They say you should never judge a book by its cover; well Northland comes across as more of an RPG, in least in terms of style, but it’s a strategy game through and through. It’s not completely new either, Northland is part of the expanding Cultures series. Northland is a complete strategy game, but not a perfect one; there are many shortcomings that affect the experience.
While not necessarily a shortcoming, the graphics do leave a lot to be desired. In today’s gaming market, it’s perhaps unforgivable for a game to have poor graphics, but Northland compensates in other departments – like gameplay. Along with the ?old school’ graphics and interface, you have a two dimensional ?board’, like in the other games of the series. There’s a weird duality to the appearance of the characters and terrains, this is a hardcore strategy game (just look at the wide range of buttons) but the graphics aren’t as serious as the game. They’re almost like a cartoon, or the original Warcraft; definitely in that line of style. The graphics are colorful though and do make for a more cheery atmosphere around the distinctly solemn gameplay elements. It should also be noted that there are some worrying problems found with certain video cards – ATI cards in particular. Ironic really, especially because the graphics aren’t very good in the first place.
Like all strategy games, sound and sound effects are important to the gameplay in letting you know when assigned tasks, objectives and constructions are completed. But it’s also true that most games today have barely above average sounds compared to the likes of, say, Splinter Cell where sound development receives a great deal of effort – but then a game like Splinter Cell is more cinematic. And do strategy games not need this? Well they do, but with some exceptions; they generally tend not to over emphasize the bells and whistles (sonorously speaking). Although, that said, the upcoming Lord of the Rings strategy game by EA looks to have changed that, and a Lord of the Rings game has to be cinematic, right? But, when talking about Northland, the sound does just enough – it’s an average execution and an average achievement. You won’t be amazed, and you may even be a tad disappointed when you discover there’s no voice acting either. Just imagine how different a game like Black & White would have been without the voice acting of the villagers (especially the seamen song). The voice acting in Northland is sadly missed because it does make a game more intimate when you have vocal interaction.
Without focusing on the game’s slightly problematic running issues (video card), the gameplay is where the good stuff is really at – even more so if you love strategy games. Though people who don’t may get confused and frustrated with the interface, it has a fair number of action buttons, which can prove confusing but offer more control over your disciples. And you’ll likely need all of them anyway because the game is so complex and complete that its mass management can become tiresome. Every villager has a very specific job, for example if a forester is chopping wood then he won’t be the one taking it to town for storage, someone else does that (is it a union thing?). As you can see this directly involves the increased workload of one specific individual – you. You’re not in a union, are you? Well, then the job’s yours to do; the extra work isn’t so bad if you love to micromanage, but people that are not fanatic over strategy games will probably hate this aspect. “And when do I attack stuff?” you may ask. Well, like everything in Northland, it takes a while to come around. It may not be instant fun for some, but do you think the Roman Empire just suddenly had weaponry readymade for global conquering? This is where the realism of the game starts to kick in, and it’s a welcome element because many recent strategy games have been anything but realistic (in Age of Empires Aztecs used gunpowder?historically accurate?). Gaming feminists will not like the fact that women in the game can’t have jobs like the men, they just serve food and procreate. But this is another realism element (hear me out); we are talking about a group of Vikings here, women didn’t have too much of a chance when it came to performing many ?equal opportunity’ jobs.
A game with extreme emphasis on strategy is bound to please some, and be hated by others, but it’s good that developers are willing to take a chance with the demographic. The game could use some graphic and aural polish, but the gameplay is good once you get the hang of things. Northland bravely tries to cover a great deal of ground and perhaps that’s where the problems kick in. But, either way, it’s a recommendable game, especially for the strategy purist.