I recently picked up a preowned copy of Northgard for $4 inside an EB Games bargain bin during the inaugural end of financial year sale. I had never heard of Northgard but I do love my viking games and so I thought, meh, what could go wrong?
Oh, how I was mistaken.
But not because Northgard was terrible. Oh no.
I was wrong to even think that Northgard could be bad in the first place! I mean, it’s a modernised Age of Empires set within the Viking era with mythical creatures and tons of pathways to victory. There’s smooth RTS mechanics, incredible graphics, single player, multiplayer, story modes and plenty of DLC content to boot.
Find out why with my extensive Northgard review. Here, I’ll delve into the gameplay, the mechanics, available clans, soundtracks and more. When you’re done, don’t forget to hit the comments with any questions or remarks you have about Shiro’s RTS game that’s been sent down from Valhalla itself.
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If reading Northgard reviews are making you reminisce over the glory days of Age of Empires, you’ve pretty much summarised what the base concept of Northgard is about. But make no mistake, Northgard is not a complete rip-off from the much loved AOE series. Developed by Shiro Games, Northgard takes everything you love about settler-based strategy games and places these components on stunning maps with solid twists.
While winning games via common RTS methods such as domination, fame and lore are present, there are also many other really cool ways to achieve victory throughout Northgard. I’m talking defending the gates of Helheim from the Valkyrie or forging Odin’s sword. These are not your typical victory conditions to say the least.
That said, the majority of gameplay will feel like your traditional settler-based real time strategy game which is actually a good thing. Drawing inspiration from AOE, you will start with a handful of settlers, minimal visibility on your surroundings, boosters depending upon your clan selection and plenty of treacherous elements with dangerous wolves and beasts to protect yourselves against.
Every decision you make with construction, building upgrades and putting your population to work will ultimately effect your progress. What’s interesting about Northgard, comparatively to AOE, is that each territory you occupy has a maximum number of constructions that can be completed. Also, villagers will continue to produce food even when they have no tasks assigned to them. This places greater emphasis on commanding more territories and expanding your empire. Else, your population will grow but your ability to produce supplies will stagnate.
As always resources are tight and population management is critical to ensuring that you don’t go hungry during the winter seasons. Which, by all accounts, are extremely harsh with blizzards knocking off more than 300% off your production capacity.
And that’s just on the easiest difficulty settings!
Graphics & Audio
For a game that has not been produced by AAA developers, Northgard delivers a superb graphical experience. I would classify Northgard as a semi-arcade vibe where character dialogues feel like a Nintendo DS game yet the map, buildings and weather effects have much greater graphical prowess.
On both console and my Huawei P40 Pro, Northgard runs very smoothly without jitters. Your community will run to complete tasks with a semi-skip in their step which is kind of cute and map foe will pace up and down across their own territory which gives a subtle sense of danger. There’s flames that will set alight atop of buildings during an earthquake and the winter season sprays an extremely cool layer of snow across your lands.
As for the audio and sound effects, Northgard also delivers these extremely well. Throughout each game, there are mid-tempo acoustic soundtracks that are not too overpowering and plenty of soundbites depending on what is happening within your territory. When an enemy or beast attacks, your viking horn will bellow. When villagers are unhappy, you’ll hear them groan and when your viking warriors successfully colonise new lands, laughter and jeers will emerge.
From the quaint sounds of the ocean to the ferocious clanging of weapons when engaged in battle, the balance of sound is actually perfect. There’s also soft sound cues for world effects like blizzards and earthquakes which quite frankly the games best features.
The primary game modes within Northgard are both single player and multiplayer skirmishing with the familiar assignment of dominating the realm via any victory condition possible. There is also a story mode with 11 chapters to complete but I will get to that.
Skirmishing is the best part of any settler-based real time strategy game and whilst the base game remains identical no matter how many times you play, the depth of victory conditions, random map spawns and different Northgard clans with specialist skills makes for a very interesting and dynamic game.
Instead of a turn based system like Total War, Northgard smoothly progresses through the years transcending across spring, summer, autumn and winter which all positively or negatively effect your production power. There is no evolution of technology like you’ll find with games such as Civilisation VI and the way you evolve is through upgrading existing buildings and forging new materials or relics that provide a variety of overpowering benefits to help you achieve victory.
I would recommend you start Northgard on reduced difficulty settings to get used to the mechanics. However, for the adventurous type, you can give Ragnarok mode a whirl at the highest difficulty settings. Here you will find a completely different feel to the game with scarce resources and a map that is graphically stunning.
At times, during single player, there will be moments where you wish you could just charge and bash skulls with your warchief and loyal viking warriors. However, patience is a virtue with Northgard and mapping out your strategy 3 to 4 steps ahead will pay dividends over the course of the game.
For multiplayer, Northgard is very much the same as any other RTS multiplayer game mode. You will still have to deal with all the elements, however, rather than just AI clans, you will also have to defend your territories from IRL players too. The race towards domination will be at large and curbing your enemies ability to expand one of the greatest priorities throughout.
A feat that is not easy by all accounts.
Dynamic Map System
A key feature of Northgard is actually the map system. To start, there are a variety of map styles which partially determine the depth of resources available. For example, forest maps will have more territories containing trees to harvest while permafrost maps will require you to adopt a very different game plan altogether.
But that’s not all that’s on offer here.
One of the best features of Northgard is the natural disasters that happen around you. From earthquakes that set key building ablaze to freezing blizzards that cripple your production and eat through your resources, keeping an eye on the upcoming disasters is critical to your communities survival.
Imagine storing loads of food in preparation for war to find out that rats have infested your territory, made your population sick and stolen your stockpile because you didn’t think to build food silos or employ healers to keep your community safe.
Well, that happens, a lot.
With randomised spawn points, each time you load a new map you will spawn within a different location. The territories and their respective loot are also randomly generated too. So, whereas you might be surrounded by luscious harvest one game, the next game could look very different through being penned inside a single block by wolves and other mythologically ghastly beasts.
It’s this type of dynamic map system that makes for an extremely re-playable game
If you have read any other Northgard review, you will have quickly identified that the story mode could do with a little more work. Whilst a good concept and entry point to Northgard, the dialogue is regrettably forgettable and quite frankly; stale. Although Northgard attempts to add twists and turns along your journey to spice things up a little, these are not very well considered. It’s almost like each twist was a last gasp attempt to make your Viking tale a little less pants.
There is much left to be desired here.
That said, the campaign mode is where you should start your journey throughout Northgard as this serves as a brilliant introduction to each clan and the games mechanics. Each mission comes with plenty of tooltips and you will quickly familiarise yourself with the best approach to building your community; at least during the early game. This knowledge will come handy when you start skirmishing on large scale maps.
With 11 missions to complete, the campaign can be short when you find the optimal path to victory, however, each mission is highly unique which I personally really enjoyed. Each chapter enforces you to be a little bit more explorative and there’s a steady build up to games mechanics. Again, I really enjoyed how Northgard slowly builds your knowledge of the mechanics rather than just throwing everything at you and hoping for the best.
In addition, once you have completed a single campaign, additional bonus victory conditions will become available. This enables you to repeat the level and spend more time exploring areas that you wouldn’t necessarily of had to explore first time around to ensure that you complete each task required. For achievement hunters, Northgard’s story mode will give you plenty to hunt and enjoy.
Once you have completed the story mode, you will be itching to get straight into skirmishing. By now, you should have a fairly good grip of the different types of clans and will be almost an expert at early to mid-game setups with your chosen clan.
Throughout the viking era, clans would often have different values within their communities and Northgard pays excellent homage to this. Starting with 6 clans to choose from, each of which with varying bonuses which ultimately will determine the victory condition that you pursue, there is plenty of variety to suit your preferred style of domination as you storm across unchartered lands. In this regard, Northgard behaves almost identically to Age of Empires, Civilisation VI and other RTS games.
Personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
From clans that enable you to build harbours that drive your economy to muscle-centric clans that will ultimately provide boosters when stepping into enemy territory, each clan is unique and well considered. Of which, familiarising yourself with both the starting and end game bonuses of each clan will pay huge dividends.
Without giving away too much, here are Northgard’s 6 playable starter clans :
Eikthyrnir (Clan of the Stag)
Heidrun (Clan of the Goat)
Fenrir (Clan of the Wolf)
Huginn & Muninn (Clan of the Raven)
Bjarki (Clan of the Bear)
Slidrugtanni (Clan of the Boar)
Beyond this, with multiple DLC content available, clan choices expand quite rapidly with new additions such as the Kraken and the Snake. Inclusive of the highly dynamic maps, while Northgard in principle is the same base game each time you hit the play button, the depth of variety is incredible.
Available on both Android and iOS, Northgard, by all accounts, has been very well ported across for mobile gamers globally.
All features of the console version are now available on mobile with the recent addition of multiplayer mode which had fans in raptures. This also comes with crossplay functionality which is pretty epic for a real time strategy game.
While the mobile version is nowhere near as smooth on specific controls, Northgard on mobile is still extremely playable and enjoyable when travelling. As I mentioned, I played via my Huawei P40 Pro and there was not a single moment of lag or jitteriness which is an absolute blessing.
It takes a little getting used to the new button layout which features smaller icons and the removal of the dial system that the version uses. However, once you get to know what each building looks like via picture, you can quickly get up to speed.
A cool feature that has recently been introduced on mobile is the ability to select the size of each component within Northgard. For smaller screens, you will need to descale the size of the game to ensure that all key components do not overpower the actual map. However, for larger mobile screens, you can increase the size of icons up to 200% which ensures that even the chubbiest of fingers don’t wind up in a pickle selecting icons!
Is Northgard still worth playing?
Northgard is absolutely still worth playing. Especially considering you can now pickup the full game on sale at your local retailer for an absolute bargain. That said, even at full price there is plenty of value with Northgard. From regular game mode and clan updates to just the sheer fact that Northgard is a well-balanced RTS, I would pick up Northgard in a heartbeat any day of the week.
You should play Northgard if:
You love RTS games.
You like RTS games that are not too complex.
You enjoy all things vikings.
You don’t mind queue times for multiplayer.
You are prepared to redo story missions for extra bonuses.
As an Age of Empires-esque real time strategy game that is not too simple, yet not too complex, Northgard takes clear inspiration from our favourite 90’s throwback and spins some of the core mechanics into a different direction. It’s smooth playing with plenty of diversity to ensure strong replay-ability and for that, I have graded this Northgard review a very respectable 86%
Whilst Northgard would easily slot straight into the golden era of settler based real-time strategy games during the 90’s, Northgard holds its own against popular modern day game genres and is by no means completely identical. The map system is epically diverse, the complexity of the game tolerable and the multiplayer mode an intense race to victory. With key note features such as Viking relics and dynamic weather systems, there’s plenty of ways to winning and ample of opportunity to explore new strategies.
Although I would have hoped for a little more clashing of swords and a storyline that was at least somewhat compelling to follow, the build up to dominating your lands is thoroughly enjoyable. There’s times where I really wished Northgard had blended both Total War and Age of Empires together as there would be nothing more epic than a combination of these two during the Viking era.
That said, in every sense of the imagination, Northgard delivers upon exactly what it was supposed to be as a settler-based real-time strategy game. A must purchase for AOE fans who have a soft spot for Vikings too.
Thoughts on Northgard? Hit the comments below with your take!
Once you’re done, don’t forget to check out some of my other detailed game reviews and gaming technology deep dives. From old time classics to revolutionary technology, here’s some recent articles I would recommend exploring.
A wonderful throwback to the golden era of settler-based RTS games set within an enthralling Viking era. While unjustifiable to consider Northgard's mechanics as a copycat of the much loved AOE series, the inspiration is clear - and that's a good thing!
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