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Review by: Keith Durocher
Published: June 2, 2004
How much do we really know about Vikings? Monty Python taught us of their peculiar predilection for canned luncheon meat, but beyond that, we can’t call on too much other than a wide variety of Hollywood clichés to shape our view of these ancient northern warriors. Funatics Software, a German development team, decided it was high time someone took those truisms and added some fact to them while maintaining a strong sense of Nordic myth. The end result is the third title in the Cultures franchise, a strategy simulation called Northland. If ever you’ve felt the desire to experience what life might have been like in the frosty days of old, then read on; that’s exactly what this release is all about.
Northland picks up where the events of Cultures 2: The Gates of Asgard left off. Two of the main protagonists of that title, Bjorni and Cyra, find themselves languishing in the palaces of the Byzantine emperor, who just happens to be Cyra’s father. After receiving a call for aid from their adventuring friend, Hatschi, they head off to offer whatever aid they can. (One doesn’t defeat Jorgumandr the World Serpent without establishing some deep-rooted bonds.) It seems Hatschi and his people have been plagued with raids from a hostile race of serpent men, and he’d like a little assistance from some reliable fighters. Throughout the course of this new adventure, our heroes will see themselves building cities, forging magical amulets to ward off evil the likes of which even the gods fear, wandering the halls of the underworld and even fighting the legendary Fenris Wolf. Never a dull moment.
Northland is essentially a 50-50 hybrid of simulation and real-time strategy. Viewed from an isometric angle, it’s a 2D sprite-based title that’s formatted to a classic Saturday morning cartoon theme. It details the lives of your slowly expanding society in a way that leaves no unit to the demons of generic facelessness. To clarify, every single unit in Northland is a unique, functioning individual. If you want, you can even rename each and every one of your civilians. If the mood strikes you to sculpt a commune of Vikings named after the Partridge Family, then feel free to rename to your heart’s content. Go ahead, give mom a beard; she won’t mind.
Setting up your society is no simple affair. Unlike virtually all other RTS games, the process isn’t a static ladder of one-unit-leads-to-another. Everything meshes together in specific ways that make a great deal of sense, but are quite complex. You start out in need of supplies like wood, stone and clay. Select three civilians and assign them the profession of extractors for the basic building materials you need to start construction, and they go about gathering whatever it is they’ve been charged with gathering. Next is assigning the profession of builder to a civilian or two. Once enough supplies have been collected, you can build workplaces for each of the extractors – a carpenter’s shop for the woodsman or a quarry for the stone extractor, for example. These locations need specific tradesmen to work them, so you must change the professions of your extractors, provided they have acquired enough experience to qualify for the career shift. However, once you’ve assigned them to work as carpenters or potters or stoneworkers, you’ll need to find other civilians to replace them as extractors.
Each unit immediately starts gaining experience as it works. This allows it to not only alter professions to more advanced versions; it also unlocks more advanced facets of the professions to which it’s currently assigned. For instance, a carpenter starts out building basic wooden tools, but after gaining enough experience, he can then move on to furniture, handcarts and wooden weapons like spears and bows. He can only build one type of item at a time, so you’ll need to keep an eye on supply and demand. More advanced buildings require superior building materials, which are usually manufactured. One can’t expect a functional defensive tower to be particularly effective if it doesn’t have a shingled roof. Thus, the potter fills more of a role than it might initially seem.
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