|Genre: Strategy & War|
|Min OS X: 10.6|
Mac OS X: 10.6.6 | CPU: Intel Mac
Real-time civilization sims are generally pretty rare. Other than the Settlers series and a few other entries, there haven't been many attempts at the genre. This is often due to the level of data management required, as the games have to simulate NPC behavior, control AI factions with their own macro objectives, and contain scenarios that last for hours upon hours. Given the much easier alternatives for gameplay mechanics, it's understandable why few have popped up. So, aside from the fact that it's nice to see a new entry in the genre, how good is Cultures: Northland?
In this case it's best to start with how it's different from the alternatives. The primary difference is that each of the people in your village are unique. Each is either a male that can work or a female that tends the home when all the males are out working. The males are also distinct in that each one has a specific skillset that can be expanded through training or through just doing work around the village. This can be anything from a simple extractor gathering clay to a maker of fine furniture and enchanted jewelry for your warriors. As a result, you treasure your people much more in Northland. You don't want one of your strongest crafters dying because you didn't bother to put a defensive tower on their side of the village.
Another main change between Northland and the usual entries is that the missions have scripted events beyond the usual "enemy to kill" and "expand to here" missions. There are monster swarms, political decisions, trade opportunities, and much much more that you have to deal with during each story scenario. They also tend to have numerous sub-objectives along the way, so even the first mission can last you quite a bit of time. So long as you don't mind going through the grind of training your villagers to useful levels again at the start of each mission, the missions aren't boring at all.
Combat is done a bit differently as well. Each unit has a specific set of gear that you either find in random chests scattered around the world or make yourself. The items are basically different levels of chest plate, magic amulet, sword, spear, or bow and different levels of healing potion. Fighting experience is gained the same way you train woodcutting, though, so you'll likely find yourself looking for tigers to grind up your combat skills on. It's at least easier for archers, as you can put them in a defensive tower and watch them rain down the hurt. When you have 3-5 towers close together, they can slaughter entire armies by themselves quite easily.
Still, what it really comes down to is setting up signposts, building up a swarm of buildings and married settlers, and grinding out the total requirements for each level. The journey is still interesting in the end, but the fact that you have to start from scratch each time means that you'll end up repeating the process over and over again. It's entertaining, but it can get tiring if you play for too long in one sitting. This won't really be a problem for most gamers, as each mission can take upwards of 4-5 hours, but the more dedicated players will likely get bored after a few days.
On the graphics end, Northland is pretty average. The sprites are reasonably colorful and the enemies look sufficiently menacing, but the buildings tend to blend together easily and are difficult to tell apart at times. In the end, the art style just blends together a bit too well. The wood is pretty much all the same color, the terrain is functional, and your units' only difference when of the same job is hair color. Not to say that Cultures: Northland looks bad. Far from it. The style is just a bit bland in the end.
The auditory experience is a bit better. The music tracks are very atmospheric, the ambiance is quite nice with birds cawwing, rushing wind, random unintelligible chatter from your people, and the sounds of a town in action. It really does feel like a basic Viking tribe, even if that tribe gets along really well and has women that can pick whether or not to have a boy or girl. The kids can also be pretty interesting for the minute or two they remain kids, if just as another wandering mouth to feed.
In the end, what it all comes down to is what you're looking for in a Settlers game. If you want static roads, troops that fight one at a time, and the ability to use one villager in any job, Cultures: Northland isn't for you. However, if you don't mind a variant where roads aren't necessary, troops fight in large groups, and a more RPG-esque system for leveling your citizens, you'll likely have a blast. Just don't play it all in one day. You'll hate it.
• Entertaining leveling mechanics
• Interesting scenarios
• Streamlined gameplay
Cons:• Confusing interface
• Buildings don't stand out
• Boring in large chunks
Franklin Pride is a game development graduate and professional programmer/consultant for the Unity development engine. He's currently working on completing his first two computer games (The Farming Game, Uncle Fred's Deep Space Security) while consulting on the side.