Northgard Ragnarok Update Review: The End of Days Isn't So Apocalyptic
Ragnarok. The end of days.
In Norse mythology, Ragnarok is a time of great tribulation and hardship. It is a time of violence and difficulty. Ragnarok, as it seems, is when the gods kick you in the ass.
If you've played enough Northgard, you know that even on its hardest setting, it's never been a truly difficult strategy game. Although it's immensely fun to play, I've always seen Northgard as a casual, more laid-back RTS experience.
Hoping for something of a difficulty spike, I jumped into the game's new update with gusto. But despite its foreboding moniker, Ragnarok doesn't make Northgard any harder than its ever been. As soon as you figure out the gods aren't as clever as they think, gaining victory comes as it has many times before.
In some ways, that's not a bad thing. But with such high hopes ahead of release, it's a bit of a letdown that more risks weren't taken.
More Like DLC
If you're looking for it, Ragnarok brings plenty of new content to Northgard.
When you boot up, you'll find a new option for the update after choosing singleplayer in the main menu. Select your clan, and you're loaded into the new Ragnarok map, a terribly (and aptly) desolate place covered in the drab brown and grey overtones of the apocalypse.
From there, things begin differently enough.
Resource Priorities Have Changed
The biggest change you'll immediately notice is that early-game resources such as food and lumber are scant -- and you can only gain food by foraging or hunting (unless you're playing as Clan Fenrir, of course).
This one wrinkle can -- and probably will -- completely change your strategy; where you might have once expanded toward fertile land and then areas with stone or iron, you'll now find yourself quickly seeking out the map's few hunting areas to quickly establish a foothold.
It's a dynamic mix-up I found refreshing for the first several matches, but ultimately one that led to rote repetition in subsequent games, specifically if I never deviated from the optimum path of my own accord.
I also quickly found that Ragnarok is easy peasy if you play with a clan like The Raven, which has the ability to annex land via Krowns instead of food. By building enough marketplaces and trading posts alongside a savvy trade route or two, you can easily circumvent the primary obstacles inherent to the map and glide to victory.
Ghosts, Raiders, Volcanoes, Oh My
Not everything comes up roses.
One thing that does shake things up quite a bit is the addition of new events and enemy types. If you're like me and consistently go for Wisdom or Trade victories, completely ignoring your warband in the process, that changes here.
In many ways, it's essential you build a relatively robust warband of at least 12 warriors and one hero unit. Not only will that help you defend against wolves, Draugr, and other players but also against Fallen Sailors and the Myrkalfar, or Dark Elves.
The former damage sponges present a dire threat as they attack from the sea in numbers and not only bring strife but also unhappiness to your territory, causing your workers to be less productive. The latter are more nagging, launching raids on "random players" (read: you) each year stealing resources from your stores and leaving a few warriors dead if you're not careful.
But by far one of the most interesting new enemies comes from the molten rocks spewed forth by the unconquerable volcano in the middle of the Ragnarok map.
Like other random events, the volcano will erupt, sending ash across the sky and darkening the map for a time. This darkness hides the stone golems that have indiscriminately on the map. At first they look like simple boulders, but if you don't mine them fast enough, they'll morph into raucous golems bent of your destruction.
Couple that with a random rat infestation and Gates to Helheim, and you're in for a devastating ride.
Way of the Warrior
If you've not yet guessed, Ragnarok more the pushes you toward a Domination victory, for better or worse. The incentive is increased by the new Military Paths system, which gives your warband XP for every enemy killed.
Depending on your playstyle, points rack up quickly, giving you access to three different paths: Tactician, Guardian, and Conqueror. Within each of these three paths there are three buffs that unlock at certain XP levels. Some provide increased health while others instill fear into the hearts of your enemies.
The Guardian is the clearcut choice, though, because it increases your warband by one for every guard tower you have built (and by two if that guard tower is upgraded). Since you can -- and certainly should -- build guard towers in each section of your territory for protection, you can save some space on Training Camps and resources on upgrading them.
So while Military Paths are interesting, there's never really any reason to pick anything but Guardian. Ever.
Oh, and there's also something called a Bloodmoon, which increases the attack power of every unit outside of its territory. This is perfect for attacking other settlements, but since I've only gotten one once in a few matches (and wasn't close enough to another camp to test it out) I can't exactly say if it works as advertised or note.
At the end of the day, Northgard's newest update is a mixed bag. On paper, all of the added content adds dynamic new layers to an already fun RTS. In practice, the number of occurrences feels unbalanced and the Ragnarok map is just, well, drab.
Since the update is free, it kind of feels a bit ungrateful to gripe at all. But with all its potential not maximized, it feels like all that tribulation and hardship is a bit for naught.