay has a slightly stylised design but is by no means lacking in details. Zooming in there are lots of little details to pick up on around the buildings with animations for workers, warriors and creatures all adding life to the experience. The scenery is varied from mountains, woodland, swamps, oceans and more with a selection of weather conditions from bright sunny days, rain and smog to winter blizzards. As winter sets in snow will begin to fall giving you warning that now might be the time to stock up on supplies before the land becomes covered in the white stuff. All this is accompanied by a beautiful soundtrack that plays pleasantly in the background helping you to lose yourself in the day to day of settlement management.
The gameplay is blissfully intuitive thanks to the hard work put in by Shiro Games to completely revamp the UI and controls for home console. Clan members can be assigned to their roles by simply hovering the cursor over a building and pressing X. When it comes to building the construction tiles will automatically present the best options for each area and can be placed with a press of the corresponding button. A build wheel is also on hand if you want to micromanage and will split the building types into categories for ease of access. Armies are controlled by holding ZR to select them and clicking where you want them to go.
The only minor gripes I had with my experience was the text was very small. Even playing on a monitor or TV I found myself having to lean forward to read dialogue and descriptions which felt odd considering how well proportioned everything else on screen was. I actually found the dialogue fit the screen better when playing in hand-held. I did also experience some memory stutter which didn’t ruin the experience but was common enough to stand out. Hopefully, this is something that can be smoothed out in a future patch.
Northgard is a much needed RTS for the Nintendo Switch and one that has clearly been made with a lot of passion. Minor gripes aside I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with Northgard and continue to do so. With plenty of single-player content to keep you busy as well as Multiplayer potential this is a welcome entry to the Nintendo Switch library.
TBG Score: 8.5/10
Platform: Steam, Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One
Release Date: 26/09/2019
No. of Players: 1-6
Category: Strategy, Adventure
Developer: Shiro Games
Download link: eShop