Imagine it. A sprawling, dangerous wilderness shrouded in darkness where hostilities await at almost every turn. One of our team here at TheXboxHub would call it London. But no, of course it isn’t. Instead I’m referring to the rather bleak world where Team17’s Gord is set.
What we have here is a real time strategy game steeped in Slavic mythology, where erecting fortified wooden settlements with palisade walls (or gords) is the only way to protect your people from the dangers of the outside world. Before you can get started, you’ll need to find the best location to set up camp and build your outpost.
There’s a fairly lengthy ten part campaign on offer in Gord, which gradually teaches you how to manage your tribe as well as survive in the forsaken land you find yourself in. Each chapter gets gradually more complex, layering on extra objectives. There are also time sensitive side quests which will pop up periodically, as well as encounters of chance which will present you with a decision to make that are something of a 50/50 shot.
Put simply, your main aims are to cautiously explore the world, whilst managing your tribe’s health, sanity and faith in the gods. Madness can quickly set in due to just how grim things are, so light and a good flagon of mead are your friends here. Gathering resources and fortifying your gord is also important, as well as training some of your tribe to fight and defend themselves against horrific creatures and wild raiders.
Exploration is possibly the most important element in Gord, and it feels genuinely nerve wracking heading out into the darkness. Balancing risk and reward is not easy either because despite lots of tantalising loot which seems ripe for the taking, there are numerous hidden dangers which are never far away either. Spending too much time outside your gord will also play havoc with your tribe’s mental health, and that can have serious consequences.
You’ll run into dangerous creatures which can inflict damage and disease, come across heavily guarded prisoners and even encounter legendary horrors. These monstrous creatures are very difficult to defeat in combat, but will offer you the chance to make a sacrifice to appease them instead. Just prepare yourself for some rather grisly dealings with these beings however.
Now, be warned that there is a lot going on in Gord. There are numerous menus to navigate, so many in fact that you’ll need not only to use various buttons to access them, but combinations of buttons also. Numerous times I kept forgetting how to get back to where I needed to be, for example when checking out the traits of my people. It’s clunky. Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition showed just how well the wonderful RTS can translate to the home console. Here however, it’s frustrating to say the least.
I also found some issues with the game recognising my inputs. For example, often I would click on one of my tribe so I could give instructions, but instead they would just stand there idle. After one or two more attempts they would finally snap into action. Yet at other times things would feel more intuitive, for example when my folk would automatically begin gathering resources after building the correct storage structure.
This inconsistency is also reflected in the AI. If left unchecked, members of your tribe who are busy getting on with important tasks such as collecting wood, or fishing for food, will venture further and further out as resources are quickly exhausted. All of a sudden you’ll discover they have been killed, and if you’re really unlucky the window to revive them will have passed. This leaves you with only one option, giving them a proper burial back at the gord. However, life goes on and thanks to the miracle of childbirth, your population will bounce back eventually.
There’s no option other than to take things slowly in Gord. This is because if you try to rush things, it’ll likely fall to pieces. And fast. As soon as some of your tribe are killed, the gord walls are breached or a few people flee after succumbing to madness, it’s a very hard situation to recover from. Even if you do, you’ll most likely just want to rewind a few minutes and try again instead of carrying on at this point. Thank gord for autosave (I’m so sorry).
On a more positive note, I must give Gord praise for its compelling visual style. The uninviting, miserable and even depressing tone effectively creates a sense of fear and foreboding in a world which feels almost entirely devoid of any hope or optimism. It looks pretty good too, which makes the world an exciting place to explore.
However, the map isn’t the most user friendly and is surprisingly basic. You can toggle several filters, but I didn’t find it particularly helpful when trying to track down certain resources (such as Iron during one quest, I was looking for ages). I also found the camera to be tricky during battles, mainly because I couldn’t position myself well enough to select the unit I wanted when numerous people were occupying the same space. The word fiddly comes to mind.
The lore in Gord is deep and interesting, told through chronicle pages scattered throughout the campaign. You can also access this at any time via the main menu, and they are rather pleasingly narrated, helping bring them to life. There is also a photo mode to have a play with if you are into that sort of thing.
Away from the main campaign, you can play custom scenarios that allow you to choose a variety of modifiers, or just hit the random button if you dare.There are various objectives you can choose between, whether it’s fully upgrading your gord, searching for treasure or trying to take down a horror.
This mode is also single player only which is a shame, as teaming up to overcome the seemingly insurmountable odds may have proved to be quite fun. But if I’m honest, the main campaign provided more than enough for me, so I had little appetite to dive into custom scenarios afterwards.
I went in really wanting to like Gord, and it has all the hallmarks of a game that I would enjoy. However, Gord’s slow pace and pretty punishing difficulty (even on normal) coupled with problematic controls prevent you from being able to get fully absorbed in a world which really intrigues.
Sadly, it feels like a missed opportunity.