Real-time strategy fans are often left out in the cold on consoles. That changed recently with the release of Northgard.
A small-scale real-time strategy (RTS) game originally developed for the PC, Northgard has been ported to the Nintendo Switch, PS4, and Xbox One. You’ll take control of a band of Vikings desperate to avenge their fallen king, but first, they’ll have to stabilize their population and amass an army before venturing over the sea to Northgard.
You start out with your standard RTS staples: a plot of land, headquarters, and a few workers to begin harvesting resources. Similar to the Settlers series, you’ll need to construct various buildings, and workers will need to be assigned to the buildings to get them up and running.
There’s a logical flow to constructing your settlement. For instance, building a woodcutter’s lodge will enable you to harvest lumber; from there you’ll build houses to grow your population, farms to feed them, breweries to keep the mead flowing, and military establishments to aid in your expansion. While this may seem simple enough, there’s a delicate balance beneath the surface that needs to be maintained.
The maps are segmented into areas, and each area can support a set number of buildings. Expanding into these new areas will net you new resources like additional farmland and fishing holes. However, it requires you to pay an ever-increasing cost out of your food supply.
Expanding too quickly will spread your troops thin. It can leave you ill-prepared for the harsh winter months where your farms are no longer productive and your settlers are burning lumber to stay warm. If your villagers fall into unhappiness, your growth will be stifled.
Balancing all of these various aspects is the core of Northgard. To the developer’s credit, the gameplay is thoughtful and interesting. If that’s still not enough, there are random disasters that can befall your settlement. You’ll need to keep your head in the game.
Now, I’ll forgive you if you’re skeptical. I admit that I wasn’t sure how well an RTS would hold up on the Switch in particular. I’ve tried to play Warcraft II and Command and Conquer on various consoles before; while everything technically worked, this is a genre built for a keyboard and mouse.
Thankfully, Northgard has taken a different approach. Rather than interacting with your workers individually, most of your time will be spent interacting with the buildings you’ve constructed. There’s an intuitive ring menu where selections are made by pressing a direction on the analog stick, so choosing a building and plopping it down is fast and effortless.
If you’ve never played an RTS or 4X (i.e. eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate) game before, you’ll definitely want to start with the single-player campaign. Concepts are introduced slowly, and you’ll have plenty of time to familiarize yourself with managing your settlement before things get hairy. There isn’t a hand-holding tutorial, so take your time with the early missions and make sure you’ve got your head around the balancing act. For veterans, there are also online and offline skirmish modes with different clans to choose from, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
Overall, I was very pleased with the presentation, the music, and the sheer amount of ways to play Northgard. Unfortunately, there are a couple of things holding it back. For starters, the user interface in docked mode is ridiculously tiny! In the settings menu for the Switch, you’ll find an option to turn on zooming with a double tap of the Home button. Mind you, you will definitely need this enabled if you’re playing this on a television.
I also really would have liked a way to speed up the gameplay. While the pace is perfect when you’re learning the ropes, it does start to drag as you progress. These certainly aren’t dealbreakers for me, but they do detract a bit from the experience.
Game Freaks 365 received a free review copy.