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.

Valhalla Hills: First impressions

ValhallaHills-logoI’ve previously written about Valhalla Hills and my impressions from the outside, but now you can get an impression piece from me from the inside!

I was the lucky winner of the grand prize of Blaugust and received a Steam game that I could choose. While I have lots of games on my wishlist, only one came to my mind that I really wanted to have and play: Valhalla Hills (and I also got the Contributor Edition from Belghast and not just the regular one! O.o). The timing was also quite awesome, as all of this happened on my birthday. :D

TL;DR: It feels a lot like Cultures to me, but each map plays very similarly to the previous map which feels a bit repetitive. There is no sandbox either. Altogether, it has potential and I hope they can fill that potential with more content.

Now that this is out of the way, let me get into more detail. I mentioned in the previous post who Funatics are and why this game even caught my attention in the first place. So, I’ll skip that very basic introduction part and get right to the game.

You play as Leko, one of Odin’s sons, and need to earn honour (through building, fighting and so on) to prove to Odin that you’re a worthy son. You do so with the help of Vikings who get rejected from entering Asgard as well and who, just like you, need to earn more honour before they are allowed to enter. And with that, off to the adventure you go. The first few maps (all of them are islands) are really small. I am on map 9, I think (I would check, but Steam isn’t loading currently). In the beginning, you don’t have many buildings available yet. You basically build up an economy, so your vikings have food and soldiers. The goal is to go through the portal on the island. You can choose between two options: You either build an altar and gather resources to sacrifice for the portal guards to be calmed and let you through or you can instead invest in a small army of soldiers and attack the portal guards instead. I chose the peaceful option, simply because it seemed much easier. On later maps, there will be enemy NPCs on the islands, too, so you will have to have soldiers to defend your vikings anyway.

I said that you only have a few buildings in the beginning. You get unlocks in the game by playing the game which then give you access to more buildings later on. It’s important to note that the new buildings are not available on the island you are playing on at that time. Only when you start a new map can you build that new building.

One of the issues I see with the game currently is that it seems to be very repetitive. For the first few maps, all I did was build the most necessary buildings, build an altar, fulfill whatever was needed to calm down the portal guards and open the portal to get to the next map. There are even (Steam) achievements that support this “repetitive goal”: “Your Vikings managed to climb the Valhalla Hills x times!” where x is 10, 50, 100, 250. While I don’t mind having these achievements in general, I am not sure how much fun it will be to do the same thing over and over again with no change in between. In Cultures, there were story campaigns with maps that usually had at least slightly different goals to achieve (defeat your enemies on the map, gather enough of x resource, find NPC y and so on). And the single non-campaign maps also had different goals or no goals at all.

I finally reached a map that I could not succeed on. What I do find an interesting feature is that each map has a maximum of vikings you can get. Well, there are two numbers, actually. One is the maximum amount of vikings you can have at any given time. For example, after you build some huts for your vikings to live in, you can have up to 26 vikings on your island. When one dies, another one appears. But there won’t be more than 26 unless you buy another hut. But the maximum total amount is an important factor here. If you have 26 vikings and one died, this total is at 27 out of 55 vikings. If too many vikings die, no new ones will appear. So there is a definite end to the map if you let them starve or they die in fights with NPCs (those are the two ways they can die, I think). On top of that, the game lets you create three profiles which all have a different progression. But each profile only has one save slot and the game has an auto-save function. While auto-save is good, once you realize you made a wrong decision, you cannot go back. You can only start a new map (but as long as you continue playing with your current profile, all progress – that is, all unlocked buildings and your vikings honour – will be saved).

One thing I love is that you can rename your vikings and choose different helmets for them. The character screen is also quite cute and shows you how much honour each of your vikings has earned already and how often they spawned on your maps. This gives a nice little touch as you can get quite attached to them. What is sad is that within the game, you have no control over the vikings at all. For comparison, in Cultures you could tell each viking where to go. But more importantly, you had to assign a viking to a given job. The bakery was finished, freshly built, but nobody started working there unless you told somebody to do so. If you had more open professions then vikings, this was no issue as you assigned the available vikings to which professions you needed the most. In Valhalla Hills, I have to disable a building (no production there and thus, no viking working there), so no viking chooses this work place. But once I have more vikings, I have to be fast and enable it again before the viking goes to do another open job instead. There is no window that tells you which buildings are currently enabled or disabled, so you need to memorize which you set in the disabled state. Also, professions further down the skill line (that is, every profession but the very basic ones like farmer, hunter, forester) had to be learned somehow first in Cultures. A viking that had no prior experience (in the case of the baker, this would be a miller), he had to be sent to school to learn the appropriate profession there. But for me, the main aspect is that I could choose who should work at which place. Not even because I wanted to give my favourite vikings the best jobs in town (although I certainly did exactly that :p), but mostly because it just felt like I had more control over the game and it was much easier than the “micromanagement” in this game.

Oh, as this is early access, a word on why I am not writing about bugs: There were none. Seriously. Not one single bug. Okay, a few issues did arise… Sometimes, the game doesn’t load. Closing it in the task manager and restarting it solves the issue. And then some text is not fitting 100 % in its tooltip. I am also certain that some things need to be tweaked as I was frequently annoyed by vikings not finding food even though they are close to a building that stores food. But I’m not sure if that counts as a bug per se or rather something like “pathfinding issues” which to me, belongs to the “needs tweaking” category. :p

In closing, I could probably just repeat what I wrote in the “TL;DR” section above. I was pleasantly surprised as the game is much more fun than I thought it would be. But my concerns were also correct in that it has unused potential and does get a bit repetitive. In my opinion, they did a lot of things much better with Cultures and I hope to see some of those features return, so the game gets more depth and content and less repetitive gameplay.