Quick First Impressions Review: Northgard

Northgard

I’ve promised to write down my impressions of Northgard on Twitter. The game released tonight, exactly two hours ago and since it is an early access game, you will not get my usual first impressions review, but a very quick first impressions review. :p I will – depending on the outcome of this first glance – report about significant changes and added features and write a more in-depth first impressions piece later on!

Now, for the most important part: What exactly is Northgard? – To answer this, let me first ask you: Did you play Settlers? Did you play Cultures (shown below)? If you did play Cultures, come here, sit down, take a cookie, say hello and be my best friend! Cultures is the game that got me into gaming in the “modern age” (after my C64-days). Cultures was – is, rather – a game about Vikings. It has single player campaigns and multiplayer coop and PvP maps. I liked it a lot more than Settlers, because you could name every single of your Vikings and you assigned each of them their job and determined which one got married and so on.

My main problem is: There is Cultures and it got so many things right in my opinion. And here is Northgard. A new game just freshly released into Early Access. Several features like multiplayer are not yet implemented. But even when all features are in the game, I need to remind myself that this isn’t Cultures! Comparing it directly will only disappoint me. But enough about these games. I merely mentioned them, because when I saw Northgard, I immediately had to think about Cultures and after Valhalla Hills being rather disappointing, my hope was that Northgard would be a worthy successor. However, it is probably better to keep that nostalgic feeling at the back of my mind and look at Northgard with fresh eyes. Shiro Games are different developers and apparently they (or one of them, at least) did not even know the Cultures series existed. Shiro Games are the developers of Evoland and Evoland 2, by the way. I never played these games, but I know the name. Northgard still very much reminds me of Settlers and Cultures. It’s a real-time strategy/simulation game where you build and grow a village of Vikings. You need to gather resources and food and defend against various enemies as well as attack others to gain more regions for your tribe!

So, let’s look at Northgard: You start with a tiny little piece of land and a few villagers. There are only men around which I am not a fan of. Yes, I know there is always a huge debate whether there were women fighting for the Vikings, but that’s not what I mean! It’s a village. It should have men and women. In Cultures, women tended to the house, brought home food (= carriers ^^) in Cultures 2, they also took care of bringing home dishes and stuff and they gave birth to the Viking children. It just made it more believable!

The first thing you will probably build is a Scout camp. Scouts explore the surrounding areas. Your territory is very small and you are only allowed up to build 4 buildings in there. So you need to expand and claim more areas for yourself (and you can only build 4 buildings in each of them). Then you do what you usually do in this kind of game: You place a woodcutter lodge, a hunter’s lodge if your area has deer, maybe you can place a fishing hut if you have fish nearby. Of course, you also have things like a training camp for warriors or a defense tower. Houses will allow more villagers to come to your village. The user interface is pretty clean, intuitive and easy to navigate.

Something I did not understand at first: In order to survive winter, you should probably have a fishing hut. Where I got placed, there were no fish, though. I also had no fertile land despite claiming three areas out of which one was very green all over. The game did not tell me what counts as fertile land. I started a second game to see if I had more luck there (spoiler: I did! I found fish, but no fertile land).

Fighting is very straight-forward. Tell your warriors where to go, right-click the enemy. I had my two warriors die to wolves. After recruiting two new warriors, I was a bit surprised to see one of my warriors still alive. Maybe I’d just had tomatoes on my eyes? I told my two new warriors to join their buddy – by right-clicking on him. The next thing I knew was that a message informed me that the leader of the neighbouring clan was not happy about my hostile action. Now I know that a) the warriors aren’t too easy to distinguish (or I do indeed have tomatoes on my eyes – both equally possible and likely! ^^) and b) the other clans don’t immediately go to war just because you accidentally killed one of their warriors. Good neighbours, I would say. The kind of neighbours I like. Such a simple little unimportant mistake shouldn’t lead to resentful actions, right? But without fish or fertile land, I decided to start a new game and see where I would be placed here. Maybe I would be luckier…

The second game indeed went much better: I had fish! But I was at the maximum of 5 Vikings and I needed more to grow (and I had negative food production, that is, more food was consumed than produced). I wanted to hurry up with the wood production as I was lacking wood for another house and added my last free Viking to the woodcutter lodge. Then there was no Viking left to build that house. But no problem, I’ll just unassign… nope. It’s either not possible, not yet possible or I could not find the option*.

Thankfully, I had a warrior standing around that I decided to send into a kamikaze run to nearby enemies, so he’d die and I could have one more Viking which would come to my village with no assigned role! Other than assigning regular villagers to build buildings, they gather food in the area when they have nothing else to do. At least, when it’s not winter. I like this little touch of having the seasons affect the game!

There is also something like a tech tree in the game. I am gathering lore points a— HEY! While I was typing this, the game made a weird sound… it was the clear sound of an alarm! The minimap showed one of my areas flashing in bright red. Something attacked me! But no, not something. Somebody. The one clan I had found already which had been neutral to me. Apparently, as we are right next to each other, as it’s winter, and as I have fish, they thought they could just attack me! I had also just sacrificed my one warrior, so I was defenseless. I am happy to report, though, that you can assign every Viking to your training camp to convert them into a warrior. Two warriors later, my area was successfully defended but I am down to one warrior again. And only one woodcutter, but I had only wanted to have one in the first place. So no big deal. Except that I had no food anymore and still had a negative production, because there were no free villagers left to gather food. But one new villager arrived just in time! Phew. We’re safe!

Back to the lore tree: Once I am at the maximum amount shown (which is 100 lore in the beginning), I can unlock something. I decided my warriors should get fur coats, so their attack power isn’t reduced in foreign areas during winter. The next unlock costs 120 lore.

 

Just so we know that this is not everything to the game… look at that black cloud on the picture. It appeared together with a pop-up tooltip window informing me that portals opened and I would have to make sure my defenses are strong enough…

Northgard

And with this, I am going to end my very first impression piece.

What’s the verdict here? So far, the game runs smoothly on my PC. No technical issues, no bugs that I noticed – and just when I was wondering whether it could become a bit too boring, the neighbouring clan attacked me! So far, so good. Northgard is in Early Access, so the game is still being developed and more features will be added. I do not regret the purchase! Speaking of purchase: ‘What’s the price?’ you may ask. It’s currently on sale for $17.99€ on Steam Early Access until March 1, then the price will go up to $19.99€. Still a good price if this is the kind of game you enjoy playing!

However, as with every Early Access title: Choose wisely whether you want to invest now as the game does lack some features! Inform yourself first and make the judgment based on what is there now, not on what could maybe eventually end up in the game in the not-so-soon future. If you like what you see, then yes, go ahead and buy the game! It isn’t expensive, after all. If you’re uncertain, better wait and check YouTube or Twitch for Let’s Plays before making a decision.

*It’s the latter. I looked at the steam community hub for this game and found a thread about this where they mentioned how it works: You select the worker you want to convert back to villager and send him to the Town Hall (the main building you start with) or to one of the houses you’ve built and that puts them back to being a regular villager. It also helps spreading houses around the map as it means less travel time for this task.

Paeroka’s Ponderings: Racial skills?

Paeroka's Ponderings featured image for columnI have recently tried hopping into Elder Scrolls Online again and as I want a fresh start, I looked up guides and possible builds for the classes, to get a feeling for which class I may want to play. While I did that, I noticed that several posts about builds (e.g., this one or this one) come with suggestions which race you should pick as they have different advantages and disadvantages when combined with a certain class or in some cases, with a certain playstyle of a certain class.

I like racial skills in general as they give a little bit of flavour for your character, but I also know that in the grand scheme of “balance”, they are very difficult to implement.

Guild Wars 2 has racial skills, but they cannot be used in structured PvP! Every race has several skills they can use. I know that at some point, I used one of the elite skills to call a golem, but I have not used any in quite some time. With the game’s restriction to just a limited amount of skills, you tend to use the best ones available for your build and these are usually not the race-specific ones – there is even a recent discussion about these skills in the forums. Personally, I do not even notice the skills exist most of the time, because I focus on my class’s skills instead. So yeah, being able to call a golem as an asura is fun, but both my warrior and my mesmer have more important skills to use than these and it’s just this little bit of flavour. I could call a golem if I wanted to, you know?

GW2 Asura with golem

Rift has racial abilities, too. The linked list is not up-to-date for dwarves, though. At some point, Trion removed damage from falling, so their racial ability was changed to give them the “Dwarven Breakfast“. This one saves me a bit of gold as I need to buy less food to regenerate health between fights. Of course, if you’re a better player than me and know how to avoid damage from simple mobs in the world outside, you may see this as even less important. The other races’ skills are mostly about increased movement speed, but none of them can be used in combat. The second set of racial abilities is an increased resistance towards one of the elements. E. g., a dwarf gets +20 water resistance. My level 70 dwarf cleric currently has 5631 water resist, so this +20 seems negligible. It may have been more impactful when the game first released. But it is only for defense, so nothing that ever affected your offensive power.

I remember years ago, in World of Warcraft, the Undead had a racial skill that was considered very handy in PvP: Will of the Forsaken. Getting out of Fear (you cannot use any skills for a few seconds except for skills that remove this effect) is just a really cool and important thing in PvP fights and it used to give immunity to such effects for a few seconds on top of breaking the current spell on your character. Blizzard has nerfed this racial skill, but it’s still nice to have! In general, I remember there being lots of heated discussions about the racial skills, mostly for PvP environments, but some were also quite useful in PvE. In PvE, it was mostly relevant if you were looking to min/max your character – still, not a lot of people chose dwarf even if the racial skills were nice to have. :p Since I haven’t been actively playing in any competitive way, I do not know how important racial skills are in World of Warcraft, but I did also find a more recent discussion about them and it looks like most players are not influenced by these skills when creating a new character, but a few actually are. Which lets me to conclude that the way Blizzard is still handling the racial abilities is worse than how Trion and ArenaNet implemented them in their games. If you ask me, racial abilities should never be more than just flavour and it should not be mandatory to choose a certain race if you want to maximize your damage output!

Now let’s take a look The Elder Scrolls Online again: I have found this reddit thread from about a year ago where some say that race is a stronger factor in PvP while others say it’s more important in PvE and somebody says it doesn’t matter because fights are too easy anyway. :p This thread from May 2015, this thread from July 2016 and also this thread from December 2016, have players discuss back and forth whether it makes a big difference or whether choosing what you like should be more important when creating a character, but as I mentioned above: Guides for certain class builds actually list recommended races!

I thought about playing an Argonian sorcerer, but when I read that I will miss out on 10 % max magicka, it sounds like a lot. Or when people say something to the effect of “well, you can play an Argonian, but…”, it just makes me not want to do that. If I turn out to be just a mediocre player and chose a less-than-optimal race, I would feel bad playing with others. So, a possible mediocre skill level should probably at least be paired with an optimal race (for me personally, not saying others should do that as well). Apparently, making an Argonian sorcerer is not a good choice. In fact, if you want a meleeish sorcerer, go with Redguard, if you want a caster sorcerer, go with high elf. If you want a healer sorcerer, go with Breton. So you better make your choice – not just about class and race, but also about how you want to play said class – before creating your character!

Elder Scrolls Online Breton Sorcerer

Needless to say, I am still torn and have created several characters, but I am not sure which one to try now. I love melee characters that have some utility/spells to use and my favourite races in Elder Scrolls Online are Argonian and Orc… But I also don’t want to be laughed at by other players for choosing the worst possible combination. Even if it turns out not to be a big deal at all, I greatly dislike feeling this insecure and if you ask me, racial skills should never even have such an impact on players in the first place!

P.S: Orc as stamina sorceress is what I am going to try. It did come up as suggestions when I researched for orc-class combinations and it is one of my two favourite races, so it seems “safe” to choose.

I regularly have rants and ramblings in my mind, but never really know if I should post them, so “Paeroka’s Ponderings” is where I will try to give these rants a place. Sometimes they will make sense, sometimes they won’t.

Urban Empire: First Impression Review

I got the game, Urban Empire, as a Christmas present from bookahnerk. It released on January 20, so there was quite some aniticipation built up there. I had watched a few streams about the game and read a few articles from gaming websites (and a German gaming magazine), but I didn’t read too much about the game’s mechanics and how to actually play the game. I have played through the campaign once (with a time-victory, meaning I stayed mayor for all five time eras that the game has), so I figured it’s a good time to share my impressions with you now.

Urban Empire

First things first: The developers stress that it’s a city-ruler, not a city-building game. And that part is certainly true! You plan city districts and choose the percentage of residential buildings, businesses and industry in that district plus you can add a few things like water, electricity or special buildings like a park (which adds a bonus to health) or a clinic and so on (each with a monthly cost associated, of course). Once you are done with one district proposal, your city council gets to vote. If the majority of them votes “no”, the district will not be built – you can try again and alter some of the settings, though. Or you just pay for the district out of your own pockets. As mayor of the city, you do get money every month and can use it for things like this or spying on political parties that are part of your government.

Urban Empire

You can choose between four different families to rule as mayors throughout the five time eras that the campaign has. I chose the Kilgannons as my mayors. What I liked were some random events related to my chosen family that were happening in the first two eras. It was mostly about what my offspring did and I had to react or make a decision. E.g., I wanted to send my daughter to university but it was not possible yet in the fictional country of Swarelia, where my city is located, at the time. So I chose to send her abroad which made her upset. But these events made me bond with my mayor and his family. At some point, these events stopped and I was not given any more options or decisions on what to do with family members. I was not even told about any of my family members anymore. With every change of the era, a new offspring gets put into the mayor office. So with one era-change, there he was: some relative that I had never even heard of before but he was the new mayor now and I had no choice there. Maybe I am too used to roleplaying games where I can choose my character and customize them somewhat. Still, I would have really liked to hear about that person before and get to know at least a little bit about them before having to play as that character. Or better yet, with the change of the era, give me a decision which relative to choose as the next mayor!

Urban Empire

During the first two eras, the city council can’t do anything to get rid of you. That is, they can’t vote you out! But they still do vote on almost every decision you make! Going completely broke would probably let you lose the game either way… I did get into huge debts twice, but both times, I asked in Vienna where I asked for more money and got it, so I could continue. In other words, I have no idea what has to happen in order to lose the game in the first two eras.

Urban Empire

Other than placing districts, you also choose inventions. You do not research these inventions themselves, but merely research to have the inventions imported to your city (or so it said in the tutorial). Every research is tied to a certain era, although you can advance faster (or slower!) than the time eras (so you can research era 2 inventions even though you’re still in the first era time-wise). Researched inventions also unlock new issues/edicts and upgrades to your city. From time to time, political parties want you to start a vote on certain edicts and you can either agree or disagree with them. In either case, they do get voted on by the political parties afterwards. I would assume that my decision changes the “goodwill” of the political parties depending on whether they agree or disagree with the issue.

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The goodwill shows whether political parties will favour me or not… and I can “spend” goodwill to plead with, demand or threaten a political party to agree with me on an issue (or to vote for me in the upcoming elections). I do not know what happens if you’re at the maximum of -10 goodwill. I was at that point quite often with several political parties at which point I always chose “threaten” to make them vote for me, because eh, there was nothing to lose. However, despite being at -10, I do not know what negative implications this had. I didn’t feel or notice any, at least. You can plead with, demand or threaten a political party once a month, so that’s what I did before elections took place. It was a close call sometimes, but with one exception, I always won the election. One time I didn’t win the election and I could click on “overrule” to stay mayor. You pay such an overruling with prestige points and I had gotten so many of them without spending any that it was no big deal. The result was that all political parties lost respect for me which means that they had less goodwill towards me. Which brings me back to the point of not knowing or not having felt any negative consequences of being at -10 goodwill.

Placing the districts was a fun part. Yes, I admit, I’m a fan of city-building! Once all districts were placed, there was nothing to further expand the city. Well, other than increasing the density of my districts depending on demand (e.g., reducing the residential areas in a district but increasing industry because we had a need for much more industry but not for residents), at least. I had a spot left where I could have placed another district, but the game told me the area is too small for a district. So I had two options: Destroy at least one neighbouring district to rebuild it a bit smaller, so I could probably squeeze in another district – or just let it be as it didn’t matter anyway. I had a surplus of income, residents were reasonably happy, security, environment, health etc. were all acceptable. So why change anything? I had gotten to that point at the beginning of the 4th era which means that for the rest of the game (era 4 and 5), I let the city council come up with issues or sometimes initiated a vote on issues or edicts myself because they improved the city or gave me some more income (depending on what was needed to balance it out again) and waited for the end of era 5 to get that time victory.

Two more features got unlocked in the later eras: Twin Cities which lets you choose a city and get some bonus in return. I chose Sydney which gives me +2 fun but it costs 50k. And Business Delegation which lets me send a delegation to a city for several months and gives me bonuses to a certain industry I choose.

You actually do have a lot of stats to look at. For example, which districts have how many middle class or working class residents. But to be honest, I did not have a reason to look at these stats. And believe me, I love stats! I just want a reason to pay attention to them and make decisions based on them!

I liked the first two eras of the game, but after that, it became “click click click, wait for votes, click click click, then threaten and demand with the political parties who would not vote for me until they would…” and nothing really mattered. I had positive income with my city and even if I didn’t do anything and didn’t change anything, all went well. I’ve never felt this indifferent about “winning” the game (with a time victory), because it was just so boring getting there. I basically sat it out with one exception: I did go through all my districts and upgrade the road networks and I think I got more income afterwards as transportation volume increased. But other than that, districts didn’t complain if they didn’t have gas, water or electricity. Everything worked well anyway which let me stay inactive for most parts.

Urban Empire

My conclusion for now is that I cannot recommend the game for full price. For me, it doesn’t offer enough as it gets boring at some point. However, I still think it’s a great concept and the first two eras are fun and engaging! It’s a solid base and not a “lost cause” if you ask me, and maybe the developers will add features in the future that make the game more engaging and feel the effects of making – or not making – choices in the later eras.

TL;DR: Urban Empire is a city-ruler game with – in my opinion – great potential which is not (yet?) living up to it.

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My quest for hidden gems: Jazzpunk

quest

I sometimes buy game bundles that come with a bunch of codes for games I never even looked at before… or I can’t resist that sweet tempting “mystery game for 0.20 €” offer. Either way, these games are often not even looked at once I have them (well, more so for the bundled games than the one I actually did buy even if I didn’t know what game it will be). I figured I should devote this column here to these games. On the one hand, it makes me actually look at the game and on the other hand, sometimes I buy bundled games because I want to get game A and then I end up ignoring it because one of the other games in the bundle turns out to be much more fun!

I have a bunch of games that qualify for this column and wasn’t sure which one to pick. Then I saw something that looked… weird… but the name sounded rather bland, actually. So this is what I chose: Jazzpunk by Necrophone Games. I bought it as part of a bundle with Overlord.

Let’s take a look at the game: The introduction video sequence is very… colourful, at least. But it doesn’t tell me what this game is about. I actually only read this one sentence before jumping into the game:

“Jazzpunk is a comedy adventure set in an alternate reality Cold War World, plagued with corporate espionage, CyberCrime, and sentient martinis.”

I decided not to read too much about each game before playing it. Without much prior information, I figured I would experience the game in a much less biased way. I made one mistake here, though: I should at least check whether a game is in first person view or not, because it does give me nausea. Jazzpunk’s graphics are very basic, and putting mouse sensitivity on very low lets me play this game for a bit longer than other games before I need to take a break. But the next games I will look at will not be in first person view. It’s just not fun to play and write about a game that makes you feel sick, right? But something still made me want to give it a try, at least.

In the opening scenes, I see that I apparently flew in (to where, I don’t know… but there are Asian symbols, I think…) in a man-shaped suitcase. Very subtle, right? And then I am… somewhere… and get my first mission from a guy who claims to go to his wine cellar after briefing me but actually just lay down to sleep on the floor behind his desk. I have to take some kind of pill for the first mission to start. No idea what that part is about, really. I assume I would find out later on in the game.

jazzpunk intro

Now the bad part is that the voices are all kind of hard to understand and there is no option for “real” subtitles. In most cases, there is a short line repeating what the characters said in a short sentence. But still, a lot gets lost unless you have the sound up and understand them.

Bookahnerk was watching me play and remarked that it seems to be similar to the Stanley Parable. I guess that’s right as I still don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing. My task was to infiltrate a building, but that’s the only pointer I got. It’s not like Stanley Parable in that a speaker narrates what I’m doing. Instead, in Jazzpunk I can actually interact with objects and after using a copy-machine for taking pictures of my character’s naked butt, I used a picture on the wall (with a face, not a butt) to fool a camera-activated door to open for me. So it is a puzzle adventure game, but the atmosphere reminds me of Stanley Parable. Jazzpunk tries to stay light-hearted with silly jokes, though. One more example: The room where I took butt-pictures also has two microscopes. One let me play asteroids. No, it doesn’t make any sense, but it was fun! Too bad it was just one level.

I played through the first mission now after looking for a walkthrough online. I admit, I suck at puzzle games, but I still like playing them once in a while. My usual method is to try to figure out how to solve it on my own first and when I get stuck, I look at a walkthrough. My main motivation is not to solve everything on my own, but to get some entertainment value out of it which means that the storyline also has to be good. Fortunately, this seems to be the case here. Of course, having done only the first mission (with help), it’s a bit early to say the story is fantastic or even whether the story will still be good later on. But at least, there seems to be an overarching story behind me doing these missions.

The downside of this game is that even though the graphics are simple, I cannot play the game for longer than 10 minutes at a time. I wish I could, though! It’s silly and seems to be done really well. The interface is confusing at times, though. It says to hit X to cycle through my inventory, but when I picked up a second item, the first item was not in my inventory anymore. Instead, I later found a cereal box that I had already picked up and emptied on the table again just as if I had never even touched it.

Since I cannot really delve into the game longer, I’m looking at the Steam reviews: The game recently got 99 % positive reviews. The overall percentage of positive reviews is at 90 %. So, if you like puzzle games and weird silly stories, this seems to be a great choice! But only if you can play with first person view. For me this one simple thing means that it is not a gem and I will uninstall it again.

Paeroka’s Ponderings: When is a game worth your money?

Paeroka's Ponderings featured image for column

I know there are a lot of gamers with a huge backlog of games and a bad conscience whenever they get yet another game even though there is this long list of games they never or hardly played.

Most of the time, I compare the money I spent on the game with the amount of time I played it. Obviously, not counting the ones that I did not like at all as these are obviously a waste of money. So far, my comparison was usually a ticket to the movies. Let’s be generous and say 8 € for 2 hours, because I don’t go to 3D movies and don’t need the extra comfortable seats in the back. :p But in a lot of games, you already spend half an hour or so in the tutorial! With that comparison, if a game has a long tutorial (or you just need longer to get through it like I usually do), a game for 8 € would be worth it already if I get through the tutorial. So while it is a good comparison in a way as its anchor is another pastime that costs money, I think it’s not too good considering the nature of games. That would be a bit more like me comparing it to the trailers that you see in the cinema before the actual movie starts. :p

A colleague of bookahnerk said to him: “I have an easy calculation: 1 € per hour played”. I like it because it’s easy to calculate, but also a lot stricter. For some weird reason, my brain really needs such a calculation, though, to justify getting yet another game. I like that this one is a lot stricter than mine but probably still reasonable and only slightly less arbitrary. :p

Let’s take a look at my Steam profile: The one with the most amount of time played is still Star Trek Online with 258 hours. I would say that I spent most of these hours trying to figure out how the space fights work and how to get a good ship. But MMOs are always different and Star Trek Online is a free to play game on top of it (I think I paid for it once and also bought the original series uniforms? I’m not too sure, but I do know they got some money from me). Then there’s Tropico 4, Civilization V, Tropico 5 and Prison Architect with 139 to 106 hours played. There is no question about these games: They were worth their money if you ask me! Where else can you get that much entertainment for that amount of money? Especially considering I got most of these games on sale.

But let’s look at Tropico 5 as I know I bought it for full price when it came out and only went for the sales for the extra DLCs. Summing everything up (I kept the emails), I spent 62 € on Tropico 5 for 109 hours of entertainment. So yes, it’s in the positive. Phew. Still, as I said, my brain needs some kind of justification and I think this formula will help with that. It will also keep me from buying impulsively, I hope. And I’m sure I’m not the only one coming up with some calculations, right?

And one day… one day I will try out all these tiny little games that I don’t care about because they were part of a bundle. And once I do, I will write about my experiences here. Sometimes these little ones are true gems. Sometimes they’re garbage. You never know until you tried, right?

 

I regularly have rants and ramblings in my mind, but never really know if I should post them, so “Paeroka’s Ponderings” is where I will try to give these rants a place. Sometimes they will make sense, sometimes they won’t.