previews\ May 24, 2003 at 8:00 pm

Northland - PC - Preview

One thing I’ve always been a little worried about is when a new developer picks up a gaming franchise where another one started. This actually began when Legacy of Kain went from Silicon Knights to Eidos … and I personally thought that they took something that was a masterpiece and turned it into “Tomb Raider with a vampire”. Anyway, Northland is actually a standalone sequel to JoWood’s Cultures 2, which was one of my favorite RTS games of last year. It actually went over to a new developer, GMX, so I started to worry again. Well, after playing a couple of levels in the demo copy, I am happy to announce that all of the fun and style is back once again in Northland, with a couple of little changes.


For anyone who hasn’t played Cultures 2 before, the story revolved around Leif Erikson’s son, Bjarni. He had a horrifying vision of the end of the world, and he set off on his adventures to stop the “Ragnarok” and met some new friends and allies along the way. Northland will continue the adventures of Bjarni as he heads east this time for more fun and exciting exploration, as well as new friends, enemies, and allies to meet along the way. Just like the original, you have to help the Viking explorers build up their own villages and unique little corners of the world, including marriage, having children, and providing warm and comfortable homes and relationships to help everyone flourish and grow.


Northland stays true to the earlier title by giving you the same overall gameplay element that made the first one so much fun in my opinion. While there are missions to accomplish, fighting and battles that will come up, in addition to having to establish diplomacy with neighboring villages or sometimes work to improve hostile relations, you can literally spend the large majority of your time building your Viking civilizations in various parts of the world. The missions will range from “investigate a smoke cloud in the north” to “eliminate the hostiles that are disrupting trade”, but the game gives you as long as you want to actually complete it, giving you time to get a massive army and free standing civilization together … so play it as you see fit.


The RPG style leveling system is here and intact as well, and folks familiar to Cultures 2 will immediately be able to hop right in to assign jobs and upgrade when it is time to do so. For new gamers to the Cultures and Northland world, you assign each newly grown person in the village a specific job, which can be altered if needed (wood gathering, scout, hunter, etc.) and as they gain experience by doing their job, they can earn enough to move to the next level which goes to help you build bigger structures, new defenses, furniture, etc. For example, a miner who gathers quarry stone will eventually gain enough experience to become a mason, where the stone can be made into blocks which opens up defensive towers and such. They will also level up in their current position to unlock new things to make and create like marble, tiles, and a number of other benefits, each with their own importance.   


The biggest change that I noticed in Northland is some adjustable difficulty that makes it a little easier to focus on the game itself. In Cultures 2, your villagers could get very needy, and a lot of times it almost felt like a babysitting or micromanagement sim rather than an RTS title. Setting the difficulty down will ultimately have you only needing to worry about whether someone is working or not, then you only need to tell them where to go or change their profession vs. having to tell them when to eat, talk, sleep, pray, and a lot of other things that you got sidetracked doing in Cultures 2 which got pretty time consuming, especially when your village grew to 50 or more individuals.


Graphically, Northland is also staying true to its predecessor by adopting more of a cutesy little cartoon look vs. the real life, gritty Viking lifestyle. Each of the characters still have their chubby little bodies and bulbous noses, and the world retains a very bright and colorful look, even in areas where there is a lot of snow or sandy areas. There have also been some added weather effects that will happen periodically, like snow falling or a sudden rain shower coming over the land, but nothing that seemed to have too much effect on what everyone was doing at the time that it started. Everything is still very simple point and click setup, and commands, job changes, and anything else that you want to do is still simple and easy to figure out.


Everything is looking very good so far with Northland, and while there weren’t any drastic additions or and major gameplay changes that were added in, this could be a good thing for those of us who are fans of Cultures 2, since everything that made it so much fun is still there, just in the form of new missions and the possibility of not as much micro managing. I’ll be looking for the final release, and will keep you Cultures 2 fans updated if I get any new news to report on it.

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