Review: Nordic Warriors

After being intrigued by the demo, the developer of newly released RTS game Nordic Warriors was kind enough to give me a review code for the full version of the game.

A screenshot from Nordic Warriors.Nordic Warriors is obviously intended as a spiritual successor to Myth: The Fallen Lords and its sequel, a wildly unique series of real time strategy (or real time tactics, as they were sometimes dubbed) games from the 90s that I absolutely loved back in the day. There’s really been nothing like them before or since.

Until Nordic Warriors, that is.

This style of games lacks the economic gameplay you see in most RTS titles. Instead, you’re simply given a small number of units and an objective. With no reinforcements outside of certain rare scripted events, every unit is precious, and every death is felt.

This is further enhanced by the fact every unit is named, with a kill counter that persists across missions. Even without any actual character development or personalities, they can start to take on a life of their own.

In one mission, I sent one of my shieldmaidens, Iona, on what I believed to be a suicide mission to hunt down some enemy casters. She was already wounded, but after I successfully dodged the casters’ projectiles and slew them, Iona managed to evade hordes of enemy soldiers and make it back to my lines with about 1% health left. I had my shaman heal her up, and from that point on I did everything I could to keep Iona alive in all subsequent missions. She’d earned it.

Myth and Nordic Warriors also share a strong degree of realism, with projectiles following real physics. NW seems a bit less stringent about realism than its predecessors — I didn’t notice shrapnel doing any damage, and arrows seem less likely to be blown off course — which is a mixed bag. On the one hand it takes some of the character out of the experience, but on the other hand I did lose a lot less units to friendly fire, which I can’t complain too hard about.

A mission briefing in real time tactics game Nordic Warriors.The best and the worst thing about Nordic Warriors is that it so closely replicates the experience of Myth.

It’s good because it’s a good formula that deserves to be repeated. I keep saying it, but there just aren’t any other games that feel quite like this, and that’s a crying shame. There’s a unique tension and thrill to these hyper-realistic virtual battles against overwhelming odds.

The downside is that it is perhaps too slavish in adhering to Myth’s formula. It basically is just playing Myth with modernized graphics, and much as I love Myth, I would like to believe after twenty plus years the formula could be refined somewhat.

I know this was made by a very small development team with a very limited budget, so there’s only so much you can expect, but there are a lot of things that could be done to enhance this style of game. Maybe we could have the option to choose our units before each mission (within limitations) or customize our troops somehow, or perhaps the physics engine could be further enhanced to include terrain deformation or the like.

Nordic Warriors also brings back the rather punishing difficulty found in its predecessors. Even on the lowest difficulty setting, it can be a stressful game, requiring precise play and constant vigilance. I grant the sense of danger is part of what makes this formula work, but I would have liked to have seen a balance struck to make things less taxing. It’s fun, but it’s not relaxing.

The other big downside to Nordic Warriors is that a huge part of what made Myth special was its incredible story and world-building, and that’s something that NW just can’t replicate. It’s not their fault, but I can’t stop missing the originality of Myth’s setting.

Nordic Warriors doesn't skimp on the gore.To be fair, considering the low budget and obvious lack of a dedicated writing staff, the story-telling in Nordic Warriors isn’t half bad. The plot’s nothing remarkable, but it captures the feel of Norse mythology pretty well — aside from depicting Helheim as fiery rather than icey, anyway.

I do appreciate that this game presents the ancient Norse as actual three-dimensional people rather than the cartoonish savages so much of our pop culture makes them out to be.

I also like that some effort has been made to show the relatively high level of gender equality in ancient Norse culture. There’s a decent selection of female units and characters, which was definitely a major blindspot for Myth back in the day.

All in all, Nordic Warriors is a solid game and an impressive effort by such a small dev team, but I wish more had been done to improve on the Myth formula. This is a genre that is capable of so much more, and I worry this won’t be enough to attract new fans.

Overall rating: 7/10

Gaming Round-Up: Adrift

Do you ever find that when you finish a long game that you really love, you have a hard time getting into anything else for a while? That’s been my experience since finishing We Happy Few. I’ve tried a lot of things, but not much is sticking.

My character in Conan Exiles.I did finish the Reign of Terror mod for Grim Dawn, which recreates Diablo II, but to be honest it ended up feeling like a bit of a slog. Even with the updates provided by the Grim Dawn engine, the gameplay hasn’t aged that well, and even the story is a lot more shallow than I remember it being.

I did get to experience the story of the Lord of Destruction expansion for the first time, not having played it back in the day, and I think I liked it a bit better than the base game’s, but even then it wasn’t exactly thrilling.

A few weeks back, both Conan Exiles and Fallout 76 ran simultaneous free trial events, and even though neither is a game I’ve really had on my radar, I decided to give them a shot for curiosity’s sake. We Happy Few did leave me with a bit of a craving for more survival mechanics.

To my great surprise, I actually ended up enjoying Fallout 76 quite a bit. It does have a lot of jankiness — the combat is weak at best, the character models are hideous, and the PC interface is an unmitigated disaster — but even so I was actually rather sad when the trial ended. I’m tempted to pick it up on sale at some time.

I miss my CAMP. I had a lovely spot on a mountain peak between two forested valleys. I was growing a vegetable garden in the back. Player housing can be really fun when it’s a meaningful part of the game and not just a place to decorate once and then forget about.

The view from my CAMP in Fallout 76.Exiles, on the other hand, I didn’t enjoy at all. Whereas F76 was occasionally annoying due to bad design, Conan Exiles feels like it was designed from the ground up to be constantly annoying. I get that they’re going for a savage world where danger is constant, but when even the sheep treat you as KoS, you’ve just lapsed into the realm of unintentional self-parody. To say nothing of the nightmare of inventory management…

And honestly, even if you fixed those problems, it still wouldn’t be a very interesting game. Crafting is somehow even more gameified and mindless than in the average MMO (a bizarre choice for a game that’s almost entirely crafting), and there’s just no point to anything. No story, no meaningful goals.

After that I dipped into a few titles from my backlog. First was Far Cry: Primal. I really like the concept of the game, but the reality of it just didn’t click for me. Too much of a grindfest. I don’t understand why so many single-player games want to be bad MMOs these days.

I did enjoy the animal companions, though.

Next up was some strategy games — Surviving Mars and The Hive — but neither grabbed me. I give The Hive credit for an original concept, but in practice it was a pretty generic RTS, and it just didn’t feel like it was bringing anything new to the table.

Speaking of RTS, though, one highlight that did crop around this time is a game called Nordic Warriors I tried via a demo key given to Massively Overpowered. It’s a single-player game, so I wasn’t able to cover it on MOP, but it did impress.

A battle in the tactical RTS Nordic Warriors.The story of Nordic Warriors is based on Norse mythology, which is always a good way to get my attention, but more importantly, the gameplay is an homage to Bungie’s Myth games from back in the 90s.

Anyone who’s followed this blog for a long time knows I loved Myth back in the day, and there’s just nothing like it even now. Its hyper-realistic real time tactical strategy is a style of gameplay that simply doesn’t exist any more. Anything to bring back that kind of gameplay has my support.

In some ways, Nordic Warriors shows its low budget — the entire development team is just three people — but all things considered it’s an impressive effort at bringing back the Myth experience. I will definitely be picking it up when the full version goes live later this month.

In the meanwhile, that still left me without a game to fill my lonely days. Right now, I’ve gotten back into Elder Scrolls Online. Not for Greymoor, though. It looks like a pretty underwhelming expansion to me, and to be honest I almost forgot it was even a thing. Instead, I’ve finally started on the previous expansion, Elsweyr, which I bought on sale ages ago but never got around to playing.

I won’t lie, I didn’t go into this with a lot of enthusiasm. On paper ESO is my dream MMO, but in practice it tends towards being merely adequate. I think a lot of it is just down both the writing and the combat being fairly mediocre. I like the Khajiit, so I was curious about Elsweyr, but my expectations were low, especially after the disappointment of Summerset.

It’s early days, but while I may not be blown away, I will say it’s growing on me. It already feels better than Summerset, at least. Dragon fights might not be wildly original as public events go, but they’re definitely a lot more exciting than just reskinning Dolmens.

A Khajiit town in the Elsweyr expansion for Elder Scrolls Online.While the meat of the story is still kind of underwhelming, the world-building is interesting. Unlike most of the game, Elsweyr feels genuinely fantastical, and I am enjoying meeting all the strange and bizarre subraces of the Khajiit. And if nothing else, Khajiiti NPCs have vastly more personality than the Altmer.

Something has gone badly wrong if even I find Elves boring.

I’ve also switched to my warden rather than my main for a change of pace, which may be helping a little. She certainly kills things faster; normally I’m not a fan of mowing down mobs without any difficulty, but given ESO’s combat isn’t exactly a delight, I’m more okay with it right now.

I’d like to start a necromancer, but then I’d have to deal with having an untrained mount again. It’s a shame that ESO is so alt-friendly in so many ways, but that one mechanic just feels so punishing if you try to switch to a new character. Weird how MMOs work against their own designs sometimes.

I’m not convinced I’m not going to lose interest and jump onto something else before long, but so far at least I find myself warming up to Elsweyr. Mayhap it may tide me over until Nordic Warriors releases, at least.

Then again, there is also a part of me that’s hankering for some Age of Empires…