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Publisher: Runesoft    Genre: Strategy & War
Min OS X: Any Version    CPU: G3 @ 350 MHz    RAM: 192 MB

March 11, 2004 | Ectal Greenhaw

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Ah, the adventurous Viking life! Cutting down trees, collecting rocks, building houses, having babies, making shoes, and, oh yes, the occasional battle. Put on your horned helmet and get ready for Northland, a great Nordic adventure in micromanagement.

Northland, developed by Funatics, published by Epic Interactive, and distributed in the U.S. by Freeverse, is the third game in the Cultures series and the first to appear on the Mac. The first two games in the series followed the adventures of Bjarni, son of Leif Eriksson, as he discovered America then traveled across Europe and Arabia, teaming up with heroes from several cultures who band together to save the world from a giant serpent. Northland reunites Bjarni with a few of these heroes, who band together to, among other things, save the world from a whole army of serpents.

Though Northland is essentially a real time strategy/city building game, itís not much like the competition. The closest comparison to another game series would be Sierraís City Building Series (of which only Caesar 3 was published for the Mac). Most of the game play focuses on feeding, employing, and sheltering your townsfolk. Unlike any similar game, you get into much greater detail and finer control, such as telling them where to live, when to get married, when to change jobs, and when to have children.

Game play
The game play in Northland is a dream come true for fans of micromanagement and players who want as much control over as many things as possible in their RTS-style games. Itís likely to seem like a chore to anyone else.

You have several types of Vikings to play with. Women can run a household, providing food and entertainment for all the inhabitants, and raise children. Men can be assigned a variety of professions, including extractor, farmer, miller, scout, soldier, carrier, merchant, and hunter. Heroes are just what you would think, extra powerful units that donít get tired or hungry and exist solely to protect your villagers and further the plot by accomplishing mission goals.

There is a dizzying amount of complexity to this game. For instance, to construct a basic dwelling, one needs to make sure there are extractors (resource gatherers, basically) collecting wood and clay. Then he needs at least one builder to pick up the clay and wood and drag it to the building site. But you also need a farmer producing wheat for the thatched roof. To streamline all of the collecting your builders have to do, you can assign a carrier to a warehouse or your headquarters to collect all these goods and put them in one place.

While all that work is going on, your Vikings will get tired and hungry. Occasionally, they run off to pick some berries and take a nap in the grass, or if they have a home, theyíll go for nice home-cooked meals and cozy beds. Sometimes, they just get bored and stand around and chat. These details are very amusing to watch, but if your Viking workers spend too much time satisfying these needs, things get done slowly. So you have to find a way to get the whole thing to run more smoothly. Assigning extra workers definitely helps, but in the end you need to produce tools, shoes, furnishings, crockery, and lots of food. Easier said than done.

There is a certain brilliance in the depth and complexity of this game, but this sort of micromanagement can turn a lot of people off. To give your villagers a steady supply of food, one nice solution is a bakery. But you canít just build a bakery. First build a farm (handy for buildings, remember?), then wait until your farmer is experienced enough to become a miller. Build a mill, change your farmerís profession to miller, assign a new farmer, wait until your miller can become a baker, build a bakery, move your miller to the bakery, your farmer to the mill, and assign a new farmer. Wheat becomes flour, flour becomes bread ó or does it? No, first you need to build a well so your baker can collect water.

Creating soldiers is no less involved. Create a barracks, send civilians into the barracks to train as soldiers, then supply them with the right weapons and armor depending on whether you want a swordsman, an archer, or a spearman. Iíll spare you the details of how you develop blacksmiths and tailors to produce weapons and armor.

This sort of game play works fairly well, if you enjoy it at all, in the free form scenarios. Staying on one map and having only a few objectives allows you to enjoy hours of building up one mighty village. The main campaign seems to suit the style of game play a little less. Thereís something strange about seeing messages for goals that might not be accomplished for hours. And it does take hours to build up a strong village. By the time youíre done with a level, it might be hard to tear yourself away from all your hard work and start over on the next level. Or you might be all too willing to tear yourself away Ö and quit playing the game for a few days.


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