I enjoy the odd city builder every now and again but often become bored after a while. Working to fulfil the needs of a thriving town can be engaging, but I find myself needing something added in to mix things up, be it random events or clearly set goals. On the other hand, grand strategy titles and some real-time strategy (RTS) entries have the opposite problem of having too much going on, and my final brain cell goes on strike in protest. Covenant.dev and Team17 attempt to find a middle ground between the two in their new title, Gord, combining city building with surviving a hostile environment. But will it be a symphony of mechanics, or will it rival the in-game monstrosities and make me want to run for the hills?
Gord is an RTS cut from the same cloth as Warcraft and Settlers, with a dash of Banished thrown in for good measure. You start off any scenario with a handful of subjects, your first order of business being to set up a palisade and an area in which to build up into a thriving community called a gord, hence the title. Once this is done, you're free to construct buildings, such as Lumber Mills, Forager's Huts, and Clayworks, that enable you to set your subjects to work collecting the relevant resources. Gather resources, build more advanced structures, and advance. Simple as that! Or… well, almost.
Gord is set in a dark fantasy world inspired by Slavic myth, where the woods and swamps are teeming with dangers, darkness, and Horrors. Though your gord is nicely lit, the rest of the environment is anything but. These dark woods and horrid swamps can hold anything from a new clay deposit to an encampment of wild folk to treasure and riches… or, more commonly, a pack of ravenous Bloodworms. These dangers, paired with the constant need to find new resources, necessitate careful exploration, as the longer you stay in said environment, the further afield you will need to send your vulnerable subjects to keep your gord thriving and its inhabitants sane. Though the citizens are hardy folk and can protect themselves from the odd wolf or crocodile (no, seriously), some dangers are too much. To, literally, combat these threats, you can assign your subjects to pick up an axe or spear and fight the creatures and foes of the land as warriors. These units both deal and withstand punishment very well but come with the downside of draining your coffers quite quickly, making quick and efficient strikes a necessity. Now, natural beasts and unnatural monsters are one thing — swing an axe at them enough and, eventually, the problem is sorted — however, in the deepest darkness of Gord lie the Horrors.
The Horrors are by far my absolute favourite thing about the game! These horrifically powerful beings are taken more or less straight from Slavic myth, featuring beings like the Rusalka or Zmij, and can be found somewhere on the map. Depending on the being in question, they will eventually take notice of the settlement growing in their woods and start demanding your veneration, taking the form of tasks and quests. If you please the Horror, they may give you rewards, help you in some way, or just let you live. Displease them, and they will unleash a pestilence on your gord, making things difficult, to put it mildly. They are a wonderful addition that create an atmosphere of dread, as you never know when they will get bored and start demanding praise, which many cat owners may find familiar. The best part, however, is that they are mortal. Powerful as they are, a suitably equipped group can take one out, adding an interesting balance of weighing the demands vs the risk of combat. Finally, they just look so good!
Regardless of the Horrors and terrible bog monsters, there are some upsides to the lands of Lysanth; with the help of magically powerful individuals, you are able to cast incantations to help your gord and your warriors, or make life difficult for your foes. The incantations cost Faith, which is generated by Temples and Shrines, and can be earned from random events or Horrors. By upgrading your temple, you gain access to more powerful spells, though they also are more expensive. The incantations can heal your units, hide them from enemies, give them a boost in battle, or even take control of wild animals for a time! Their effects are short-lived, but they can give you the edge in a pinch.
Now, back to the gord. Another way the game differentiates itself from its competitors is in the building placement management. The only area you are able to build structures is inside your palisade, but otherwise, you have complete freedom. Want to make a row of meaderies or cram it full of storage? As long as it fits, it sits (something cat owners will also know by heart). However, this also means you need to be very careful with placement, as the number of structures you need may quickly outpace the area available, resulting in you either demolishing a building — gaining about half the resources back used in its construction — or you give up and consider another, smaller one. This is a fun system, as it also encourages you to be efficient in placing your gord and anything within. It also drives home the point of constructing what you need, not everything available. You are able to gain more space in two ways: building an outpost or a palisade expansion.
Outposts are very small, upgradeable palisades that you can use if you find a precious resource far away from your initial position. You can fit one, maybe two, buildings inside of it, which, combined with the relatively high cost, makes them more single-purpose camps than a viable alternative to a proper gord. Palisade expansions, on the other hand, actually increase the area of your gord itself, adding a sizable addition to one of the eight corners of the camp. Like the buildings themselves, this expansion needs to be placed into the map, which makes sense and allows for some creative planning… on paper. In reality, placing them was a nightmare, as more often than not, I found it impossible to find an acceptable spot for it no matter what I tried, leading to both frustration and a feeling of being cheated, as you don’t have much room to alter the position of your camp in the beginning. This same exasperation is also apparent in the building placement, as I often felt that a structure should fit, but the game disagreed, but it may be my bad architectural planning at fault.
The main driving force of your gord, however, are your subjects, which are also one of the main selling points of the game: each character in the game has their own set of skills, preferences, strengths, weaknesses, and an inventory! Let’s break that down a bit. Skills represent the different job types you can assign your gordites (gordees?), ranging from food production to exploration. Each skill has five levels, and naturally, the higher the level, the more skills the person has. They also have a “preference” bonus, which denotes the individual’s disposition toward the different jobs. A gordite may be good at fighting, gaining a +30% bonus on experience, but bad at exploration with a -10% modifier. A gordee can also be unable to gain any experience in one or more jobs. This doesn’t mean they can’t do it; they just never get better. Like me and drawing.
In addition to skills, each gordian (yes, I’m switching it each time) has a negative and positive trait. For example, a person may be less affected by the darkness of the land but be terrified of spiders. These traits supposedly differentiate your subjects from each other, but honestly, I rarely noticed a difference. Finally, while exploring the murky swamps and frightening forests, you may come upon items folk can carry. These range from general goodies that give passive buffs to unique items that can turn a warrior into a beast! Each character can hold up to three, though you are able to trade them around easily enough. While I enjoyed the principle, I rarely bothered managing them as I found it to be a bit too much hassle for the benefit.
Characters have two separate bars representing their physical and mental health. If they spend a long time alone or in the dark, if they see horrible monsters, or they are forced to do something horrid — like loot a body — their sanity falls. If they get beat up by monsters, contract an illness, or something else physical happens, they lose health. If either bar drops low enough, they risk gaining either an injury or a mental condition, which alters how they act. One memorable encounter was my top warrior seeing too much and going on a violent rampage, killing his fellow warrior while he was at it, causing even further sanity loss! Fun times. Again, I found this mechanic enjoyable on paper, but the execution felt somewhat lacking. Physical and mental maladies cannot be healed in the gord, but require you to seek out special buildings on the map, which may be frustrating to find and expensive to boot. You can heal some issues with magic, but they are limited, and the level at which this is possible is on the later side. I felt powerless as I watched my gord be infected and go crazy as I frantically dished out spells and made everyone take regular baths to no avail.
But enough about contagions and pestilence for now. Gord can be played in two modes: Campaign and Custom Scenario. The Campaign follows the Tribe of the Dawn as they venture deeper and deeper into the dark forest, and you take on the role of the steward of the King of Calanth. Alongside the Emissary, a veritable toad-like man in charge of the operation; the Elder of the tribe; and a witch named Lynx, you'll search for a lucrative vein of gold through the treacherous areas. The Campaign follows your group from scenario to scenario, surviving the perils of the land and unravelling a growing mystery related to the Horrors and their odd behaviour. The narrative told in the campaign are varied and act as a tutorial of sorts, introducing mechanics as you go. The story is told in cutscenes between scenarios or as small dialogues within. It’s not the deepest plot, but it’s enough to keep one interested and offers clear goals to keep the gord construction interesting.
Custom Scenarios are one-off sessions that you can adjust to suit your needs. When creating one, you can set a goal, difficulty, the size of the map, the amount of resources, and so on. If you happen to meet your goal for the scenario, you are given the choice to continue on or quit there, allowing an especially fun run to keep going with new challenges! The different goals are also varied, with numerous quests and procedurally generated resources and enemies, making it very replayable. I enjoyed the Custom Scenarios a bit more compared to the Campaign, as they seemed to flow a bit more naturally. However, the lack of a plot made them drag on a bit.
One interesting feature Gord does offer is the Chronicle. Available for perusal in and outside of the main campaign, the Chronicle is a collection of the game’s lore. When you start off, the book is empty, but you slowly fill out its pages by meeting certain enemies, finding pages on the map, or completing objectives. Each entry in it is voiced and adds depth to the world around you, giving the game an extra oomph of immersion and depth. However, finding all the pages seemed like something of a chore and not all entries seemed as relevant. I still commend this approach, as it adds some additional incentive to explore outside of necessity.
In terms of design, Gord is, for lack of a better word, ugly. The characters are mostly leathery and glisten from sweat. Your citizens have visible scars and marks from their ordeals, and the land itself seems to be either dying or straight out of a horror-themed park. And I love it. As already stated, the game is inspired by Slavic myth, which seldom involves beautiful meadows and handsome men. The filthy look to the villagers, the oozing swamps, and especially the design of the Horrors work to give the game an unpleasant air, which I think is very fitting!
In terms of audio, there’s not much to say. The sound effects are also fine, monsters especially having spine-chilling sound designs to them. However, as I experienced in my Nobunaga’s Ambition: Awakening review, there is a definite issue with your advisor, the Elder. Whenever something major happens, he will vocalise it. This is good, as they can be easy to miss. But, when the vocal reminders are constant, and there's nothing you can do about it, it really drives you up in the worst way. This, combined with some finicky control (I swear I had to tell a subject to go sit in the healing bath four times before they reacted), means that frustration is almost unavoidable.
Gord is a game of great potential. The fresh ideas it presents and the mechanics could have been great, even amazing, but they fall flat in execution. The Horrors were absolutely fantastic but felt underused, the characters and their development felt lacklustre and generally forgettable, the management was fun and had that Tetris charm of getting everything to fit just right, but it's too finicky to be fun, especially when expanding the palisade… I wanted to love the game, but regretfully, the more I played, the less I enjoyed it. If you feel interested after reading this, I do recommend giving it a try, but temper your expectations.
Gord (Reviewed on Windows)
The game is average, with an even mix of positives and negatives.
Gord succeeds in painting a dark and gritty picture of a group of people surviving against the odds in a dangerous environment. The Horrors are fantastic, but small niggles and big frustrations dampen the enjoyment somewhat.